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Aviation Blog - Jay Ratliff

Kids in Danger & No One Seems to Care


When it comes to air travel, small children are in danger and no one seems to care. It’s one of the things airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration refuse to discuss (in public), but it needs attention and now.

The first of two outrages (yes, there are two) involves children under the age of two who are allowed to fly for free (domestically), seated in the lap of the adult traveling with them. These children are unsecured and in the event of an emergency, when flight attendants are securing everything from tray tables to plastic forks in the galley, these unrestrained children are (per flight attendant instruction) placed in the floor of the aircraft.

For those of you who just fell out of your chair or who are searching for my email so you can respond, by questioning my sanity or prescription medication, I assure you that sentence is indeed accurate. Children are placed on the floor of the plane when an emergency landing is called for.

The reason for this policy is that during a crash, the g-forces involved make it humanly impossible for an adult to maintain control over a child. Anyone who tries to hold an infant during such an event will have the child ripped from their grasp as the g-force increases. A small child would soon be carrying the g-force weight of 700-800lbs and there is no way the child would remain restrained, meaning a small child in an airplane crash basically becomes a human missile and could die as a result and could also kill another passenger along the way. (One of the many reasons we are told to keep our heads down during an emergency situation.)

The FAA approved policy is for the children to be placed in the floor, between the legs of the adult traveling with them. Decades ago the policy was for the adult to strap the child into the same seat they were wearing, but it was soon discovered (after accidents took place) that such a policy was a very bad idea and resulted in the crushing death of the child.

It boggles the mind as to why there is such a dedicated effort to secure even the smallest item within the cabin of a commercial airline, yet small children are left unrestrained. Why?

If you ask the Department of Transportation or the Federal Aviation Administration their reply is one of statistics. Their position is that flying is the safest mode of transportation going and if we began requiring small children to be placed into seats, it would cost the family more money and they would end up driving to their destination. Driving is far more dangerous than flying, so more children and adults would be placed in harms’ way by such a policy being put in place.

The same Department of Transportation has recommended restraint guidelines for automobiles traveling at 50 miles per hour, so why not have a similar guideline for infants traveling at a speed of more than 500 miles per hour, some 7 miles above the earth? After all, even turbulence can cause a small child to fly out of the arms of an adult and become injured in the process, so why not protect against such occurrences?

Airlines do not want the policy updated, because of a potential loss in revenue and the FAA, who often follows the lead of the industry they are charged with overseeing, sits on their collective hands…all while small, unrestrained children are allowed to fly each and every day.

Listen to the mothers who lost children in airline accidents, if you want a true measure of why it is important to retrain small children. These women thought their children were safe and when they were told to place their child on the floor of the plane, because it was the less of two evils, they were flabbergasted. What? This is how the U.S. Government and the airline keeps my child safe?

Travelers are unaware and much like the days before 9/11 when checked luggage was not screened in any way, the FAA hopes the perception of safety will be enough. If travelers knew the truth about this dangerous policy, it would be changed quickly.

In my own efforts, I continue to contact members of Congress and even Speaker John Boehner’s office, begging for attention to be placed on the matter. Each time I ask, the request falls on deaf ears.

It’s the same issue when it comes to unaccompanied minors. These children, ages 5 and up, travel alone each year as they travel…especially during the busy summer season. The maddening fact here is there is no limit as to the number of children who can fly unaccompanied on a commercial flight. Sounds like it would not be a problem, until you see flights arriving with as many as 40 or even 70 unaccompanied children on a single flight!

I’ve asked why the airlines do not impose a limit on the number of children who are flying alone on a flight and I’ve been told there is no way the airlines could ever keep up with that information. Of course, that answer is a bunch of bull, because airlines have limits of no more than two carry on pets to any aircraft cabin, and that is tracked, so why can’t we do the same thing when it comes to children flying alone?

Because such limitations would impact airline earnings.

The reason this is an issue is because most flights have a total of 5 to 7 flight attendants on board. These crews are incredibly efficient and are there for one reason and one reason only, to keep us safe as we fly (and no, it’s not to serve us drinks and peanuts). In the event of an emergency evacuation, these highly trained crews are able to evacuate as many as 260 passengers off a plane, even with half of the exits blocked, in less than 70 seconds! (Check out Air France flight number 358 for a perfect example.)

Let’s now assume there are 60 children on the plane during a time of an emergency landing. The plane lands, slides off a runway and smoke fills the cabin. As commands are given to those seated in the emergency exit rows, who will be responsible for getting the children off the smoke-filled airplane safely? The crew is trying to negotiate the evacuation of the plane, meaning that other passengers would be called upon to assist with the evacuation of the children. Invariably the evacuation would be slowed by the number of small children who would require additional assistance in leaving the aircraft and having dozens of children on such a flight flying alone would translate into a safety hazard.

Can you imagine the media outcry if there was an accident, where we had as many as 50 or 60 children flying alone? The resounding cry would be, “Why were so many children allowed to fly on one flight unaccompanied?”

There needs to be limits placed on the number of children who are flying alone, the same way we need to have restraints required for every single passenger. Unfortunately in aviation, most changes are paid for in blood and it will more than likely take an accident for the attention to be focused on these issues and then the changes will be implemented.

Why do we have to wait for a child to die before we do the right thing?

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