How can I determine the maximum number of infants we can allow on our plane?
There are a few considerations on this topic each airline has to make regarding the number of infants allowed on board an aircraft. The deciding factors are:
- Number of spare life vests
- Number of oxygen masks in the overhead Passenger Service Unit (PSU)
- The level of risk the airline is willing to accept (this is explained further down)
While it may appear to be a simple question with clear regulations, part of the answer enters into regulations vs highest degree of safety, which is outside regulations.
First, there is no regulation that controls or limits the number of infants permitted on an aircraft.
However, there are factors that directly affect the number of infants allowed on board a plane.
Oxygen masks in the overhead Passenger Service Unit (PSU) limit the number of persons in that seat row.
Most often, but not always (it is aircraft specific), there is one spare mask in each row; a group of 2 seats has 3 oxygen masks, a group of 3 seats has 4 oxygen masks, etc. The number of oxygen masks in the PSU restricts the number of occupants in that seat row, but not the number of infants.
In a row of 3 seats, there could be one parent with two infants in Child Restraint Seats (CRS) and one lap child, totaling 4 persons in the row. With 4 oxygen masks available, this situation is permissible. This can be repeated in every row on board the plane.
Now, let’s think about safety. Would it be safe to allow one adult to travel on a plane in a row of 4 seats with three infants in CRSs and one on the lap? Technically it’s acceptable, however, there are risks involved. What if an emergency occurs, such as a decompression or an emergency landing? Could the safety of all infants be maintained by one person responsible for all infants? While this scenario is far‐fetched, it illustrates the decisionmaking that can go into deciding what’s permissible and what’s not. Each airline decides what limits to safety they are willing to accept in their operation.
If the plane is going to conduct an extended overwater flight, regulations require that there has to be one life preserver for each person on board the plane. The applicable regulation is 14 CFR 121.339 Emergency equipment for extended over‐water operations
(a) (1) A life preserver equipped with an approved survivor locator light, for each occupant of the airplane.
Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate an airplane in any overwater operation unless it is equipped with life preservers in accordance with §121.339(a)(1) or with an approved flotation means for each occupant.
This means must be within easy reach of each seated occupant and must be readily removable from the airplane.
Note the words used: each occupant. It does not explicitly state infant. Infant life vests are clearly the best one for infants, but they not explicitly required by regulation.
The number of spare life vests does matter.
- If a plane has 200 seats and 15 spare life vests, the plane is limited to 215 passengers, including infants. (I won’t get into seating arrangements)
- If the plane has all seats filled, and there are 16 infant lap children on board, one person, someone, has to get off the plane to limit the number of occupants to 215. The plane cannot be operated with more persons on board than life preservers available per 121.339. Either one person is denied transportation, or a parent with an infant (2 persons) is denied transportation.
There are other decisions that can affect an airline’s policy with regard to infants on board. Some airlines may restrict the number of infants on a flight to the number of infant life vests available onboard the aircraft. Even though they may have additional adult life vests available that would meet the regulatory requirements of having flotation means for each occupant, some airlines choose to operate at a higher standard of safety and limit the number of infants to the number of infant life vests on board, not the total number of spare life vests on board. That would be an airline’s policy, not regulation.
As you can see, it sounds like a question about infants on a plane should be simple, and to a degree it is. However, there are a few factors that must be considered when deciding how many infants an airline wants to permit onboard.