Flying with a Child Who Lacks Trunk Support


OK, here’s a riddle for you.

You have a child who lacks trunk support and is unable to sit up in an airplane seat on her own. She is too big for a car seat and can’t sit on your lap. What do you do?

I’ve heard this scenario more than once, but since the latest incarnation has started a twitter hash-tag-orama, it’s a good time to review the options.

Today’s story is pretty simple. Mom wanted to have her child sit on her lap, but since she’s over two, she’s too old to be a lap baby. Mom knew this; in fact, mom bought a ticket for her, thinking it was merely a financial issue. But that didn’t solve the problem. Since the child is over two, she also has to be buckled in for takeoffs and landings. This situation apparently caused quite a scene on a recent Untied flight from Punta Cana. The captain had the ultimate say, and his decision was that the child had to sit in her own seat and be belted in for takeoff and landing.

So what does the law say about this? First and foremost, there is nothing in the Air Carrier Access Act that addresses the issue. It’s considered a safety issue and as such falls under the jurisdiction of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). And the FAA is pretty clear on this matter. All children over the age of two must sit in their own seats. So it’s not merely an issue of buying a ticket — the child must physically occupy their seat, at least while the seat belt sign is illuminated.

So again, what’s a mom to do? Well there are several options depending on the child’s weight.

If the child weighs less than 20 pounds, the parent can use a rear facing FAA-approved car seat. If the child is over 20 pounds, and will still fit in a car seat, the parent can use a front facing FAA-approved car seat.

So what do you do if your child is weighs more than 20 pounds, but is too big for a car seat?

The only other restraint system that is FAA-approved is the Cares harness, which can be used on children who weigh between 22 and 44 pounds and are under 40-inches tall.

What happens after that? Well some people make due with the creative placement of pillows.

And, if you are a persistent parent, you can petition the FAA for an exemption. That of course comes with its own set of restrictions, and it’s only good for two years. After that you have to file another petition.

But for now, that’s pretty much it. Until the regulations change, that’s all you can do. And the FAA has been pretty vocal over the years about how they feel about any changes — they are not in favor of them.

So the best thing you can do is know your alternatives before you get on that airplane. Lest you be deplaned like John Morris was.

On the plus side of this story, the United pilot at least showed some compassion, as he had the authority to refuse passage to this family. Granted it’s not the perfect ending to this story, but at least they got to their destination. Many other people never made it to theirs.