Beware The Aircraft Armrests When Flying With An Infant

airplane safety, baby pinch armrests, armrest hinge in plane, aircraft armrest hinge

Adorable “wee” Jake on his vacation in Mexico…

The issue of armrests on a plane is sometimes a contentious one… Who gets dibs? Fortunately that’s usually not an issue when flying with an infant since in a perfect world the person beside you is either someone you’re related to or at least someone you know. But it appears as though the armrest is a serious airplane safety issue that could cause serious injury, instead of just being a source of potential conflict.

Back in February, my friend Amanda was flying to Mexico for a family vacation with her husband and their two beautiful boys – five-year-old Cam and (then) 16-month-old Jake. “Wee” Jake (he’s really not so wee!) had fallen asleep across Amanda’s lap, and in her email to me she also sent what she wrote to the airline:

I wanted to bring your attention, to a potentially serious situation. During the flight as my son was sleeping, his hand slid between my side and the arm rest. The armrest was up and unknown to me, the metal hinges were exposed. When the armrest was placed down, it trapped my sons finger guillotine style, which resulted in a deep cut. Had the arm been thumped down heavier, I’m almost sure the finger could have come off. We notified the attendants who offered band-aids, but really had no further interest in the situation.

The airline was Sunwing, and their lackadaisical response is kind of a bummer, especially since we have had such wonderful experiences with them on our flights to Cayo Santa Maria and Trinidad, Cuba. Not all flight crews are created equal, and sadly, not all customer service reps are either. Sunwing‘s Terri Hamilton responded to Amanda’s query, and I was cc’d on the correspondence (emphasis mine):

Please note that during Flight Attendant training, we advise our trainees that they should allow passengers to fasten their own seatbelt, open their own window shade, put their own armrest down, etc. Additionally, we always encourage infants to be secured, whether the seat belt sign is on or off during flight. Lying across the parent’s lap, although we are sure is more comfortable for the parent, is not the most secure for the infant (in the event of unexpected turbulence,) which unfortunately can happen. Little tiny fingers can easily fit into less visible areas on the aircraft that an adult may not even think twice about, which is why it is the recommended best practice if the infant remains in the seated, “burping” position or in an approved Child Restraint Device (i.e. car seat) during the flight.

Personally, I think Terri’s (and Sunwing’s) response is lame. You can read it in its entirety here. In Amanda’s reply to Terri she pointed out that you’re not going to hold an infant in the burping position for the duration of a flight – ANY length of flight. And I tried to clarify to Terri that, while it would have been nice if the flight attendants had shown some concern for an injured baby in their cabin, the real issue here is that the armrest is a potential safety hazard. Friends found a link to a similar incident on a Qantas 380. (I think it’s worthwhile to note that Sunwing did not respond to Amanda’s reply).

airplane safety, aircraft armrest hinge, aircraft armrest, infant safety

Embraer Armrest Hinge

Amanda first told me about this in March. The reason it’s taken so long for me to write about it is that Amanda and I have been doing a bit of “research” (ie intentionally pinching fingers in armrest hinges) on the myriad of flights we’ve taken over the past few months.

I flew Embraer aircrafts to Florida and back twice, and their armrest hinges were pretty flat with a weird rope thing. It looks kind of nasty with the screw stuck out like that, but I shut my finger in it a couple of times to test. If thumped down hard it certainly pinched, but don’t think it would sever.

airplane safety, a321, airbus 321, aircraft armrest hinge

A321 Armrest Up

On our most recent trip to Alberta and back, we flew Airbus aircrafts – a 321 and a 319. Both of them had metal armrest hinges that definitely pinched and hurt when I stuck my finger in and shut it, and maybe could have caused more damage if my finger was the size of an infant’s. When I first saw this I was certain that it was an Airbus issue, since the other case linked to above occurred on a 380 – another Airbus aircraft.

airplane safety, airbus, a321, airbus armrest hinge, airbus 321 armrest

A Closer Look At The A321 Armrest Hinge

But I just had a look at Sunwing’s website, and their fleet is made up entirely of Boeings (eight 737-800 planes) – and I haven’t flown on a Boeing in a while.

airplane safety, British Airways armrest hinge, BA armrest hinge

Armrest Hinge on British Airways

Amanda recently flew to the UK via British Airways on a Boeing aircraft (see her review of British Airways coming up!) and took a picture of their hinges (and a fabulous manicure!) and noted that they also had “hinge” armrests, “although the ‘hinge’ part had less metal parts exposed  making it less guillotine like than Sunwing. We noticed that one of the armrests in front of the infant cot on the flight from London to Toronto (767 plane), wasn’t moveable at all (gave me a little relief!)”

airplane safety, flybe armrest hinge, flybe airlines armrest

Flybe Covered Armrest Hinge

While in the UK, Amanda and her family also flew a regional airline, Flybe, which has an Embraer fleet. Although her hinges were much nicer than mine!

I was so happy to see that although the Flybe planes had moveable armrests, the metal hinge parts had been covered by a plastic cover. How cool is that? Less chance little tiny infant fingers would be mauled by metal.

This incident has revealed that there is a definite safety issue here, and Amanda’s intent – both by coming to me and trying to correspond with Sunwing – is to prevent this from happening to another infant. Already we can determine that it’s happened to two babies, and that’s two too many in my books.

I queried both Airbus and Boeing to see if there’s something, anything, that can be done to protect little fingers, and I never heard back from either manufacturer. A quick search revealed at least 15 manufacturer of aircraft seats, but I have no way of knowing who made what seats for which aircraft. But now that we know this hazard exists, let’s take extra caution with the aircraft armrests when we’re flying with our children!

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9 Responses to Beware The Aircraft Armrests When Flying With An Infant

  1. So glad you posted it. Very timely for my trip to Europe coming up. It’s hard to hold a baby in the burp position for 9+ hours. I would have never thought of the dangers an arm rest could pose to my infant son. I plan on passing this around to my traveling friends with infants for sure!

  2. Melanie at 14:33 #

    and I just subscribed to the rss feed… we’re relocating overseas and my son is going to need something like the cares system, but unfortunately we can’t afford it as we’re a family with very limited means. Thanks for the chance!

  3. Little Gulliver at 21:39 #

    Thanks for this post. Its a good thing to keep in mind, even for older kids sitting upright in their seat. I’ll share it with our facebook friends. Thanks again, Donna.

  4. Beth at 21:40 #

    Thanks for sharing! I am taking my 10 week old on his first flight tomorrow on a 737. I will beware of the armrests!

  5. Nicole at 22:47 #

    I never really thought of the armrests and who would keep a baby in a burping position for any length of time! Sunwing’s response is laughable. We will be sure to be careful when flying.

  6. Thanks for the warning.

    I didn’t realise they could be so dangerous.

  7. Kate at 00:40 #

    Thank you for this article. My husband and I are flying with our very squirmy eight month old this Saturday, and I never would have thought to watch out for the armrests.

  8. Hannah at 23:20 #

    I really don’t mean to be rude, but I’m Australian (researching for a trip to Europe next year) and Quantas is actually spelt Qantas. I thought it was a typo the first time I saw it, but it’s a consistent error across your site.

    • Corinne at 00:26 #

      Thanks for the note, Hannah – fixed the error in the two spots I found it :)

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