1 Fatality And 70+ Injuries After Severe Turbulence: Buckle Your Seatbelt And Buy Your Infant A Seat!

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Update 5/21/24: Singapore Airlines Flight SQ321, a Boeing 777-300ER from London to Singapore was diverted to Bangkok today due to severe turbulence. There was one confirmed fatality and over 70 injuries during a “dramatic drop” in altitude. Several of the injured are in critical condition, and almost all of them are from trauma to the head.

Severe clear-air turbulence in the air is not rare, so this is a good reminder that you should always wear a seatbelt on a plane whenever possible, and to buy a seat and bring a carseat onboard for your young children, it may just be a matter of life and death.


Originally posted on 12/19/22:

Dozens of people were injured, 11 of them seriously, after a Hawaiian Airlines flight ran into severe turbulence on a flight yesterday. The injured included an 14 month old infant and a teenager.

There was no warning of the turbulence, and some unbuckled passengers hit the ceiling during the incident. 

5 passengers were also hospitalized after being injured due to severe turbulence on a United flight from Rio to Houston that landed this morning.

 

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A post shared by Hawaii News Now (@hawaiinewsnow)

Clear-air turbulence is not uncommon and can occur at any time during a flight. I have flown on flights with severe enough turbulence that it caused injuries onboard.

What should you do about it?

  1. When you’re in your seat, you should always wear a seatbelt, even if the seatbelt sign isn’t illuminated. Better safe than sorry certainly applies here.
  2. If you’re flying with an infant, you should purchase a seat for them and have them buckled into a carseat.

It’s true that the FAA doesn’t require a seat for children under 2. Their analysis showed that requiring tickets for children under 2 would mean more people would drive, which is a statistically more dangerous way to travel.

I guess according to that logic, carseats wouldn’t be required in a car if walking was more dangerous than driving.

Aside from the safety aspect, kids in a carseat are much more likely to sleep on a plane and you won’t have to hold them or stop them from opening the airline seatbelt. Plus if you need a carseat at your destination you don’t have to worry about airline baggage handlers mishandling and damaging your carseat.

United flight 232 lead flight attendant Jan Brown survived that harrowing crash in Sioux City went on to become a tireless child safety advocate. At the time, guidance was for lap children to be placed on the ground in case of a crash landing.

Jan told Sylvia Tsao to do just that with her 22 month old boy on the flight. Sylvia survived, but her son Evan did not. Sylvia confronted Jan after the crash and told her, “You told me to put my son on the floor, I did, and he’s gone.”

The book, Flight 232: A Story of Disaster and Survival tells the dramatic story.

 

 

Jan has spent years lobbying the NTSB and FAA to require carseats for all children on airplanes. At one point in time, the NTSB considered it one of their top priorities. However the FAA estimated that 20% of families would drive instead of fly if they required that infants be ticketed, so they refused to adopt the rule.

It’s ironic that the FAA doesn’t allow you to hold a laptop or purse during takeoff or landing, but you can hold a child.

However the FAA does state that, “Your arms aren’t capable of holding your in-lap child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence, which is the number one cause of pediatric injuries on an airplane.

The FAA strongly urges you to secure your child in an approved CRS or other approved device for the entirety of your flight. Buying a ticket for your child is the only way to guarantee that you will be able to use a CRS. It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely at your destination.”

A bassinet won’t help with turbulence either.

Jan and I corresponded regularly and have become friends since I flew with my family to Israel in 2018 in United Polaris business class. She cares deeply about child safety on planes. I wrote an article previously about my research and experience with carseats in United Polaris business class.

Most airlines allow carseats in economy, but many ban them in business class as the FAA hasn’t tested the use of carseats in angled seats.

It’s absurd that after years of angled business class seats that the FAA still hasn’t tested how carseats perform in angled seats.

Let’s just say that Jan is no fan of the FAA, which she calls a worthless agency, and she’s livid at United’s carseat restrictions. She rattles off many other flights where parents who were not able to hold onto their lap children and wound up paying the ultimate price due to the FAA’s failure to requite seats for everyone. She is very frustrated to hear that flight attendants would advise anyone to hold their infant instead of using a carseat.

Half of United’s Polaris business seats face straight forward, but United still banned carseats in all Polaris seats. This is against FAA rules that require airlines to allow carseats to be used in all seats that can accommodate them.

However, I have found that just mentioning Jan’s name to a United flight attendant works wonders for us. Jan says that she never lived down the fact that she followed the manual in advising parents to put their lap children on the floor. United flight attendants today revere Jan and stop to think if it really makes sense to not allow infants in a car seat in a forward facing seat, just because the manual says not to:

 

The next time you’re buying a flight with an infant, I hope you’ll consider buying your child a seat and bringing a carseat on the plane. It’s a small price to pay for knowing that your child will be safe.

You can use tools like turbli that attempt to predict how much turbulence will be on your flight, but in the end there’s just no way to know what will happen when you’re cruising at 550MPH some 7 miles up in the sky.

It can be a bumpy ride in the sky, buckle up folks!

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71 Comments On "1 Fatality And 70+ Injuries After Severe Turbulence: Buckle Your Seatbelt And Buy Your Infant A Seat!"

All opinions expressed below are user generated and the opinions aren’t provided, reviewed or endorsed by any advertiser or DansDeals.

Harley Kesselman

Hi Dan, thank you for this article. What do you think of a 2.5 year old flying just with her own seat and using the plane’s seat belt?

Yakov15

Dan, do you have a car seat that you recommend? Been using the Doona until now but now my kid grew out of it. Looking for something lightweight. Thanks for looking out for us!

Yossi G

Dan, by just reading this article I feel I became smarter. All journalism should be so informative. Thank you for bringing it up

S

Dan,
When you fly Polaris, have you succeeded in getting a carseat onboard each time? If not, do you downgrade to Y To put the kids in carseats?

Shmueli

“Their analysis showed that requiring tickets for children under 2 would mean more people would drive, which is a statistically more dangerous way to travel.

I guess according to that logic, carseats wouldn’t be required in a car if walking was more dangerous than driving.”

There is a difference between the 2.
If a family needs to pay extra for a seat for their infant, the family is more likely to drive (because when it’s too expensive to fly people tend to drive!). That will result in a higher net amount of infant casualties because driving is MANY times more dangerous than flying.

Walking however, is usually not an alternative to driving. So even if walking WAS more dangerous than driving no-one would walk to avoid the expense of putting in a carseat. Because you simply can’t walk from Cleveland to Lakewood.

At the end of the day this is the safest and most logical policy when you look at the bigger picture (total infant deaths when traveling). If someone can afford to pay for an extra seat on a plane no-one is stopping them.

P.S.
(HT?)

CtownBin

If that were true, why not require car seats on flights where driving is impossible? Just like you can’t walk from Cleveland To Lakewood- you can’t drive from Cleveland to Tel Aviv 🙂

Show me the money!

“I guess according to that logic, carseats wouldn’t be required in a car if walking was more dangerous than driving.“

Huh?

Do more people walk than drive due to a car seat requirement?

Yitz

I just see these stories and think how terrified I would have been on there I fly often and as much as I know its irrational, when a plane hits turbulence I get so nervous. Like the pilot will lose control or something

BT

“When you’re in your seat, you should always wear a seatbelt, even if the seatbelt sign isn’t illuminated”

Do you do this?

Gersh

I do. It’s not a hard thing to do.

yelped

Always. It’s not exactly an uncomfortable 5 point harness.

Karen

I absolutely do. Turbulence is not rare.

Lindnuck

When my kids were that age it always baffled me that airlines demanded we take them out of the carriers strapped to our chest (where they were often asleep) and told us we had to hold them outside the carrier during take off and landing. I tried to argue a few times that in case or turbulence the baby would be much safer strapped to us than in our arms. Never succeeded but usually could just pretend to comply and then put the baby back when they turned away. Silliness.

Rebecca

This is actually unsafe and it makes the baby your airbag.

Karen in Florida

Baby is not an airbag if mom is wearing a seatbelt.

swa

Dan i have a 2.5 year old and have used the cosco carseat, problem is he can kick the seat in front, what do you do about that? i stopped taking the carseat on bc of that but he just climbs around. Any tips?

gmom

Install the carseat rear-facing. Then he can only kick his own seat. Costco carseat is safe rear facing until 40 inches and 40 lbs and rear facing is always safer anyway (especially in the car).

Momofboys

Then the person in front can not recline and on long distance flights I feel terrible about that

Points

Easy to say buy another seat when you sit on millions of points

Karen

Maybe you can’t afford to travel then. If it is life or death, what decision do you make? Do you pay to rent a car when the kids can’t fit in the back of a pick up truck? I do.

DTS

“Most airlines allow carseats in economy, but many ban them in business class as the FAA hasn’t tested the use of carseats in angled seats.

It’s absurd that after years of angled business class seats that the FAA still hasn’t tested how carseats perform in angled seats.”

I think that what is really going on here is that airlines dont want babies (or kids for that matter) in Business Class. If passengers are paying 3xcoach, they dont want to be anoyed by noisy children. Since this is the most lucrative part of the plane, it is in their interest to keep the expereince as pleasent as possible for the VAST MAJORITY of the business class passengers.

yankel

+1

A

I fully agree but to be fair this hasn’t stopped people from bringing kids in J on the lap. I once had a lap child screaming for the entire night on my flight from Abu Dhabi

Yisroel Pollock

Just flew Air France from LAX to TLV with a stopover in Paris. In LA, I had my baby (in a paid for seat) buckled up in a rear facing car seat, and the flight attendant came over and said that we have to get rid of the car seat because the person ahead of it was not able to recline. The only way they let us keep the car seat on the plane was when we agreed to turn the car seat forward and buckle him in the wrong way. We felt forced to do that because all the flight attendants came over and it felt like they were getting ready to kick us off of the flight.

aas

imagine if would be you seating in the front???

travelmom

I understand that the reason to install the seat rear facing is to prevent neck injury from stopping short etc. Is there any reason to assume that the same issue applies on an airplane? If not, is there any reason not to install it forward facing?

Mogelt

Dan I feel you have a blind spot when it comes to this subject. Just because it’s statistically a tiny bit safer to put an infant in a car seat doesn’t mean it’s a rational policy to require it. Meaning it doesn’t make sense to require many millions of seats to be purchased to save one infant from harm (often meaning just a bruise and even more rarely their life c”v). There are plenty of ways to spend a billion dollars and prevent some tiny harm but it’s not sensible policy, nor is it necessarily a sensible personal decision (to spend hundreds of dollars extra every time you fly to mitigate a statistically negligible odd that something will go wrong).

Common Sense

Listen Mr. More Gelt, that is your decision if you want to pinch pennies or not. Mr. Dan is advocating that we listen to Mr. More Nefesh.

Leibl

I flew two weeks ago with a 5 month old baby on Air Canada, and the flight attended wanted that we should hold the baby in the lap rather then in a Doona, since the Doona does not have both certificates to be approved for an aircraft. After making a fuss about it they agreed that we can use the Doona but it will be on our “own responsibility”…

Shmu

Delayed response but posting here for others who will read the comments.
The Doona is FAA approved – see here: https://www.blossom.baby/doona-faqs/

Mommy

We bought the Cosco scenera based on your and others recommendation. Used for 2 round trip flights, each under 2 hours. Soooo recommended, so worth it…. she slept most of the trips, and even when not, she wasn’t jumping and squirming like on previous flights. I was looking up various options for transporting it through the airport, but in the end the simplest solution was to just flip it over between the handle and seat of the stroller. With this, we also had a car seat at our destination.
Re rear-facing: it was mentioned that the point of rear facing is more for a car danger. On an airplane, is it recommended to do rear facing anyway?

Lani Harrison

Thank you Dan for reposting this! I’m a CPST (certified child passenger safety tech) and happy to answer any Q’s on this. Feel free to reply to this comment and ask.

Reading questions below – the general rule is that at 40 lbs the seatbelt has a chance of getting tight on a kid. Below that, bring a car seat. Above that (till 65 lbs) you may want to anyway to keep them safer and keep your own lap free. A booster with no straps can never be used on a plane as it needs a shoulder belt. (A few planes have shoulder belts but they are not the same type as cars – don’t have a sliding buckle.)

Moish

A few months ago, I chatted with a flight attendant on board a United transatlantic flight. We were discussing turbulence, and he told me that a few years ago, he was flying over the Atlantic Ocean when they hit severe turbulence. Someone sitting in a seat, without a seatbelt, was thrown and got badly hurt. They made an emergency landing and got medical help. End result was, the person was paralyzed for life. A long lawsuit ensued, and after all was said and done, the passenger got “nothing”, since he didn’t obey the flight crews instructions to fasten the seatbelts, even when seated.

Zalmen

Dan, I’m curious about other adaptations you make for car seating kids (especially over 2). For long haul flights, how do you address the child’s need to sleep? Do they sleep reasonably well in a car seat? Also do they mind being in the car seat while they’re awake? It seams like there might be loud protestation from the child in questioned if they remain fairly immobile for most of a long haul flight. Obviously these are not as important as safety but I’m wondering how you might address these possible complications

Jack

Dan, nice and informative article.

I just flew JetBlue JFK/LHR, with a 20 Mo baby, my first time flying JetBlue, and was shocked that they wouldn’t provide me with a seatbelt extender and lifevest for the infant.

I flew many many times with multiple airlines and all of them do, upon asking the flight flight attendant the answer was “Your child is the safest in your Hand”…

Are there any regulations requiring these seatbelts/airbags for infants?

Blind Spot

I wholeheartedly agree that if one has the means an additional seat should be purchased. I agree also that airlines and flight attendants should grant more allowances for parents in any class on the flight to secure a car seat.

What I disagree with is the sentiment that airlines should change their policy on lap children.

The fact of the matter is that if tomorrow the policy were to change, requiring all under 2 to have their own seat, it would result in more deaths. It’s statistically proven, period.

I think the fault lies in the oversight of two points:

1. Dan, as an avid flyer, is viewing the matter from an aviation-risk stand point. So yes, if the policy were to change tomorrow, their would be less deaths in the air, but that neglects the fact that there would be more deaths overall. If Dan were to be more inclined in researching car crash statistics than plane crash statistics, then this articles’ tone would be very different.

2. It seems that there’s also a blind spot in terms of the aspect of affordability. Naturally, one that has plenty of money/points will find it harder to empathize with someone who is in a situation where they can barely afford the flight even with a lap child, and the cost of an extra ticket would make it completely unfeasible.

Hope the above sheds some light.

Dan\'s opinion

@Dan, what is your take on this?

Concerned Parent

Pls Help.
Our 1 y/o infant is scheduled to fly in our lap in two weeks. Originally tickets were bought on Priceline Sep ’23, through United, to travel Austrian/Lufthansa. Itinerary was cancelled three times to-date. Now United rebooked us on this route TLV>VIE>EWR & YUL>FRA>TLV. Hopefully flying in two weeks.
Who can update/purchase us a seat for infant?

Donald

Call the airline with your credit card?

Concerned Parent

Which?
Priceline routed me to united saying they cannot add or alter the infant’s ticket.
United transferred me many times, and on some of those calls I found myself patched through to an unhelpful Air Austrian rep.

Ozz

As an Australian, I was shocked to discover that in America they don’t give you a lap belt for your baby.
We had turbulence during a flight in the US, I was feeling queasy, and had to pass the baby to my husband. There was no way she would have stayed in my arms safely (and this was mild turbulence).

R. Moshe

Just sticking my own experience in here. I have flown quite a bit, from typical twin aisle transatlantic, Israel and some SAAB propeller planes short flights into ZRH. Everything was relatively uneventful till one routine flight, LGA-FLL. Everything was normal, snacks wagon was near me and SUDDENLY, it felt like the plane was turning over. The cart fell on me, all the drink bottles flew on me and the cabin attendants fell to the floor. It was so sudden and unexpected, I doubt anyone could have safely held a baby in their arms. Please believe the warnings pertaining to holding infants!

Buggy

The issue I have always had with this is that when me and my wife travels we are barely able to get our 3 little kids and all our stuff onto the flight.
2 people 3 little kids and 3+ carry ons for food toys valuables etc is hard enough
How would I also bring a car seat on?
Genuinely curious how other people pull this off

Glushtygiz

You ask FA for help

Etan G

They don’t want car seats, babies, infants, toddlers, in business because the noise, crying, wandering around etc would disrupt the solace of the other high paying passengers in the cabin. It has little to nothing to do with safety. JMO

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