Are you wanting to take a helicopter or small airplane ride but are not sure whether you can bring your children for the ride or if it is even safe for them to come? This topic is highly debated in the travel forums with great points on both sides, but if you are wanting to take a ride then go ahead, it will be a fantastic experience.
Babies, toddlers, and children of all ages can safely ride in a helicopter or small airplane provided they can be secured using seat belts. Car seats can be securely attached in most aircraft and babies under two can legally be carried on an adult’s lap.
After flying helicopters for close to 20 years and flown many flights with children of all ages, this article will discuss all ages, what can and cannot be done and also the best ways to prepare them, tips for the flight, and I will try to debunk many of the myths and concerns most parents have when it comes to children in helicopters.
|Up to 20 lbs
|Held in Adults Lap, or
Rear-Facing Approved Seat System
|20 – 40 lbs
|Forward Facing Approved Seat System, or
Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES)
|40 – 80 lbs
|Booster with Integrated Restraint System, or
Aircraft Seat Belt
|Over 40 lbs
|Aircraft Seat Belt
Can Babies Ride in a Helicopter or Small Plane?
Children under the age of two can be legally carried on an adult’s lap in any aircraft providing the flight has no doors removed and is in an enclosed cabin. The safest option is to install their car seat into the helicopter or airplane using the seatbelt and then cover their ears with child-sized ear defenders.
Helicopters and small airplanes fall under the same FAA regulations as large commercial airliners when it comes to infants traveling on board. The seatbelt and seat systems for both airplanes and helicopters fall under the same regulations. By doing this it saves a lot of repetition with the regulations, making them easier to follow.
Most quality car seats will be approved for use both in a motor vehicle and for aircraft use. You can confirm this by looking for a sticker/label on the seat that displays the following text, or similar in Red Letters:
“This Restraint Has Been Certified For Use In Motor Vehicles And Aircraft”
You can usually find this label on the side, back, or underside of the seat if it has been approved.
Each manufacturer may display this information slightly differently, but the information it portrays will be the same. For those seats that are Not Approved for use on an aircraft, the sticker will either state that it is not certified for use in an aircraft or will it state it is for use only in a motor vehicle.
When checking to see if your child’s seat is approved for aircraft use have a look in the information booklet as that may also provide more information on its installation.
Infants should always ride in a rear-facing restraint system until they are at least 1 year old AND 20 lbs, no matter what the mode of transport. The American Association of Pediatrics recommends ALL children should be rear-facing until they meet the height AND weight limits set by the seat restraint manufacturer.
Most helicopters come with either a 3-point harness similar to your car’s seatbelt or a 4-point harness comprising of a lap belt and two shoulder straps that connect into a buckle over the stomach. Instructions for each individual seat will show you how to install the seat into both types of belts in the helicopter.
For small airplanes, most come equipped with a lap belt and sometimes a 4-point harness for every seat. Again, refer to the child seat manufacturer’s instructions on how to safely install it using the aircraft seatbelt type available.
Some helicopter and airplane tour operators or aircraft charter companies may insist they see the label on the child’s seat system to ensure it is approved when you first arrive for the flight. Having the seat system ready for inspection will help the booking-in process and save time. The ramp staff will be able to help you install the child’s seat into the aircraft and ensure it is secure.
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For those parents who wish to save money by not paying for the additional seat in which their baby is going to occupy and hold the infant on their lap, I would say it would be better to leave the child with a family member back at the helicopter terminal, the FAA also discourages lap-held children on any aircraft.
Helicopters and small airplanes can get bumpy, especially in the middle of a hot summer day when the convection in the air is in full force. No matter how prepared you may think you are, a sudden jolt of turbulence when you have relaxed your death grip on your baby can and has caused a baby to become separated from the adult holding them.
Not only does this incident cause harm to your child, but it could also cause harm to other passengers, let alone the distraction of others. A baby being held by an adult can make many passengers, especially mothers become distracted from their flight.
This not only reduces their enjoyment of the flight but may even cause some uncomfortable words to be exchanged at their disapproval.
By far the safest and most courteous options would be to leave the child behind with a family member or friend, or purchase that extra seat and have them secured in their own restraint device.
Small airplanes, and especially helicopters are noisy machines, even when the doors are closed. For adults, you will get given a set of ear defenders or an aviation headset to allow you to talk to one another through the aircraft’s intercom system during the flight.
For the little ones, these headsets will be far too big for them and their hearing needs to be protected too. To ensure your baby has a good-fitting set of ear protection I advise you to purchase your own set before the flight.
A set of these ear defenders that are purposely designed for babies are a perfect choice. They are inexpensive, designed to fit well, lightweight, comfortable, and come in an array of colors.
These are not only a great investment for the helicopter flight, but great for use at firework displays, music concerts, airshows, or anywhere that noise levels may become too high for your child.
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Tips From a Pilot Parent
Being a helicopter pilot and a parent allows me to give some advice from both sides of the fence. There is no way I would ever consider taking my own children in ANY vehicle if I knew it was unsafe. Because of this here are a few tips and tricks I have found and seen used over many years of being both:
- Try and keep the baby asleep while leading to and during the flight – The vibration of the aircraft and the constant hum of the engine/s usually sends kids to sleep very easily
- Keep a blanket over the top of the car seat to keep them in the dark. This too will help them sleep
- Ensure they have a soother. This will help them stay relaxed and help balance any pressure buildup in their ears as the aircraft climbs and descends
Can Toddlers & Small Children Ride in a Helicopter or Small Plane?
Children between 20-40lbs can ride in any aircraft providing they can be restrained by an aviation-approved, forward-facing device like a car seat system or a Child Aviation Restraint System(CARES). For children weighing over 40 lbs, the aircraft seatbelts are sufficient.
Toddlers & small children can easily be taken on an aircraft ride but
Must Occupy Their Own Seat Once They Reach Two Years Old.
Photo I.D. will usually be required by the aircraft company for proof of age.
Depending on the child’s size and weight, they may require the use of an approved restraint system. Just like the baby’s seat system mentioned above, an approved child restraint seat that is used in a vehicle can be used in an aircraft providing it displays the ‘Certified For Use In An Aircraft” label.
The American Association of Pediatrics recommends any child under 40lbs flying in an aircraft should be placed in an appropriately sized child restraint system for the age, height, and weight of the child.
For children over 40lbs, they recommend using the aircraft seat belt.
All seat restraint systems used for a toddler or small child must also be forward-facing and be able to securely attach to the aircraft’s seat belt system, the instructions should be in the seat manufacturer’s booklet.
The only types of restraint systems that the FAA DOES NOT ALLOW to be used in any aircraft during ground movement, takeoff, and landing are:
- Backless Booster Seats without integrated restraint systems
- Backed Booster Seats without integrated restraint systems
- Lap-Held Restraint/Belly Band that attaches the child to the parent’s waist
- Vest-Type Restraint that attaches the child to the parents’ body
Even though these types of restraint systems can be sued during the cruise portion of the flight because the child is in a helicopter or small airplane this makes them unable to be used because there is no room to store, then install these devices while in flight. Flights in these types of aircraft are mainly tours or charters and are usually of short duration (under 1 hour) thus, seating the child correctly before takeoff is paramount.
I have personally seen many parents using the lap and vest-mounted systems during a helicopter ride and although they make it easier to handle and transport the child, the risk of crush injuries in the event of a hard landing is very high.
To provide the safest means of child restraint in an aircraft the following systems SHOULD be used:
- Booster Seat With Integrated Restraint System – For ALL children under 40 lbs
- A Child Aviation Restraint System (CARES) – For Children 22-44 lbs
- The Aircraft Seat Belt – For ALL children over 40 lbs
For those of you not familiar with the CARES (Child Aviation Restraint System – Middle Photo), it is a highly portable strap that goes around the upright portion of the aircraft seat to allow shoulder straps to be worn by the child. This is a great little device that compacts down into a very small package and is purposely designed in several sizes to accommodate children of all ages and children with special needs that need a little more restraint.
It is approved for use in aircraft by over 10 different countries and is commonly used by many parents when traveling with young ones in all types of aircraft.
Option #1: For children 1 year old and up, weighing 22-44 lbs and up to 40″ tall – Use the CARES System
Option #2: For children with special needs from 41″-56″ tall – Use the CARES System
Option #3: For children with special needs over 5ft/60″ tall – Use the Special CARES System
Options #2 & #3 will need an Exemption Permit from the FAA because of the size of the child.
You may be also surprised to know that many aviation companies will let you fly without any additional restraint device, no matter the child’s age. Either a lap-held child or a child using the aircraft’s seat belt may be sufficient for them. It is your discretion as to which you feel comfortable with. If you wish to have an approved restraint device for your child, buy them a seat ticket and install it before lifting off.
When any passenger is on a small airplane or helicopter hearing protection is required. Adults will be given a set of ear defenders or an aviation headset to use during the flight that will enable them to talk to one another. If your child is over 7-8 years old the aviation headset might fit them OK.
For smaller children, or if you are unsure your child will fit snugly into an aviation headset I recommend purchasing an inexpensive set of ear defenders that are suited to their age.
Not only will these be a great option for the flight but for many uses afterward.
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Tips From a Pilot Parent
As parents, we know that when kids become bored they can become agitated. Here are some of the best tricks I have personally found when flying with my own children:
- Provide a Distraction – A Kids Camera WITH a wrist strap – Projectiles are not good in an aircraft
- Get them to find landmarks or objects out of the window – Travel Bingo Game
- Snacks in Spill-Proof Containers – My kids loved Cheerios – Be sure to tidy up the mess after landing!
- Soothers or chewing gummies during takeoff and descent – Helps with altitude & air pressure changes
- Sucking on water or milk from a baby bottle – Helps with altitude & air pressure changes
- Change their diaper just before the flight!
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Can Teenagers Ride in a Helicopter or Small Plane?
Teenagers should have no problems riding in any aircraft. They will be tall enough to use any seatbelt type and have the maturity to ensure they are secured and ready for flight. Depending on their age and the aircraft operator, they may need to be accompanied by an adult.
A growing trend in tour flights at this time is a helicopter flight with the DOORS OFF! Usually flown over major cities, this is becoming a very popular tourist attraction with a few limitations if you are looking to do this with a teenager or child:
- For doors off flight, each child must be at least 12 years old. Doors on flight, there is no age restriction
- If under 18, the aircraft operator MAY require an adult to accompany the child on the flight
- If under 18, the child MAY require a waiver signed by their parent to be able to fly
- All passengers, no matter their age must be able to listen and demonstrate the safety actions that may need to be taken
Are Helicopters and Small Planes Safe For Children?
Statistically, small aircraft are safer to travel in than a car. Providing the passenger is secured with an appropriately sized restraint, has some form of hearing protection, and is accompanied by a responsible adult there should be no issues.
When booking an aircraft for a private charter or reserving a spot on a tour flight it is up to the parent to select an aviation company with a good history and reputation for safety. Most companies have the highest standards of aircraft maintenance, pilot training, and strict weather limits, but I personally know a few where the cash comes first and aircraft issues get ‘Put off’ until later – Those companies are the ones with several accidents in their history!
The majority of reputable aviation companies will have extensive experience flying children of all ages. Some of them may only require you to hold the child on your lap, while others may require a full restraint system. It is always advisable to call and talk to the company when booking the flight to ensure both you and the aircraft operator are aware of each other’s requirements so no last-minute surprises develop.
Most aviation tour companies employ pilots that have at least 1000 hours of piloting experience, if not much more. These pilots usually come from two sectors of their careers:
Pilots in the Early Part of their Career: These pilots have usually spent the last few years as flying instructors teaching all the emergency procedures to students who are trying to kill them! They are very well-practiced and competent pilots, even if they may seem a little young at times.
Pilots in the Latter Part of their Career: These pilots are looking for a steady, home-based job and may be close to retiring. They can have thousands, if not tens of thousands of hours of flight experience and will be able to show you some great places that a newer pilot may not have the experience to fly in.
No matter the pilot you get, if you have researched the aviation company, read some of their reviews, both good and bad, and they have friendly, helpful staff, then you should have no issues.
The taxi ride to the aircraft hanger or terminal may be more cause for concern!
Would you prefer to put your child in a cab ride with a driving instructor or a seasoned taxi driver with 40 years of experience, or the usual – a regular cab driver whose background, history, and experience you have no idea about? I know which one I would pick!
Flying with children in small airplanes or helicopters is usually no issue for the thousands of daily flights all over the world. Aviation is one of the most regulated and safe forms of transportation and passengers of every size have been addressed.
Ensuring your child is secured in the appropriate restraint, with ear protection and you are flying with a reputable company will ensure your flight, as well as theirs, is as enjoyable as possible!
FAA’s advice for Travelling with Children
FAA Advisory Circular Pertaining To Approved Child Restraint Systems in Aircraft
Aerospace Medical Association ASMA.org – Child Restraint Systems & Airline Travel