CHILD SAFETY : Secure Seats in the Sky

Talk about precious cargo. An infant would seem to top any such list. Yet inside an airplane, a camera bag or a coffee pot are better protected. The National Transportation Safety Board now recommends that infants, like luggage, should be secured inside a plane. The Federal Aviation Administration should require mandatory child safety seats.

The safety board proposal would prevent children under 40 inches tall or 40 pounds from flying without approved airliner child seats. If the FAA accepts the proposal, airlines are expected to require that parents bring the seats and buy a ticket in order to guarantee a spot.

Airlines may well charge parents for an extra seat, but the negative effect on the parental pocketbook may be offset somewhat by fare competition. Seasonal and regional market pressures are likely to determine how much and under which circumstances a parent would be charged for an infant fare.

As for the seats themselves, why couldn't the airlines provide them on an as-needed basis, as restaurants provide high chairs and booster seats? Airline-provided seats would also ensure that only approved safety seats would be used.

The FAA has resisted mandatory infant seats because up to 10,000 babies a year fly in adults' laps without great risk. But those numbers mean nothing to the family of one unseated child who already died in a crash this year.

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