Consumerist reader A.M. was recently boarding a US Airways flight at JFK with her two boys, a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old. With such young kids, they needed to travel in car seats that would be buckled into the plane seats.
A.M. and her boys pre-boarded without incident and began to take their bulkhead seats in the first row of coach.
“At this point in time, my children were calm and we were simply awaiting departure,” she writes. “After 30 minutes of general boarding, the flight attendant stated she checked regulations for that particular aircraft and children were not allowed to sit in the bulkhead area. When I asked, the flight attendant did not explain the nature of the regulation that prevented us from keeping the original seats we purchased.”
The attendant instructed A.M. to switch seats with other passengers. And so she had to unbuckle her children, gather all their stuff and relocate — all while general boarding was still going on, and all without any assistance from the cabin crew.
“My youngest began crying when a fellow passenger picked him up (without my permission) while I was attempting to configure his car seat in a new location,” recalls A.M.
She then tried to get a bottle for her son out of the overhead compartment back over her original bulkhead seats. That’s when A.M. claims that a flight attendant instructed her and her boys to exit the plane because of the crying.
“I was truly shocked and explained how important the trip was and the child would be fine shortly,” says A.M. “I also explained how the frantic move and a stranger holding him had simply caused him stress.”
The cabin crew were hearing none of it, she says, and other attendants soon began removing her family’s belongings from the plane and then led them back to the gate.
“At this time, my child was no longer crying,” she tells Consumerist, “which made no difference to the flight attendant.”
“I was mortified at the display of being removed from the flight,” A.M. continues. “I made no comments to the crew and I simply cried. I did not meet the captain or any officer of the flight crew while being escorted off the flight, but would have pleaded our situation if given the opportunity. Several passengers came to our defense but to no avail.”
Having been booted from this 10:30 a.m. flight, the airline gave her the option of trying again on a flight later that afternoon at 5:00 p.m. Sitting at the airport for another 6-7 hours with children who had been traveling since sunrise was not feasible, especially since A.M. says the air-conditioning in that terminal was not working on that late July day.
So she took the refund on the tickets and called her husband to come get her and the boys, which meant a two-hour wait in the hot airport.
Not willing to fly on US Airways again after the incident, A.M. tried to book tickets on another airline so that she and her sons could celebrate her hospitalized grandmother’s 95th birthday. But by this point, fares had gone up several times what she’d originally paid for her tickets, so it was a wash.
We reached out to US Airways for its side of the story. The following is a statement from an airline rep to Consumerist:
“Our responsibility and commitment to all of our passengers, including our youngest travelers, is to ensure a safe and comfortable environment while onboard our aircraft. [A.M.] was asked to change seats from the bulkhead to seats in the row immediately behind her for the safety of her children. The seatbelts on the bulkhead seats onboard our A321 aircraft are equipped with airbags, therefore they are unsafe for car seats. During her seat change, the aircraft door was closed and the jet bridge was moved off the aircraft. Once in their new seats, [she] was unable to calm her children, one of whom was screaming and the other that began crying in response to the first. After receiving complaints from several passengers, the flight attendants consulted with the pilot and the decision was made to have the jet bridge reconnected to the aircraft and airport customer service supervisors board in an attempt to assist [her]. After repeated failed attempts by [A.M.] to calm her children, it was decided to ask her to deplane the aircraft as the children were, at this point, loud enough that the safety demo could not be heard by those around her on the aircraft. The flight departed 35 minutes late as a result of this issue. Once off the aircraft, [she] was offered a later flight to her destination, which she declined and decided to forgo her travels. We have since refunded her money for the ticket.”
The rep tells Consumerist that, as a father of an infant himself, he sympathizes with A.M.’s predicament. “That said, our inflight crew and airport customer service employees delayed the flight and gave [A.M.] time to resolve the situation but, at the end of the day, they had the responsibility to ensure a safe, on time and comfortable travel experience for the other 170+ passengers onboard the aircraft.”
A.M. maintains that no one from the airline attempted to assist her at any point in the process.
“Very shortly after the seat move disruption, a flight attendant approached me and said that she was looking into having me removed from the flight,” A.M. tells Consumerist in response to the airline statement. “She never asked my son to quiet down, she just scolded me. When the decision was made to have us removed, both children stopped crying immediately. When the toddler realized how serious the flight attendants were about him being quiet, he stopped crying. When I said, ‘He is fine. He has stopped crying,’ I was told it was ‘too late.’”
She also says it was not made clear to her by US Airways that she had the option of traveling the next morning.
The bigger question is this: US Airways states that the plane was being held up because these kids wouldn’t stop crying. What threat or concern do a couple of crying kids pose to the plane?
Sure, we all hate being disturbed by upset, screaming kids, but anyone who has flown more than a few times has had to deal with listening to kids throw tantrums, and we’ve all survived. We’ll complain about it to whomever picks us up at the airport, but it will quickly just become a minor memory of a short-term annoyance.
A couple of screaming youngsters are not going to storm the cockpit or get into drunken hijinks in the lavatory. They aren’t going to grope sleeping passengers or make threats to hijack the aircraft. They’re going to holler for a little bit — then they’re probably going to be quiet.