From time to time I visit a forum on Flyertalk that is dedicated to to traveling with children. It is by no means one of the more active corners of Flyertalk, but there is still some very good info that is exchanged in there from time to time. While catching up on that forum this week I read the story of a mom who says she was kicked off a US Airways flight because her child was throwing a tantrum. I don’t want to misinterpret her story, so here it is as posted on Flyertalk:
I was kicked of a US Airways flight because my child was having a tantrum. He had been seated in his carseat in the bulkhead row for 30 minutes while the plane was boarded. Minutes before takeoff- we were told that carseats could not be in the bulkhead. I made the reservation on the phone with an agent that put my[sic] in the bulkhead, knowing that I was traveling with 2 children in carseats.
We were surrounded by flight attendants, who grabbed at my child and at his personal belongings in an attempt to quickly move us. This caused him to tantrum as now he was moved from his window seat to an aisle seat the row behind. I was kicked off and told that I could fly with my 2 children on a flight that left 6 hours later if I wanted to wait around for it. When we were kicked off, my son immediately stopped his tantrum but we were told it was too late.
Despite being disrupted and the fact that he stopped making noise, we were unapologetically denied travel. The next day when I tried to rebook the price of the tickets had almost doubled and US Airways did nothing to accommodate us.
I’ll go ahead and say upfront that there is always the possibility of there being different sides to a story, and that one version of the story doesn’t always contain the full truth. I’m not at all implying that is what happened here, but I’m sure many will think it is, so I wanted to address that upfront. However, whether or not this is 100% of what happened, there are still some real lessons for other families from this unfortunate event.
Some airplane seats now have airbags and thus prohibit the use of car seats
A big part of why most parents want to bring car seats on board is to keep their kid as safe as possible in the event of turbulence, hard landings, etc. Though they also often lead to the child being more comfortable and thus happier… However, some airlines have started to introduce the use of airbags to protect passengers in the event of survivable crashes, such as the recent one in San Francisco. As is described in this NY Times article, “air bags are widely used in first- or business-class cabins, where the seat in front is too far away or angled in such a way that it cannot function as a cushion. In coach class, the air bag has started out for use in front rows, exit rows and bulkhead seats, near galleys or toilets. In other seats, the passenger gets some protection from the seat back directly ahead, which is designed to break in a controlled fashion, providing a cushion.”
This is relevant to this family’s situation because they were seated in the bulkhead where it seems a car seat is not allowed due to the presence of an airbag on this particular type of aircraft. Here’s where this gets tricky, the US Airways page on car seats does not mention this particular issue. It only says “The child restraint system may not occupy an exit row, the row forward or behind an exit row over the wing, aisle seats or middle seats.” So, it is totally reasonable that this family had no clue they were seated in an area where a car seat was not allowed (assuming the bulk head was not also an exit row). Here is a thread dedicated to car seats, bulkheads, and air bags. To give you an idea of what this looks like, here is a photo taken from AmSafe.
Airlines in general do not seem to be doing a very good job at informing customers which seats or rows of seats have these air bags so that those using child safety restraints can avoid those rows. However, I encourage parents to not only ask at the time of booking if a car seat is allowed in that row, but to do a search of the type of aircraft you will be flying on with that airline to see if the row you are in has air bags built in. As a final check, look at the seat belt when you board and see if it is the type that has air bags so you can identify the problem as early on in the boarding process as possible.
Try to keep your child as calm as possible on the flight
I think it has to be exceedingly rare for a child to be kicked off of a flight for crying or tantrums. We have all seen children crying and/or throwing tantrums on planes without there being any adverse action taken against the child or parent. Kids cry sometimes and while it is annoying, it is rarely something that would impact safety. The argument could be made that you couldn’t hear emergency instructions over the crying, but even some adults start screaming and yelling in emergency situations. However, for the good of everyone, come prepared with an arsenal of toys, snacks, and bribes to keep your child calm on the flight. Here are many of my tips on flying with children. The rules on the ground do not all apply in the air – deal with discipline and all that jazz later, keep the kid calm at almost all costs. If/when a tantrum erupts, just be sure to keep yourself calm and deal with it to the best of your ability to limit the intensity and duration.
Don’t protest what the flight attendants are saying
The fastest way to be kicked off an airplane is to disagree with the flight attendants or other crew members. Even if you are right and they are wrong there is little room for you to “win”. I experienced this first hand earlier this year and I had to make a split second decision to go along with what they were saying, or push and risk being asked to exit the aircraft. I was right, but being right would have quite likely scored me and my family a seat on a later flight. In some cases that may be the best course of action, but just be aware that disagreeing with them can result in you being asked to de-plane and not fly on that flight. I’m not sure if anything like that happened in this situation, but it certainly could have.
If you are asked to leave the aircraft, rebook before leaving the airport
If you are ever in the very unfortunate position of having to exit the aircraft against your wishes for whatever reason, be sure to have your flight re-booked before you leave the airport. This would usually be done at the gate area, but could be done at a customer service center within the airport. It is entirely possible you will be upset if you are involuntarily asked to leave the airplane with your family, so take a few moments to calm down if needed, but don’t just leave. Either request a refund if you no longer wish to fly with that carrier, or get them to rebook you on a later flight that day, or potentially even one the following day. You still need their help to get where you need to be, and calling the reservations line later on isn’t going to solve your problem. Be aware that if you rebook on your own either with that carrier or on another carrier for immediate travel that your cost for doing so will likely be much higher than the fare you likely booked in advance. Miles can help with that, but the advice of coming up with a solution for travel before leaving the airport remains the same.
Know that airlines usually back their employees, but provide feedback anyway
Most often, airlines will back up their employees’ actions, and employees will often back other employees up. That makes sense in general, but it can be frustrating if you were asked to leave a plane against your will. I have been able to reach folks within an airline who actually did listen and took my feedback seriously, but that probably isn’t going to happen the day-of the incident at the airport. Address your immediate needs for travel at the airport, and then follow-up with the airline’s customer service department at a later time. When you do provide feedback to the airline, stick to the facts and (try to) keep your emotions out of it. I recommend having a non-involved party proof your feedback letter to make sure your concerns are adequately communicated without getting lost in information that, while important to you, may just be fogging up the issues you actually want the airline to address. Here are the links for the customer service info for a few US Airlines:
Know that one unfortunate issue does not mean that family travel as a whole is bad
I can imagine that this family’s experience might have soured them a bit on family travel. The mom reports crying in the airport after this happened, and I would probably do the same. I would probably feel angry, humiliated, overwhelmed, etc. and just want to go home for the day. However, if you travel enough with your family you are going to hit issues that are unfortunate and unpleasant. Hopefully they won’t be on this level, but it will happen on some level. It is important to keep it in perspective and know that this sort of problem is the outlier and that most trips go much more smoothly. Have a glass of wine, take a deep breath, meditate, or do whatever it is you do to take a moment for yourself then try again. Seeing the world is worth it, but there are sometimes bumps along the way.
Have you had any experiences like this one? How did you deal with it?