Federal officials are warning parents against holding their infants on their laps while flying after the recent midair blowout on an Alaska Airlines flight renewed fears over what could happen to an unsecured baby.
All 171 passengers and six flight crew members miraculously survived the flight when a door plug broke off at 16,000 feet — revealing the night sky through the gaping hole it left behind.
The rapid depressurization, however, sucked out two cell phones, a seat headrest and the shirt off a teenage boy’s back.
The items were later found on the side of roads and in the backyards of Portland residents after they plunged thousands of feet.
Experts said if the plane had not just taken off and the seatbelt sign was not on, it would have likely ended in disaster.
Three passengers aboard the Boeing 737, however, were not wearing seatbelts.
“On the plane were three babies held in the laps of caregivers,” National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy told reporters at a Sunday press conference.
Babies under the age of 2 can fly for free and do not need a separate plane ticket in the US. Instead, they can be held in the lap of their parent or guardian — but that means the only thing keeping them in place is that adult’s arms.
“If there had been a passenger holding a kid close to where that panel blew off, the explosive force was such that a kid being held would have been torn from the hands of their parents, and they would have been sucked out the plane,” Kwasi Adjekum, an assistant professor at the University of North Dakota’s Department of Aviation, told the Washington Post.
Homendy said the flight attendants aboard Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 were immediately concerned about the three babies as well as four unaccompanied minors who were on the plane and made sure all were safe.
The attendants are now coping with “a lot of trauma” that came from the “terrifying” experience in which communication with the cockpit and each other was nearly impossible due to the howling winds let in through the hole in the side of the jet, the chair added.
Homendy took a moment from Sunday’s briefing on Alaska Airlines Flight 1282 to directly urge parents to put their children under 2 in their own seats in a Federal Aviation Administration-approved carrier so they are safe in case something like Friday’s terrifying blow-out happens.
“The NTSB has long recommended and the Federal Aviation Administration has long recommended and Alaska Airlines on their website also recommends for caregivers or those accompanying infants under the age of 2 to purchase a seat for that infant and to put them in their own car seat and to strap them in to ensure safety,” she said.
Carriers are not only a safety measure during extreme incidents like a part of the plane breaking off, but also during more common turbulence events.
“The practice of holding kids on your lap, especially for takeoff and other vulnerable phases of flight — it’s highly frowned upon and discouraged,” Adjekum said.