Lessons to Learn From a Family Who Was Kicked Off a Flight

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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.

Airbag Plane

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:


American Airlines


US Airways

Southwest Airlines

Frontier 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?

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  1. I’m a little confused by the OP’s assertion that her son (and carseat?) was moved to an aisle seat. Pretty sure that’s not allowed by FAA rules, and even more so if he was still in his car seat. Makes the whole story dubious.

  2. Ian, agree that would not be the normal location of a car seat in a traditional seating set-up, but when two children are in car seats with one caregiver there are some “good judgement” clauses that come into play. She needed to be able to both release both quickly in an emergency, but yet still not block her own escape…which is almost impossible, so it is possible one did end up in the aisle seat.

  3. While I haven’t followed the thread on FT, the start of the description by the OP makes it sound like she argued with the FAs. The airline may well have made a mistake in assigning those seats, but she’s not going to win an argument with the FAs.

    First rule of traveling has to be: never argue with the FAs. You cannot win an argument with the FAs, and they do have the right to remove pax that they believe will not submit to their authority.

  4. I was witness to a “don’t argue or get smart with a FA” on a flight departing Vegas. Resulted in security being called and a conference in the front of the plane. Passenger realized he was in deep doodie so calmed down and was allowed to continue, so the original OPs experience must have been a doozy.

  5. On some regional jets, you might get moved to specific rows if you have an infant-in-arms. Apparently they only have an extra oxygen mask in certain places on the RJs. We experienced this once or twice flying on Delta (luckily, no meltdowns). Also the seat pitch on some planes like RJs is so tight that you may not be allowed to use a local infant car seat like the Snugride.

  6. Having traveled a lot with young kiddos overseas for most of their early years (that’s where the entire family lives so we had to go) I have some experience with this stuff but of course things have rapidly and continuously changed.
    For one, as safe as the things are, I never brought car seats. Not worth the hassle. Too much to carry (you are trying to carry your kid when he or she wont walk-if theoretically able to and all the stuffff) and on the other side, you may even find many vehicles cant fit the one you brought with you. If flying internationally, we would either (A) have family pick us up who had car seats, (B) rent ones they had (yes, a cost but worth it in the end) or (C) actually go without (in some countries it’s not required and so call it what you will but if you can pull it off, it may be worth it! Just drive safely. Heck in some Western EU countries you can have your 3 year old up front with you if you want!
    If the kiddo is under 2 years old most Int’l flights provide the bassinet and thus, if booking early enough and getting on the plane early enough, the row up front with a bit more room (picking the right plane helps too… When we go to AMS, there are two flights and the earlier one has the A330, which is 2-4-2 configuration, so we can get the 4 across no problem even using miles).
    Planning the nap schedules helps too but of course sometimes this is not controllable. And then there are drugs. yup… Delsym, which is a great long-lasting cough syrup for kids, really can help in this area. Again, call it what you will but hey in the old days parents would dip a finger of booze into their childs’ mouths!
    But lemme tell ya, if some FA or anyone grabbed at my kid, I would have the other parent instantly start filming it with the iPhone (the plane has not taxi’d yet so that’s still ok) and I would lay into that bitch so fast you wouldn’t wanna be there. No one grabs at my kid unless he or she is on fire and needs to be doused!
    Fortunately, in all our years, aside from some crying here or kicking there (which we always quelled), we got rather lucky and also tried to NOT be ‘that family’ who needs everything. We tried to be the ones who went unnoticed except if the kids were being cute and fun. And of course if my kids were happy and being vibrant, I think people should lighten up and allow this instead of be annoyed that a child is traveling and being talkative. Positive, happy, excited and joyous kid-dum IS GOOD and people who dont like that were probably abused and that’s why they are angry. Of course we want our children to hush up and not be so loud, etc, but you try locking someone in a room for 7-8 hours and see what happens!
    Now that they are older it’s:
    – good headsets in case shows and movies are good (and again, know which flights have movie screens on them! and seating configurations where kids who want mommy or daddy can actually get to and snuggle up to same)
    -the tablet loaded with games and movies and good battery life
    -seats with pugs (econ plus, business)
    -iphones, iTouch, etc or
    -the Nexus 7 (have to get those but will redeem GCs soon for them)
    And finally… most importantly… MY IDEA… I thought of this in 2003 when we took our then 18 month old daughter to Aruba… She was fine but I came up with this idea and mentioned it to the FA in friendly chat but her first reaction was sadly that I was some dad who didn’t want responsibility…Mommy Points I have brought this idea up before so if you ever find yourself in front of Airline Execs who will listen, please mention it and try to give me a bit of credit but either way, see if it can be done!:
    Bigger planes on long hauls should have entire sections in the bank devoted to kids and families. Something like, you pay a bit extra but there’s areas with missing seats for moving around when allowed, cribs or mats, games, toys, special food or ways to per-approve foods and snacks (AND JUICE BOXES!!!) you need to bring with you that are always hard to do without on flights these days (we do use powdered lemon aid now, and just add water) and even like aspiring high school students or something who are working WITH the airline and have some credentials in child care who are assigned to manage the area… Each family who wants to have a ‘seat’ for a kid back there can buy some appending to their ticket that gives them some badge that lets them go back there and see the kids or stay there in seats for parents, etc. This is not to leave your family and go sit in Business Class and booze up, rather, it is to make it so the kids enjoy the flight as best as possible and the crew and the other passengers can as well! Oh how many times have I walked the dark and sleepy aisles of a 747 or A330 for hours holding my half asleep child doing my best not to knee into some sleeping person with their foot in the aisle or look over at some teen with headphones on watching a movie I wish I could enjoy but instead finding myself jealous of him as I pass by… Smiling with that half fake (Hi, I wish I was allowed to sleep right now, don’t you?) smile at other fathers or mothers with kids on their shoulders, squeezing in and out of the area where you can cross to the other side of the big plane and hoping for the time we land but then dreading both the pending jetlag and the long drive to our destination upon entry.
    And that’s another thing… Entry back into the US? Ferget it! If you don’t have Global Entry or are not seated in like seat 1 on the plane and your plane aint first to arrive, that line at Immigration is a deal killer! What kids can stand there, snaking through the line with 700 people and NOT get antsy? If you stop for the bathroom they may have, the line gets bigger quickly. Not that I’m special but they need family lanes and in those years I would have paid extra for it!
    Finally there are strollers… People: Get the ones that are efficient and compact. Spend the money on them! People from Europe always have good ones. We found the Mountain Buggy (a double or DUET) was the best because even if you have only one kid with you, you can put stuff in the other seat AND it fits in almost every door way there is! It is easy to collapse and FAs can gate check it. If you get a crappy cumbersome one to save money you will lose. We had another small one that was a folding single seat but in the end we had two children so we went quality.
    BTW: I hate auto-correct and with all the slang we use every day I am not even sure why they have the option any more. lol

  7. I feel so bad for that Mom. It sounds like she was traveling alone with her two kids (if I’m reading correctly) so that’s a tough situation to begin with. I’m not surprised if she did lose her cool a bit on the flight when told at the last minute to move, and having people grabbing her stuff trying to help.
    It’s good to know about the problems with car seats not being allowed in every seat. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t frequent fliers, and if the airline personnel don’t know which seats are OK, then how are they expected to. Sad situation. But yeah, you’ve gotta deal with that before you leave the airport. If you can calm yourself down and present yourself as “asking for help” from the staff, I find that people in general are helpful, but I wonder what the airline’s responsibility is in a case like this.

  8. MP, could you clarify something for me? I think your post basically says this but I want to make sure (I’m due with my first in less than 6 weeks, so travel with small children and carsearts is about to become very relevant to me!). It sounds like she had to pay out of pocket for new flights. Is that only because she left the airport and didn’t try to reschedule on her own the next day? It seems to me that if the airline kicks you off the plane, they’d have to rebook you somehow at no charge. Or do they not have to when they decide that a passenger is being unruly?

  9. -I feel bad for the mom, too. It isn’t always easy under the best of circumstances, so this would have been very difficult.
    Erin, yes had she rebooked while still at the airport there is a 99.99% chance they would have taken care of her. I believe she instead got a refund at the airport and then tried to rebook on her own at the high last minute rates.

  10. This is the first article I have read about airbags on planes. I didn’t realize they had them. Are there warnings for size-weight, height, as with cars?

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