American Airlines Should Not Have Told Family They Couldn’t Use FAA-Approved Safety Harness

Consumerist reader John and his wife were traveling with their two-and-a-half-year-old daughter on an American Airlines flight from New York to San Diego, and they’d brought along a special device to help keep their toddler safe, a CARES (Child Aviation Safety Restraint System) harness. Despite the fact that it’s approved by the Federal Aviation Administration, John says the flight’s pilot refused to take off while his daughter was using it in her seat.

John hadn’t been expecting pushback: American Airlines’ policy allows for approved car seats, and FAA rules say that airlines must allow parents to use approved child-restraint systems, including CARES harnesses. But he says flight attendants informed them that the pilot had said the harness couldn’t be used during taxi and takeoff.

“We informed the flight attendant that we had used the harness on 11 previous flight segments including five in the last two weeks and an earlier flight that day” on American flights from London to JFK, John wrote, as well as four different AA flight segments in October.

“We also told the attendants that our toddler would not remain seated without the harness; she would release her seatbelt and squirm,” John told Consumerist, adding that they explained to attendants that the device was FAA-approved and that they believed the pilot was incorrect. He says one flight attendant accused him of jumping down her throat, and another crew member told them the pilot wouldn’t take off with the device strapped to the seat.

“We had been in transit for over 20 hours, so in desperation my wife held our daughter during takeoff,” John says. “It’s the only way she’d stay secure without the strap.”

“We believe the flight attendants and pilot are poorly trained, poor in customer service, and endangered our child,” John added.

Consumerist asked the FAA if there were any restrictions on when the harnesses could be used, and a representative told us no, that travelers should be able to use them “during all phases of flight.”

When we reached out to American last week, we were told the company was “looking into” the situation, and directed our attention to the FAA’s guidelines regarding child safety restraints, which says, again, that CARES safety harnesses are approved for all parts of a flight, including taxi and takeoff.

Consumerist checked in again with American today to see if the airline had anything further to share regarding John and his family’s experience.

“We continue to review these allegations. However, a Child Aviation Safety Restraint System (CARES) may be used during all phases of flight,” a spokesperson said by email, confirming what the FAA told us, adding that the device must have the below label, per the FAA — a label John says he showed to the flight attendants:


So what should you do if you find yourself in a similar situation with a CARES harness? A spokeswoman for the FAA told Consumerist that parents should bring information from the agency’s site with them when they travel.

Despite that, John said he did provide FAA information to the flight crew. He has yet to hear anything back from American, even after he gave us permission to share his contact information with the airline’s media relations team, which we did. He tells Consumerist he’s filed complaints both on the website and through the FAA complaint website.

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