Years ago, when Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and his wife, Carolyn, boarded a plane with their infant, Sam, they spent most of the flight worrying about their baby's safety. Bond was outraged that coffeepots were more securely restrained than children, recalled Sally Hood, Bond's assistant press secretary.
Baby Sam is 10 years old now, but little has changed for infants who fly. Under current government regulations, children who have not reached their second birthday do not require a seat or a seat belt on domestic commercial airline flights.
Now, Bond has introduced a bill that would mandate the use of safety seats for children under age 2. Early this month, Bond's bill cleared the Senate and a companion bill introduced by Rep. Jim Lightfoot (R-Iowa) is awaiting review by the House of Representatives, according to Hood and a spokesman for Lightfoot.
If enacted, the safety seat mandate could go into effect as soon as 1991, some legislative experts predict. But, until then, there are steps parents can take to ensure the safety of young flyers.
Even without a federal law, parents should seriously consider using infant safety seats, according to Kathleen Henriques, spokeswoman for the Washington-based Air Transport Assn. Babies are far safer strapped into safety seats than they are nestled in their parents' arms, said Henriques.
Parents who plan to buy an infant seat for use aloft should choose one that is government-approved for aircraft use. Labels specify such approval. Most seats approved for auto use also are approved for airplane use.
"The majority of those made after 1985 are approved (for airline use)," said Mary O'Neill, spokeswoman for American Airlines. When choosing a safety seat for airplane use, be sure the width does not exceed 16 inches, advises the ATA.
Buying a separate ticket is the only way to guarantee continuous use of a child safety seat aloft, but airline representatives have said they will do everything possible to allow use of the seats if space allows.
"If there's not room, passengers must stow the seats as baggage during takeoffs and landings," said O'Neill. "But if there's room, we'll do everything we can to accommodate passengers."
When making flight reservations, parents should alert the airlines that they plan to travel with an infant seat so appropriate seat assignments can be made. Federal regulations prohibit infant seats in aisle seats or in rows next to emergency exits.
Children who weigh less than 20 pounds or cannot sit up alone should be strapped into rear-facing infant seats, the ATA advises. Larger children can face forward.
SHOP TALK Putting Squeeze on Nausea
To quell the queasiness that often comes with pregnancy, a San Diego physician has developed AccuPreg bracelets, a stretchy beaded wrist band.
When the bead presses against an acupressure point around the wrist, the pressure reduces nausea, said Dr. Robert C. Giarratano , a San Diego obstetrician and gynecologist. Nearly 80% of 100 women suffering from morning sickness reported rapid reduction of symptoms when they used the bracelets, said Giarratano. "The average time (for relief) was 30 minutes," he said. Available by mail order, (800) 445-1373, AccuPreg bracelets cost $19.95 a pair.
Are they worth the price? Dr. Raul Artal, USC professor of obstetrics and gynecology, thinks not. "I'd be doubtful (that the bracelet would work)," he said. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has not reviewed the device and has no stand on it, said a spokeswoman.