Sitting on a packed flight next to an empty seat is
one of life's small and random joys. Airlines should give
parents flying with infants the first call on this
privilege, according to David Bishai, associate professor
with the Department
of Population and Family Health Sciences at the Johns
Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Having babies strapped into a safety carrier in an
unsold seat whenever available, Bishai said, would save
more lives than requiring parents traveling on planes to
purchase a seat every time an infant flies. Requiring
parents to pay for seats for infants is bad public health
policy, he explained, because the cost will lead some
families to make the trip in a car, which is far more
dangerous per mile traveled.
The Federal Aviation Administration is contemplating
new regulations to require children under age 2 to ride in
approved child-restraint seats on airplanes. Right now,
these children may fly in a parent's lap, free of
Bishai's views appear in an editorial published in the
Oct. 14 edition of the journal Archives of Pediatric and
Adolescent Medicine. They are supported by the findings of
a study from the University of California, San Francisco,
School of Medicine and the Harborview Injury Prevention and
Research Center at the University of Washington, Seattle,
which appears in the same journal issue. In the study,
Thomas B. Newman and his colleagues show statistically that
more infants would die in car crashes than are saved from
plane crashes if only 5 percent to 10 percent of parents
switch from air travel to automobile travel.
"Nobody disputes that airborne infants are safer in
child safety seats than in parents' laps," Bishai said.
"But they are safer in a lap in an airplane than in the
safest car seat, in the safest car, on the safest road.
Even if we put aside the entire issue of automobile crashes
and assume that nobody would switch from flying to driving,
mandatory infant safety seats would rank as the most
expensive life-saving intervention on record."
In his editorial, Bishai explains that parents who pay
$200 for an airline seat for their infant purchase a
reduction in risk of infant death that translates into $1.3
billion per life saved. He argues that although there are
plenty of worse things to spend $1.3 billion on, there are
also plenty of ways to save more than just one life with
this amount of money.
"Whereas these parents bask in the glow of their good
intentions, a health economist would hope for the sake of
their child that the $200 could not have been better spent
reducing the child's risk of dying from drowning,
suffocating, choking, poisoning or riding in a car —
all of which pose greater numerical hazards to the child,"