Tuesday, June 24th, 2008
Review: Baby B’Air Flight Vest
My wife took a two-hour flight to Los Angeles this past weekend and brought our 3-month-old boy with her. I insisted he wear a Baby B’Air Flight Vest.
It bills itself as "the only safety solution for lap held babies who fly."
The vest slips over your baby’s head and latches snap around the left and ride sides and under the crotch. You cinch the sides with Velcro fastened at the back. It’s much tighter than it sounds; I was unable to pull it apart in a horizontal ripping motion.
Then, with you seated, you thread your adult lap belt through a loop attached to the back of the vest. Presto, change-o, your baby is attached to you.
This cotton vest is sold in newborn and toddler versions based on a
baby’s head size, with a 16" or 19" neck opening. The weight limit for
both is 40lbs.
Of course, such a simple safety tool requires a bit more explanation.
First, let me say, the safest way for a baby to fly is in a car safety seat. Period. Just like with a car collision, a seat will provide the best protection against impact and severe movement.
However, an airline will charge you for an extra seat. Kids may eat free on Tuesdays at Denny’s, but airlines always charge.
Virgin-Atlantic offers "skycots" for infants, but curiously they look like plain bassinets without a harness to hold the infant, just a bassinet wrapper with ample room to slip out from both ends. Either way, that airline isn’t an option at our airport.
Traditionally, families have had to choose between holding their baby without protection… or paying for a second ticket and lugging a car seat through the airport and installing it in a way-too-small plane seat. Oh, and researching which car seat is small and fits best in a plane seat if you’re willing to obtain a car seat specifically for the trip.
The Baby B’Air is a nice and inexpensive compromise between the two. How inexpensive? It’s in the $30 range.
The B’Air’s biggest selling point for me is protection during turbulence. The company has a mildly disturbing promo video that demonstrates the concern. Basically, you’re flying along happy and then the plane plays pinball with you and your baby goes hurtling toward the ceiling. Or maybe it’s lighter turbulence and you merely drop the baby off the end of your lap. Merely, huh?
The company states that more than 90 percent of injuries occur during flight. So I looked for data that might substantiate that claim. The FAA reports:
- In nonfatal accidents, in-flight turbulence is the leading cause of injuries to airline passengers and flight attendants.
- Each year, approximately 58 people in the United States are injured by turbulence while not wearing their seat belts. [I'd like to know what percentage of passengers remain belted during flight. People sitting around me always have, making the injury statistic a bit more serious.]
- Generally, two-thirds of turbulence-related accidents occur at or above 30,000 feet.
In fact, my wife did hit about 1 minute of turbulence going to and from LA, 10 minutes into the flight and about 10 minutes before her return. She reports that our son, "bounced around, significantly jostled." It wasn’t enough that she would have dropped him if he were unfastened, but it certainly would have spooked her for the rest of the flight. So, put your precious one in your lap and fasten him down.
The FAA in the US prohibits use of the Baby B’Air during taxi, takeoff and landing, but the vest can be used during flight.
At first, I thought the FAA’s restriction might be due to the "crush zone" where, like in a car accident, a parent’s body would jackknife, turning a lap-held baby into a parental air bag.
Presumably, a sudden lurch or stop in a plane would most likely occur during taxi, takeoff or landing. So, the vest is not to be worn at those times.
Just the same, the company states the B’Air "was designed specifically to address these concerns, allowing the child to travel out of the parent’s crush zone while attached to the lap belt, not the parent’s body." In fact, there is a small amount of slack in the tether running between the harness and the parent’s lap belt.
The company is trying to get the FAA to approve the B’Air for use.
Thinking logistically looking at the vest in our hands, it seems plausible that in a sudden stop, your baby could move forward out of the crush zone, but still be in comparable safety attached to you. It’s not a perfect solution, but much more preferable to the baby being flung around the cabin.
On my wife’s flight into LA, an attendant noticed the B’Air upon descent and asked/told her to unhook our boy. Other than that, the attendants were oblivious to the B’Air.
If your attendant is unfamiliar with the vest and insists it be unhooked during flight, the company offers a $50 refund when you provide the airline and flight information so that the attendant can be smacked upside the head. Well, I’m sure they’d be a little more polite about it.
I requested the Baby B’Air from the company for this field tested review. But I did so a bit late, and the vest arrived the day before the flight. A few hours before our departure time we read the instructions that suggest washing and laying the vest flat to dry so that the red dye in the brushed cotton doesn’t bleed.
Hot tip: Dry a garment in a pinch by rolling up your car windows and laying it flat in your back window on a sunny day. It’s magic.
Once on the flight, our boy was unaware to the harness. The flight attendants commented several times at his being well behaved (e.g., quiet) and were, except as previously noted, generally oblivious to the bright red vest.
Our boy could be seated upright, laid down or rotated for breastfeeding while in the harness.
My wife found the arrangement a little uncomfortable because the harness obviously doesn’t provide a lot of wiggle room. And, the plane seats were small and didn’t recline. Cramped is the word. My wife thought that getting a car seat installed would have been a nightmare.
So… What do I recommend? I recommend everyone get great paying jobs and buy plane tickets for their babies and also buy compact car seats that will install well in plane seats.
But for the rest of us real people, the Baby B’Air is a nice realistic option. In the end, the vest provided precisely what we needed… peace of mind.