Why Lap Infants Scare Me

Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.

I flew with my daughter as a lap child on a short flight once, in part to save some money/points, and in part just as an experiment of sorts to see what it was like.  I knew she did best in her own seat, and I knew we appreciated having the extra space that came with having her seat, but I’ll admit that at first hesitations to have her fly as a lap infant were for logistical reasons, not safety reasons.

However, after the one experience I had with a lap infant I wrote:

“I stayed awake and kept a death-grip on her as I was afraid the whole time that we would hit some sort of turbulence and she would go flying.”

Lap Infant

We ended up with the seat next to us open, but since I hadn’t flown with her car seat, and she was still too young for the seat belt to do much good, I just had to hold her tight.  I was scared that even moderate turbulence would send her flying if I wasn’t holding on.  If severe turbulence hit, then I wasn’t sure a decent grip would even be enough.  Of course I knew that statistically most flights are 100% safe even from serious turbulence, but that didn’t make me feel much better when it was my little girl that was flying through the skies unrestrained.

I only flew with her that one day as a lap infant, and was thankful when she turned two and the temptation to fly with her in our lap to save money or miles was taken away.  I always wondered when I would hear stories of flights that had injuries due to serious turbulence how often it was a lap infant that was impacted as they have to be some of the most vulnerable on the plane, next to the flight attendants.

Today I again read a story about a United flight from Denver to Billings, Montana, that hit severe turbulence and had three crew members and two passengers injured as a result.  The article indicates that a passenger “saw a baby propelled out of the parent’s arms and landed in a seat nearby, but the infant didn’t appear to be hurt.”

I’m glad to hear that the baby didn’t appear to be hurt, and I am just guessing it was a lap infant that was propelled.  I don’t live in a world operated by fear, but this is exactly why lap infants in particular scare me.  It is very difficult to keep a good grip on a lap infant for the duration of the flight, and while you can put your baby in a pouch or carrier, you technically cannot have them in anything on take-off and landing due to FAA regulations.  I have seen this interpreted differently by different flight crews, but essentially if you choose to fly with a lap child, then they will be unrestrained other than by your arms for at least part of the flight.

Odds are any given flight will be just fine, and if traveling with a lap infant is the only way your family can afford to get where you need to be, there certainly won’t be any judgement from me.  I will just suggest having a car seat available in the event there is an open seat available you can use for free on the flight (gate check the car seat if there isn’t an available seat), and do pay attention to what is going on so that you can get a better hold on your lap infant in the event you do experience turbulence.  Not all drops can be predicted in advance, but sometimes you do have a head’s up that turbulence is coming.  You can also consider a BabyBjorn or similar that will at least have the baby strapped to you, just keep in mind you won’t be able use it during portions of the flight per FAA rules.

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.



  1. Was looking for a link to buy the loop belt that europeN airlines tend to provide – thought it might e a reasonable alternative. Reality is it may be just as (or more) dangerous in a crash. Here is one article describing their view on the dangers and also a few links contained (which I did not click) describing the danger further.

    The safest place is definitely their own seat. As you say, I don’t judge those that do t buy a seat as the risk is very low, but it’s that minute chance that I would never forgiveyself for if somethjg did happen. I take the same approach on buckling my child on a short trip to the store. Odds are low, but I choose to not take the risk.


    • Larry, I am of the same mindset. Safest place is their own car seat, but I know that life is more complicated when budgets come into play and everyone has to make that analysis for themselves. Crashes are a whole other ballgame in my view. They certainly can be survivable, but are even more rare than turbulence.

  2. Thanks for the post, Summer. We took a short flight last Christmas. We had our five months daughter as lap infant and she fell asleep during take off. I think for short flight, one to two hour, we should be OK. We brought the car seat with us last time but there wasn’t any seat available. Good tip! I’ll remember to ask for available seat on our next trip to Seattle.

  3. Flight attendants INSIST you put your purse and other items under the seat during take off and landing so they don’t become projectiles. But an unrestrained child on your lap? Just fine! This is absolute lunacy to me that airlines allow this. I have three kids. Yes, it is more expensive to buy them a ticket – but we always have you’ll have to when they turn 2 anyway. And Danh – think about what your saying. That’s like saying that you should be ok without a seat belt on a short car trip in your neighborhood. Accidents can just as easily happen in a one-hour flight. I’m not trying to be judgmental. I just think some of the most safety-conscious parents I know somehow look the other way on this one or pretend that it is safe because the FAA allows it – when deep down they know it isn’t safe.

  4. I remember on our honeymoon flight the flight attendant telling us that on the flight the day before they had hit turbulence and a grown man flew up to the ceiling and broke his femur on the way down. The flight attendant actually commented that she would never under any circumstances fly with her child in her lap. I have always kept that in mind when flying with our kids. Car seat every time and the Cares harness when big enough.

  5. Not using a seat for a child under 2 years of age is a slight, but calculated risk. We sat our daughter in our laps until she turned 2 not just for financial reasons, but also out of consideration for the comfort of her and our fellow passengers. Being in Mommy or Daddy’s lap was much less scary for her (now that she is almost 4, with a fair number of flights behind her, she looks forward to flying), so she was far less likely to start crying. We never had severe turbulence, but maintained a firm grip on her at the first hint of it.

  6. This is actually why I got into the miles/points game. We have been able to use miles for a third ticket to Oahu on United and multiple trips on SW. I purchase tix for myself and son, then use miles for wife (you can’t use awards for an infant alone). Our one experience with son as a lap child was so horrible (he wouldn’t sit still on takeoff), we’d rather postpone a flight until we have the miles for a 3rd ticket. We are going to try the Cares harness next flight, though, as our car seat barely fits in what coach has become.

  7. It’s a hard decision. We took several flights a year when our girls were in the 0-2 range – most domestic but also a few flights to Europe. The majority of the time they had their own seat, but there were times when award availability wasn’t there or the cost was a little crazy. We drew the line at flights over 2 hours – at that point it was mandatory (I know flight duration has no correlation to safety – you can encounter turbulence on a 30 minute or 3 hour flight – but this was our “rule”). We lugged baby and toddler car seats on board and also used the CARES harness. Tip: the Diono Radian car seat is great because it folds for travel and can fit inside some large rolling duffel bags. Much easier to bring on board the plane, but take measurements before buying the bag! On long flights i.e. Europe, the Radian was golden because it had headrests and the kiddos easily fell asleep, just like they were riding in the car. The fundamental problem, though, is that your kid may not want to be restrained, especially during takeoff/landing when the pressure messes with their ears or if the kid is nursing/clingy due to the “scary” environment – if they are in your lap the whole time it seems like a waste if you purchased the seat. Another problem that is specific to baby car seats like the Graco SnugRide: when you install it in an airline seat, the pitch between rows may be so narrow (especially on RJs) that the person in front of your child cannot recline. Depending on the person, that might make them upset. Our thought process behind the 2-hour rule was that kiddo would have more time to settle in and/or sleep and also for our comfort – holding on to a baby in a confined space for long amounts of time can be tough!

  8. Never could understand the whole lap child situation. There is barely enough room for one person in a seat let alone having a child on your lap during a flight. We believe in all passengers having their own seat, strapped in and safe. We’ve always purchased our babies and kids their own seat at sporting events also. Babies come with a lot of gear, the third seat works well for that, and there is no way a toddler will sit still on anyone’s lap for a 2-3 hour event. It may be cheaper but it is not the right call in my opinion.

  9. My son flew as a “lap child” several times and fortunately all was well and safe. When he turned 2 I bought a “Kids Fly Safe CARES Harness” that was MUCH easier to use than lugging a car seat around. I highly recommend the travel harness!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *