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Airlines may sometimes wonder how many infants allowed onboard can they have on any given flight. The answer can be simple, “X many are allowed,” but getting to the answer does require some research and safety risk management decisionmaking.

So, to start, how many infants are allowed on board a commercial airline? Are there any regulations that limit how many are permitted?

To the best of my knowledge, no, there is no regulation that controls or limits the number of infants permitted on an aircraft, however, there are factors that do directly affect the number of infants allowed on board a plane.

Oxygen masks in the overhead Passenger Service Unit (PSU) do 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.
– For thought, 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. Such a decision is left to each individual airline to decide what limits to safety it’s willing to accept in its operation.

What about infant life vests? Are airlines required to provide infants life vests specifically designed for them?

To answer this question, according to the CFRs in the United States, you must reference applicable regulations to make that determination.

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
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.

14 CFR 121.340 Emergency Flotation means.
(a) 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 is “each occupant.” It does not explicitly state infant.  Infant life vests are best for infants, but not explicitly required.
– See InFO 07013 Flotation Equipment for InLap Children (Revised)    http://www.faa.gov/other_visit/aviation_industry/airline_operators/airline_safety/info/all_infos/media/2007/info07013.pdf

The number of spare life vests does matter.

Here are a examples of limitations, regulatory and policy
– 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)
– With 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 on board the aircraft even though they may have additional adult life vests available which would meet the regulatory requirements of flotation means for each occupant. That would be an airline’s policy, not regulation.

As you can see, it sounds like a simple question, and to a degree it is, but there are factors that must be considered when airlines decide how many infants are permitted on board.

Links within the article:

121.339:  https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=4f809cc8cec29fbb9cf4bbe557781175&mc=true&node=se14.3.121_1339&rgn=div8

121.340:  https://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/retrieveECFR?gp=&SID=d5b691520e3e7535c6a47f930148fd4e&mc=true&r=SECTION&n=se14.3.121_1340