Just before Christmas 2012, six-month-old Isaac Appaqaq died in a plane crash. When the Perimeter Aviation twin engine turbo prop aircraft he was onboard overran the runway, little Isaac was the only fatality. The six other passengers (including Isaac's mother) and two pilots suffered various non-life-threatening injuries. As a lap infant, Isaac was propelled from his mother's arms due to the force from the missed landing. No one's arms are strong enough to protect a baby from the g-forces created from a careening aircraft.
Canada's Transportation Safety Board released the findings from their investigation last week. Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB, acknowledges the need to keep babies safer on planes, "Every day, families board commercial aircraft with babies and young children, and the majority trust that, if something goes wrong, a parent's arms can restrain their child safely."
Fox continues, "In the case of severe turbulence, a sudden deceleration, or a crash such as this one, research has proven that adults are not strong enough to adequately restrain a lap-held infant just by holding on to them. And just like in cars, adult lap belts are not suitable to restrain young children. This accident saw an infant ripped from his mother's arms and killed in the subsequent impact, even though everyone else survived."
It's been almost 20 years since the United States' National Transportation Safety Board urged the FAA to recommend child restraints on planes, after the tragic USAir missed approach in Charlotte, NC where two mothers were unable to hang on to their daughters, who were on board as lap infants. One child died on impact, and the other was severely injured.
But airlines don't make it easy for parents in the best of circumstances. And while the FAA certainly does recommend purchasing a seat for your baby and using an aircraft-approved child safety seat, doing so may not guarantee you'll be able to use it anyway. Using car seats on planes is often fraught with misinformation, flight crews unclear on the rules, and a lack of consistency between the governing agencies of different countries.
If the International Air Transport Association can't even facilitate a standard size for carry-on luggage, how on earth would they navigate the complex issue of car seats on planes?
But Canada's TSB wants to try...
...the Board is issuing two recommendations aimed at making air travel safer for infants and children. First, it is recommending that Transport Canada require commercial air carriers to collect data, and report on a routine basis, the number of infants and young children travelling. Currently, these statistics are not available, and better data is required to conduct research, assess risks, and outline emerging trends related to the carriage of infants and children.
Second, the Board is recommending that Transport Canada work with industry to develop age and size appropriate child restraint systems for infants and young children travelling on commercial aircraft and mandate their use to provide an equivalent level of safety compared to adults.
"This investigation identified issues associated with pre-flight planning, crew communication and unstable approaches--but what stands out most was the tragic fate of the baby on this aircraft," added Fox. "We think infants and children deserve an equivalent level of safety as adults on board aircraft, and that is why we are calling on Transport Canada and the aviation industry to take action. It's time to do right by our children."
I'm hopeful, but I'm still skeptical. As I wrote over two years ago:
As a parent I know how expensive it is to factor in extra airfares when budgeting for family travel. And as a travel agent I know how complicated it can be to actually purchase a seat for an infant. And this issue is really more involved than actually regulating that all infants be in their own seat, in an approved car seat. Some families don't have car seats because they don't need them. Some families' car seats aren't approved or won't fit on a plane. And if this does become the law, doesn't that make the airlines responsible to ensure the kids are in an approved seat that's properly installed? I can't see them accepting that role easily or gladly.
But least the conversation is continuing.