American Airlines said Wednesday that it would permanently offer a 50 percent discount on fares for children under 2 years old, a move that was quickly matched by many airlines, including United, Delta, Northwest and Continental.
The discount, which is only for flights within North America, offers a new choice for parents who regularly grapple with the decision of whether to pay a full extra fare for a seat for their babies. Many parents do not buy a ticket and hope that empty seats are available on their flight. If not, they have to hold the babies in their laps.
A Federal Aviation Administration regulation allows this for children under 2, though some safety experts have questioned the wisdom of the rule. In February, for example, a commission on aviation safety led by Vice President Al Gore recommended eliminating the waiver that allows infants to fly without being restrained in their own seat.
But the aviation agency has determined that requiring parents to buy a seat for every child might make air travel too expensive for many families and that they would instead travel by automobile, which statistically would make them be more likely to be injured or die in a car crash.
The FAA, which started an advertising campaign last December to encourage parents to restrain their children in a safety seat, said it “applauds American Airlines’ move to enhance aviation safety for young travelers.”
Parents must supply their own infant safety seat. Most car seats for babies are approved by the government for use in cars and airplanes.
According to a 1995 report to Congress by the aviation agency, nine infants died in plane crashes on U.S. airlines from 1978 to 1994. In that period, four infants suffered major injuries in plane accidents and another eight suffered minor injuries.
Like many other airlines, American often reserves the seat next to a parent who does not buy a ticket for their infant. But on heavily booked flights, those seats are not guaranteed.