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Rear-facing on Airplanes

Rear-facing is the safest way to travel, for everyone.  A rear-facing seat absorbs the majority of impact force in a crash, and cradles the head, neck and spine to prevent injury.  Children should remain in rear-facing child safety seats as long as they safely fit; they should be under the maximum rear-facing weight limit and their head should be contained within the seat shell.

Air travel is proven to be much safer than car travel; however, rear-facing on aircraft is even more important than in cars, as the spacing between airplane seats is so limited that a child in a forward-facing seat will very likely impact the seat in front of them...even in a minor crash or during turbulence.  For those who need information to take with them to educate the aircraft crew on the necessity and safety of rear-facing, the following links and quotes should help.


"Children should face the rear of the vehicle until they are at least 1 year of age and weigh at least 20 lb to decrease the risk of cervical spine injury in the event of a crash. Infants who weigh 20 lb before 1 year of age should ride rear facing in a convertible seat or infant seat approved for higher weights until at least 1 year of age. If a car safety seat accommodates children rear facing to higher weights, for optimal protection, the child should remain rear facing until reaching the maximum weight for the car safety seat, as long as the top of the head is below the top of the seat back." http://www.aap.org/policy/re0116.html

"An airplane crash propels the body toward the front of the plane. In forward-facing seats, that means the passenger is propelled into a two-inch lap belt. This causes the body to jack-knife - the torso and limbs fly forward while the hips stay back.
In seats facing aft, or rearward, the passenger is propelled into the back of the seat, and the force is spread over the entire body. The seat would support the head, torso, hips and limbs and significantly reduce the potential for injury." http://www.mailtribune.com/archive/2001/august/080501n1.htm

http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199899/cmselect/cmenvtra/275/27510.htm#n218 (#83 and 84)

http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_01/14cfr91_01.html
Section 91.3, "The pilot in command of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft."
Section 91.107, "The child must be properly secured in the restraint system."

- The Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) has published a study on the performance of child restraint devices in transport airplane passenger seats that concludes that rear or "aft" facing seats are "the only available means of providing adequate protection that can be recommended." http://www.cami.jccbi.gov/aam-400A/Abstracts/1994/FULL TEXT/AM-94-19.pdf (link is down)

- The FAA, as prescribed in Federal law - "...the Administrator shall consider the duty of an air carrier to provide service with the HIGHEST POSSIBLE DEGREE OF SAFETY in the public interest." This quote and the one above should go together nicely, should you need to plead your case. http://www4.law.cornell.edu/uscode/49/44702.html

- On February 12, 1997, the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security issued a final report to President Clinton which included a recommendation on Child Restraint (CRS) use during flight. The following is an excerpt from the final report as it relates to Child Restraints: "The FAA should revise its regulations to require that all occupants be restrained during takeoff, landing and turbulent conditions, ant that all infants and small children below the weight of 40 pounds and under the height of 40 inches be restrained in an appropriate child restraint system, such as child safety seats, APPROPRIATE TO THEIR HEIGHT AND WEIGHT." http://www.airportnet.org/depts/regulatory/gorefinal.htm (#1.13 under "Recommendations")

- SafetyBeltSafe USA says,
"Rear-facing CRs provide the best protection from injury for any child that can fit in one. http://www.carseat.org/Technical/tech_update.htm#rearfacCR

"A rear-facing seat should not be a problem to install. Rear-facing seats protect best..." http://www.carseat.org/Resources/FAQs.htm#airplane - see "Should my child use a safety seat on an airplane?")

- Stephanie Tombrello, the Director of SafetyBeltSafe USA has the following comments (from a Child Passenger Safety Listserve):

"The reason for putting the children rear-facing is that there is so little space between plane seats that there isn't room for the typical head excursion. Granted, the most common problem is clear air turbulence; however, when CAMI did the testing on safety seats on airplane seats, that was their recommendation. The reason one uses the forward-facing seats at all is that in turbulence, the child does better with harness straps. But there isn't a much likelihood that the seat wouldn't strike the seat in front."

"The best way for young children to ride on aircraft, given the spacing in the ordinary cabin, is rear-facing for as long as the safety seat, preferably a high-weight rear-facing one, is certified to do so."

"You are 100% correct, based on FAA testing at CAMI, that children should ride rear-facing on aircraft even longer than in automobiles because of the very limited spacing between airline seats. Although a forward facing seat is safer than nothing, it is likely, in a severe impact, that the child might strike the seat in front. Therefore, I have advised parents whose children were already forward-facing and over a year to consider rear-facing the child on the airplane (with the appropriate seat, of course)."

Other things that you might take with you:

- A note from your doctor, stating that your child "must remain rear-facing in automobiles and on aircraft." 

The name and number of the person in charge of child passenger safety (at the Washington Headquarters) and the head of the flight standards district office for each region you'll be flying through. These people will refer to the flight standard bulletins for child restraints - ALL of which say that the restraint must be used "properly", NONE of which specify an age or weight at which a child must face forward on aircraft.

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