Goodbye To Al Haynes, Hero Captain Of United Flight 232 Disaster; Thoughts On Jan Brown And Child Safety On Planes

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Al Haynes, the captain of United flight 232, passed away Sunday.

30 years ago, Captain Haynes managed to perform the impossible, by landing a DC-10 from Denver to Chicago that had lost all hydraulic power. Previously it was thought to be impossible to land a plane without hydraulic controls and have any survivors as hydraulic systems on a plane control just about everything needed to control the aircraft.

The odds of losing all hydraulic power had been calculated as 1 in a billion and manuals at the time had no procedures about how to land safely in case of the loss of all hydraulic power. Haynes managed to miraculously save 185 of the 296 passengers on his plane.

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

Air Disasters: Impossible Landing made an episode about the flight.

DC-10 instructor Denny Fitch, who passed away 7 years ago after battling brain cancer, just happened to board the flight as he inexplicably walked past an alternate United flight on a Boeing 727 from Denver to Chicago that departed 5 minutes prior to flight 232.

He was fascinated with the possibility of a flight losing all hydraulics and previously tested his theory on controlling a plane via differential thrust alone in a simulator. Captain Haynes graciously accepted his help in the cockpit and it likely saved their lives. It’s considered one of the finest examples of teamwork in aviation history.

In 28 landing attempts that were done afterward in a simulator by other experts replicating flight 232, zero were successful at even reaching the airport.

Denny is a master story teller and his telling of the landing of United flight 232 disaster brought tears to my eyes and a smile to my face. It’s nearly an hour long and the editing isn’t great, but it’s well worth the watch:


Air Traffic Control recordings show how the crew kept calm and their sense of humor under pressure. Here is the transcript of the cockpit voice recorder.

  • Denny Fitch: “I’ll tell you what, we’ll have a beer when this is all done.”
  • Al Haynes: “Well I don’t drink, but I’ll sure as hell have one.”


  • Sioux City Approach: “United Two Thirty-Two Heavy, the wind’s currently three six zero at one one three sixty at eleven. You’re cleared to land on any runway…”
  • Al Haynes: “[Laughter] Roger. [Laughter] You want to be particular and make it a runway, huh?”

But Haynes main objective was to not cause further harm as interstate highways were offered by Sioux City Approach if they couldn’t make the airport.

  • Al Haynes: “Whatever you do, keep us away from the city.”

The WSJ has a great article on Al’s humility and how humility isn’t a a byproduct of heroism in a life-or-death crisis, but a precondition.

It’s pretty amazing from watching the video of the landing that there were 185 survivors:


Without the ability to raise the dipping right wing or to apply brakes, the plane split apart into 4 pieces upon landing. The cockpit wasn’t even found until 35 minutes after the crash.

The seat map diagram shows where on the plane people were sitting and whether they survived or were injured:

In the end, GE and United maintenance were blamed for not finding the metal fatigue that caused all of the hydraulic lines to be cut and the loss of all hydraulic fluid and power. Changes to maintenance and the hydraulic systems were implemented after the crash.

United flight 232 lead flight attendant Jan Brown 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.”

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 child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges you to secure your child in a CRS or device for the duration of your flight. It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely at your destination.”

Of course a carseat doesn’t only protect your child from a crash landing. It also protects children from clear-air turbulence that can cause injury. A bassinet or your arms won’t do that.

Aside from the safety aspect, young children in a carseat are 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 was turned into a play, here is the actress that plays Jan, together with Jan:


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

Let’s just say that Jan is no fan of the FAA and she’s livid at United’s carseat restrictions. She rattles off many other instances of 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.

While direct aisle access in business class has been great for adult travelers, it hasn’t been good for young children. Most airlines have banned carseats in business class as the FAA says that they haven’t tested the effectiveness of carseats on 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.

However 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.

Just mentioning Jan’s name to a United flight attendant has worked wonders for us though. 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:


We flew in United Polaris last year to Israel and this year to Israel and Hawaii and are 6 for 6 in using a carseat for our infant.

Things are typically better in coach, though airlines are adding airbag seatbelt in some seats, which are problematic with carseats.

Foreign carriers can be particularly bad about allowing carseats on a plane. It’s a shame that 30 years after United flight 232 that things are still as difficult as they are for child safety on a plane.

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!

Do you bring a carseat on the plane for your infants and toddlers?

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58 Comments On "Goodbye To Al Haynes, Hero Captain Of United Flight 232 Disaster; Thoughts On Jan Brown And Child Safety On Planes"

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Wow, wow. Can’t believe even a single person would have survived that, let alone 185. He is truly a hero!


You’re misrepresenting the rules. CRS is certainly permitted in forward-facing seats, which are the vast majority of seats. They are not permitted in oblique facing seats, because you have no idea what the torsional forces would do to the seat in that configuration.


Dan, you are a mumche in aerospace etiquette


This has always fascinated me. I believe there was a frum boy on that flight who BH survived.

Carl M Sherer

I flew BA earlier this week next to a Mom traveling with her two-month old baby. The flight attendant gave her a seat belt extender – like they give to overweight people – and showed her how to loop it through her own seat belt so that the child is strapped to her. While a car seat would obviously be safer, this seems to be a better answer than just holding the child in a lap.

My married daughter has actually had arguments with flight attendants about using car seats in economy. Many times she has seen flight crew not allowing car seats to be used, even though they were FAA certified and the seats were facing forward.

Mountain Man

One of the survivors was a bochur attending yeshiva in Denver iinm.


Fascinating post. Thanks!


There’s so much you have to bring onto the plane/shlep through the airport when you travel with a few kids without a car seat. How do you do it? What type of car seat do you use my reg is very heavy I can’t imagine flying with it.


Get a Doona. It’s a car seat with wheels. Also the seat belt strap goes over the seat instead of under it, making it much easier to buckle in. It’s so much easier than a regular car seat, both when traveling and for daily use. It’s a little heavier than a regular car seat, but you’ll be rolling it most of the time and you don’t need a separate stroller.


The doona is not allowed on planes.


That info is outdated. The Doona gained FAA approval a few years ago, has the FAA sticker, and is allowed on planes.


Bought a seat for my infant on JetBlue and brought on the Doona. They checked to make sure it has the faa sticker and then allowed it on no problem.Was very convenient


I myself brought a doona on the plane. I didn’t actually buy a seat for my baby but I didn’t want the doona to get damaged by baggage handlers so i brought it on top and put it in the overhead.

Elaine Rostker

Thank you Dan, you did a wonderful thing today. You reminded us to remember people who deserve to be remembered and honored

Carl M Sherer

Dan, you need a like button.


I would love a post just with the car seat rules i travel once or twice a year on BA with family 99% there are empty seats and they allow me to use the car seat but its good to know the regulations since you can allways have a nasty flight attendent looking to give you a hard time (front faced rear etc.)

Matt Harris

Some cousins on my dad’s side, Janice Brown and her daughter Kimberly (no relation to the flight attendant Jan Brown) were among the fatalities on the flight. Next time you speak to Jan, I’d appreciate it if you’d ask her if she remembers them.


She mentions in the book that she thinks of Janice and Kimberly and regrets not moving them to a different row.


In Chicago we know the boy( now man! ) בחסדי השם , who was on that plane.
I will try to contact him and let him know about this thread


RIP Captain Haynes. A true hero!


“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.” …Unless the airline doesn’t allow car seats on that aircraft type (think props) and refuses to use the saftly harness provided by the airline because, “it’s a short flight and I’ve never had a problem in my year and a half of flying this route).”

Miriam G

This was a really wonderful post, honoring people who certainly deserved it and highlighting an issue I’d never thought about. I really appreciate it and I look forward to the post re your strategies for what you shlep to the airport and how. Thank you!


Should child carseats be front or rear facing?


I purchased a seat for my (will be 6 month old) baby on Virgin Atlantic. Later realized they don’t allow rear facing car seats! What should I do, I was already planning to bring a convertible car seat for my 2 year old. I REALLY don’t want I being two convertibles.


Can I bring my infant car seat and snap and go through the airport and just play dumb and say I’ll “install” it forward facing and just switch it once they aren’t looking. It’s a red eye flight so they’re not walking around too much.
Do you think they’ll not let me do that and make me check it, leaving me with NO car seat ??


this is a quote from the faa
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly urges you to secure your child in a CRS or device for the duration of your flight. It’s the smart and right thing to do so that everyone in your family arrives safely at your destination. The FAA is giving you the information you need to make informed decisions about your family’s travel plans.

but it doesn’t require them to let you bring it on.
i had problems with southwest about this numerous times where they dont let me bring the car seat on Even though there are multiple seats open.
any ideas?


That’s odd. I fly southwest all the time, never pay for an extra seat for the baby, and have not even once had an issue bringing a carseat on board if the flight wasn’t completely full.
Side note, my wife and I fly with the baby, and we get three seats for the price of one (miles, or cash). Always have gotten our own row with early family boarding, and always bring the car seat on (unless plane is completely full… very unlikely only happened once to me). I don’t think people appreciate the value that Southwest adds when traveling with CP with a child!

A family with kids

Cosco Scenera® NEXT Convertible Car Seat, Otto Can be bought in Walmart for under $50 is faa approved and can be used for infants and toddlers it’s very light to carry around and has a strap in the back which can be used to hang off your stroller


Anywhere to buy the book on tape?