United Airlines flight 232
crashed into an Iowa cornfield while attempting to land. A turbine in the #2 engine flew apart mid-flight due to a manufacturing defect, severing all the hydraulic lines. The crew controlled the plane with differential thrust from the two remaining engines, and frankly it was a miracle they even made it to the runway. Roughly a third of the people aboard were killed.
One of those killed was a lap child - a child flying without a paid seat, and thus held on a parent's lap during the flight. This presented a problem during the emergency landing. Lead flight attenand Jan Lohr
followed FAA procedure and instructed the parents to put the child underneath the seat in front like a carry-on bag. After the accident, the mother (who survived) came up to Jan and, in tears, told her "I did what you told me to do, and I can't find my child."
Jan was beset with guilt, and began a quarter-century crusade to outlaw the practice of lap children. That any child flying should be required to have their own seat with a crash safety seat like we use in cars. She even testified about her experience before Congress. It all came for naught when in 2012 the FAA issued its final decision that lap children would still be allowed. A victory for the selfish, self-centered stockholders and management behind the evil airlines, right?
Not so fast. See, here's the thing. Flying is really, really safe. Due to the irrational nature of people's emotional mind, we fixate on large accidents while multiple small ones slip by unnoticed. So every time an airliner crashes, it makes national if not worldwide headlines. But if there's a car accident nearby, even your local news station is unlikely to cover it. Consequently we've spent decades concentrating on making flying disproportionately super-safe. The FAA crunched the numbers, and determined that if a family with a child decided to travel for vacation, the odds of the child dying in a plane accident - as a lap child - were lower than the odds of the child dying in a car accident while strapped into a car seat. So to encourage people to fly instead of drive with their child on vacation, they allow the family to fly without having to pay for an extra seat for the child.
The lap child policy saves lives
, despite its horrific outcome when the statistics don't work your way and there's a lap child aboard a plane which does crash. (As for forcing airlines to give children a free seat, that doesn't work either because they don't know until the time of the flight exactly how many people will be aboard. The way the industry operates is to slightly overbook because on average a certain percentage of people will miss their flights. When that gambit fails and more people show up for the flight than there are seats on the plane, someone has to be bumped off the flight. Forcing them to hold an unknown number of seats in reserve for "surprise" undeclared children would shift the number of passengers for a "booked" flight down, forcing them to raise the per-seat price, which again would encourage parents of young children to drive instead of fly.)
Morality is hard.