Toddler Removed from Flight for Throwing a Tantrum?

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Is it just me or does United seem to end up in the media with some regularity over issues related to “kicking families off the plane” or similar?  Maybe I just key into those stories more since I fly United most frequently, but I just don’t seem to hear stories with the same frequency about the other airlines.  Anyway, it’s another day and there is another story about United (well to be more specific, a Skywest operated flight) kicking a mom and one-year-old off a plane for crying, or unruly behavior, or being in the aisle, or being a threat…depending on which version you believe.

If you want to catch up, here is a story about the event as well as a video from the mom (a singer) chatting with TMZ about what happened.  You never know how events actually went down, but she seems like a calm and pretty sane person to me.

Here are some things that seem to be facts:

The flight was scheduled to fly from San Francisco to Vancouver and the mom was seated in a window seat with her 23-month-old as a “lap baby”.  Before departure the child was crying very loudly and squirming, even according to the mom, and there were instructions from the flight attendant for the mom to calm the child down.  When this didn’t happen in a timely enough fashion the plane returned to the gate and the mom and child were removed, despite the child being asleep by this point.

What is very much disputed is whether the child was in the aisle or not before departure.  The mom said that he was not, and could not have been, given that they were the window seat and someone else was seated next to them in the aisle seat.  I wonder whether the child was perhaps not staying still in the mom’s lap and trying to (or succeeding) in getting down in the space in front of her seat as opposed to the aisle.  This isn’t an issue of the child not staying in the seat belt as he wouldn’t have had one as a lap child.  Either way, this sounds like a full-on temper tantrum the child was throwing, likely because they were too tired (since he passed out maybe 7-9 minutes later).

Okay, so way unfortunate that the almost-two-year old had a full-on meltdown at a very bad time.  However, anyone who knows anything about toddlers knows that no matter how good a parent you are, epic meltdowns just happen sometimes.  It wasn’t super common with our own kid, but it did happen occasionally and it isn’t pretty, it isn’t fun, but sometimes it is just unavoidable.  Toddlers occasionally lose their ^$%# and they aren’t yet old enough to really be able to reason with effectively at that point.  Luckily, as it happened in this case, that level of insanity is usually short lived and hopefully followed up with a well deserved rest for everyone.  The stress and weird schedules associated with traveling can make it more likely that a toddler will be off their normal routine and more apt to get too tired and act a little wonky.

So, what should happen when a one or two year old acts like a crazy psychotic monkey on a plane?  Well, my very best advice is to try and ward off this issue in the first place.  To do so, I’m going to strongly recommend that an almost two year old has their own seat.  I know lap infants are a hot topic, and I’m probably going to fly my second child as a lap infant some in their first year for a number of reasons.  Yes, I know there are some slight safety trade-offs, but to avoid sounding like a hypocrite I’m not standing on a soap box saying your a bad parent if you don’t pay the extra cash or miles to book your brand new baby a seat when you are likely going to be holding/nursing them anyway.

However, by 23 months old you and your child will almost certainly be better off if they are strapped in a car seat or CARES Harness in their own seat.  No matter how loud they cry, they probably cannot escape a car seat at that age.  If they can’t escape their seat the airline can’t very easily say they are a disruptive danger (to anything other than ear drums).  Here is my own toddler flying in both a CARES Harness and her own car seat.

That being said, if there is a situation like this one what should happen?  I understand the flight crew can’t have a kid flailing in the aisles or whatnot at take-off, but I haven’t encountered too many 23-month-olds that are so out of control that they warrant turning a plane back to the gate and forcing the family off the plane.  I’m not saying it couldn’t happen, but it just seems like a stretch for that to be the best course of action assuming the parent is otherwise cooperative, which this ones seems to have been.

The flight ended up being delayed around an hour for this event and yet the kid was passed out before the plane got back to the gate.  I don’t have the perfect answer to these sort of situations, but I can’t help but wish everyone had a smidge more patience and understanding that goes beyond deeming a 23 month old a threat that needs to be removed.

In the meantime, here are a whole collection of posts that have tips and tricks related to flying with a toddler so that you can hopefully never be the family who is asked to get off the plane.

What are your thoughts about a toddler being deemed a threat for throwing a tantrum?


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  1. Oh mom, I can’t believe you posted MY mug shot on your twitter feed along with your tweet! :

    “Toddler Removed from Flight for Throwing a Tantrum?”

    I’ll remember this, mom I promise.

    • I know, right?! She’ll forgive me if I let her buy more gems for her iPad dragon game I’m sure. 😉

  2. Like you, i don’t see another solution besides the one that they came up with. If the child is not in the parent’s lap, they can’t take off and the only other solution I see would be to sit on the Tarmac, not at the gate and wait for the child to calm down. I don’t think that is a realistic option either and there is no way to know when it will end (at least I couldn’t predict it with any of my 4). It could be 2 minutes or 20 minutes. Once they were unable to take off, I think they pretty much had to remove them from the plane or let them face the wrath of a plane load of people delayed.

  3. As a parent with 3 kids who has flown with them often, a 23 month old needs to have his or her own seat, period. I’d made a possible exception for a really short flight. If necessary, airlines should change the rules to 18 months, max.

  4. An adult acting out, I could see being a danger to the flight.

    A toddler in tantrum, is merely annoying, not a threat.

    So this is entirely unjustified.

    But yes, I relied on car seats for my 2 when youngest.

    I never knew about cares with DS. But now DD is 2.75yo and conditioned to car seats, the CARES harness is a sufficient simulation with it’s chest harness that it sends the same signal. Time to take a nap, because you’re not going anywhere….. very glad to be done with toting a Britax through the airport.

      • Car seats were a pain for our son. But the combination car seat-stroller, with wheels that collapsed into the car seat, was amazing! We had seen it in SkyMall but wondered if it was worth the $200. We saw a family using it and they swore by it. No more gate checking the stroller. No more checking the car seat and hoping it doesn’t get lost. Just wheel the combo on the plane, retract the wheels, and buckle it into the seat with a seat belt extender. The bonus was our son loved it more than his regular car seat, so getting him into it was no problem.

        I haven’t seen the one we used for sale any more. It has been ten years since we last used it. Perhaps an even better one is available now? It sounds like you’ll be in the market for one soon MommyPoints!

  5. People are too dumb flying United domestically or Internationally! They have the most arrogant & self centered crews working in flight. No way are they friendly or caring to anyone.

    I would specially avoid United when flying internationally because their planes are always the oldest seats with no legroom. No personal entertainment system even on 13 hour long flight. pathetic food, pathetic service and unfriendly to babies, families with kids. They even SELL wines in flight on those 12 to 15 hour long flight when they are free on any other non US based flights.( I don’t drink wines beers or any liquor). I have flown united many times internationally with or without baby and they suck. Sorry if I am talking stupid to any of your readers.

    On our most recent international flight, we had our baby sleeping on his own seat with 2 of us. we had 2 seats. The flight attendent coems and says we should bucke for kids even though my baby is asleep, already buckled. She than says she likes babies or kids on their own seat and gives us a plastic bag and she says it is to put your baby’s dirty diaper. Says she will help us with any need. Well, she was there in flight and never blinked an eye to us later. never asked if we needed anything else. Was busy selling wines.
    They also don’t let families with babies or kids board early like other airlines do. I had status with them and they wouldn’t give a damn.

    Our flight with Asiana was far better in flight or at the terminal. AVOID US BASED AIRLINES WHEN FLYING INTERNATIONALLY

    • My toddler flew w me at 23 mths and slept most of the way. The rules should stay at 24 mths. Parents who feel their child is too big to be a lap child have the option to buy a seat. Changing the age to 18mths would not give parents the option.

  6. Recently I flew from St. Louis to Orlando. The airplane was filled and I could understand, when at least three kids were crying and screaming due to the descent. What got under my skin was wasting at least 15 minutes waiting for the stragglers to board. When did Frontier Airlines get into the business of ‘herding cats’.

  7. Got to love the mom saying “I don’t want to cause a scene, ever, because it makes my life harder.”

  8. Got to love the Mom saying “I don’t want to cause a scene, ever, it just makes my life harder.” Well, not tweeting repeatedly about the event or giving interviews to CBC and TMZ might avoid “causing a scene” or at least avoid making a bigger one.

    Airlines need to stop permitting lap “baby” tickets for mobile toddlers. Drop the age to six months or one year of age and watch the problems go away.

    • Well can’t argue with the logic that making a scene on the plane would have made her life harder (though she got kicked off anyway). As far as afterwards, I don’t know her motivation, but if part of it was bringing more awareness to the issue then I’m not sure I disagree. There may not be an easy solution, but more parents being prepared before boarding the plane can only be a good thing.

  9. Tough call….. There is a difference between a temper tantrum and fussiness. I don’t think others should be subjected to a tantrum. If it happens in flight, not much to do about it but pull out your noise blocking headphones, but on the Tarmac is a different story. I have flown with 3 young children at various stages from 6 weeks up to now teenager so yeah I know what I’m talking about. I’m sure they didn’t take turning back lightly and delaying a ton of people.

    • I agree there is a difference for sure, but just to play Devil’s Advocate a bit here…why shouldn’t anyone be subjected to a tantrum? Not that I would want anyone to be subjected to a tantrum, but when did something that just occasionally is a part of being a toddler become something that isn’t at all acceptable for anyone else to have to ever be around? Is it ideal? Certainly not. Is it worth turning a plane around for? Well, obviously this flight crew thought so, but I’m just not totally convinced. There just has to be a better way to handle a 23 month old than giving them the boot.

      • Well, things that are normal behavior for toddlers don’t necessarily belong in public transportation. You may be making what I call the ‘living room’ assumption that many parents make, which is that behavior you find acceptable in your own living room is ok for public spaces. For some parents but not all, that includes loud noise and running in aisles and kicking seats, often dismissed as kids being kids. Such behavior by an adult on a plane would almost always lead to getting kicked off, physically restrained, or being met by law enforcement at arrival.

        I think the appropriate standard for kid’s presence in airplanes (due to the longer time in confined space versus buses or subways) is actually embedded in your own point about being unable to reason much with a 2 year old. Being able to reason and take direction is the point at which air travel works, my own number would be around 5 years. For those who would say adults can be equally disruptive and unreasoning, I agree and such behavior is nowadays met with the penalties mentioned earlier.

        • I agree to a point, but this is just a normal developmental issue, not a situation of a behavior that is okay just in my home. I also guess I don’t view air travel as particularly special in some ways. This mom was working, and the only feasible way to get from one concert to the next in short order was an airplane. She has a kid, so the kid comes with her (and I believe the nanny). It’s just public transportation in the end, and while parents and adults absolutely should do their best to not impact others on the journey, sometimes it just happens for a bit. I don’t think that means staying home until 5. I think that just means planning as best you can and hoping for a bit of empathy when things go off course.

          • I agree it is a normal developmental issue for a 2 year old, but that is exactly why I don’t think they should be on the plane. Tantrums are considerably more likely at those ages than past 5. I also don’t agree with the assumption that since this mother or any other parent has a child, they have to take them along on work trips. Taking them along is a choice and preference, especially when they have a nanny.

            I know this subject is clearly one of those dead horses, and people will disagree in good faith. However, I think it is important to clarify which assumptions are being made that are at the heart of the disagreement. Those in favor of younger kids on planes are often parents who view crying/tantrums as unpredictable inconveniences like someone sneezing or being ill next to you, while those opposed consider it to be a choice that places the parents’ preference to travel with young kids above the quite likely inconveniences caused by their developmental processes.

          • I don’t know much about this singer at all, but if her living is made on the road doing concerts for part of the year it is sort of unreasonable to think the kid would just be left home for all of that. It’s a little different than a 2-3 day business trip. Still, regardless of the reason for travel, I do agree that this is an issue not everyone will agree on. I don’t want to be seated next to an unhappy kid any more than you probably do, but I do think it’s just a part of life using public transportation.

  10. “However, anyone who knows anything about toddlers knows that no matter how good a parent you are, epic meltdowns just happen sometimes.”

    Which is what I said during the discussion on taking an 8 month old on a thirteen hour flight to Australia. It is highly likely that it will be disruptive to other passengers, especially in First or Business. On the other hand, the parents have the right to take the toddler along, if they chose to do so.

    • Though a non-mobile 8 month olds version of losing it and a toddler almost 3 times that age will look a bit different. Both ages do still cry though, that is a reality.

    • Love it when parents think they have a “right” to have their disruptive children on a flight no matter what class of service, safety issues or the total discomfort of fellow passengers is involved. I applaud United for removal of the subject child. IMHO, if this removal was done more often, there would be a dramatic reduction of such incidences on flights. Let the meaningless slings and arrows follow ——-

  11. Although it probably broke generic company policy, it was a very temporary, individualized situation. Maybe there should be a public awareness campaign- toddlers who scream will immediately crash out right afterward so LET IT GO!

  12. That mother shouldnot have even brought the baby, kid, youngster, or toddler on the air plane. She should have left it at her house with a baby sitter as tantrums are very disruptive to all of the other people on the flight.

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