Children and General Aviation Seat Belt Use – FAA Regulation 14 CFR

A child sitting in an aircraft playing a tablet game with the mother in the next seat.

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The Federal Aviation Regulations surrounding in-flight seat belt usage are pretty straightforward. Regulations include the use of seatbelts and other child restraint systems with children. They identify when a child may be held on the lap of an adult and when they should use the installed restraints. These regulations also define the type of car seat allowed.

CFR Part 91, which covers general aviation flights. General aviation (GA) includes all civil aircraft such as small, private recreational and some commercial and business aircraft. GA aircraft include those used for private travel as well as those used for flight instruction, emergency medical use, business travel, and agricultural applications.

Regulations in CFR Part 121 and 135, includes—among other things—seatbelt use on commercial flights—or any flight for hire passenger aircraft. This type of aviation includes flying taxi services, tours, and a commuter craft for passengers as well as cargo.

The rules are different for pilots flying under part 91 guidelines and those using parts 121 and 135. The flight guidelines for part 121 and 135 are more stringent—and thus more costly—than those for part 91, which is why more pilots prefer to use CFR Part 91 if possible.

The guidelines below pertain only to Part 91 general aviation flights.

General Aviation Seatbelt Use

Government regulation 14 CFR 91.107 is the official rule regarding the use of safety belts, shoulder harnesses, and child restraint systems. Here are the key points addressed in 91.107:

  1. The pilot in command may not take off in an aircraft unless all passengers have been briefed on appropriate seat belt usage, including how to fasten and unfasten the seat belt and shoulder harness. This is typically part of the passenger safety briefing given by the pilot himself or one of his crew members.
  2. The pilot in command may not move the aircraft without instructing passengers to fasten their seat belts and shoulder harnesses—if installed—before doing so.
  3. Passengers must be seated in an approved seat with seat belts and shoulder harnesses (when installed) fastened during aircraft movement on the surface, takeoff, and landing. There are certain exceptions.
  4. A child under the age of two may be held by an adult (See NTSB recommendations before holding your child on your lap or allowing someone to hold a child while acting as pilot in command).
  5. Parachuting passengers may occupy a spot on the floor of the aircraft.
  6. A child can be restrained in a proper child restraint system, which must have two labels stating the following: "This child restraint system conforms to all applicable Federal motor vehicle safety standards,” and “This restraint is certified for use in motor vehicles and aircraft in red lettering. A child safety seat that doesn't include the previous statements, but has been approved by a foreign government or the United Nations or in accordance with CFR 21.8 or TSO C100-b or later, may be used.
  7. Booster seats, vest-and-harness restraints, and lap help restraints are not approved by the FAA.
  8. Keep in mind that child restraint systems must be properly installed and used within the guidelines of the restraint system manufacturer with regards to weight, height, etc.

If you are flying as pilot in command of a part 91 operation, you must ensure that your passengers are properly restrained.

Planning for Safe Air Travel With Your Child

Currently, FAA regulation 14 CFR allows children under two years of age to ride as a lap child without being restrained. But holding a child on your lap during flight is not safe. Use a car seat or an approved safety harness instead. Most car seats sold in stores are approved for aviation use, but to be sure just look for the red lettering on the side or bottom of the car seat.

If your child is still in a car seat, you should bring it onboard the airplane. In a commercial airplane, this will likely require purchasing a separate seat ticket for the child. In a private general aviation airplane, it will not. Most car seats you buy at stores are approved by the FAA for use while flying. However, if you're not sure, check for the red letters on the label of the car seat. 

Booster seats are not approved for flight, either for general aviation or for airline flying. According to the FAA, booster seats do not meet federal regulation standards and should not be used. Children under 40 pounds should ride in a car seat; children over 40 pounds can ride with an airplane seatbelt alone.