Toddler Getting Kicked Off a Southwest Flight Is Just…Sad.

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Kids are not tiny adults. They are smaller, younger, humans, with sometimes bigger emotions and feelings than their larger, more hardened adult counterparts. Children, even toddlers, can absolutely be taught to be very good travelers, but they will never be a tiny adult with a tiny little suitcase. While they are young, they will remain a child who gets tired, scared, overwhelmed, and sometimes just needs a minute to be consoled as a little kid before they again try to act like a tiny adult for as long as they can. This is especially true while on a plane, train, on a tour, at dinner, or wherever else the expectation is for tiny adults and not normal children.

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A tiny traveler with a tiny suitcase is still a normal toddler.

In a perfect world, these tiny travelers would march onto the plane, immediately settle and strap into their seat, and quietly begin playing toys, watching their iPads (with headphones), or maybe read the morning edition of the Toddler Street Journal. That does happen sometimes, especially if your little one is used to the traveling routine, but it doesn’t always go that way at first.

Little kids can be tired, get scared, and protest immediately strapping into their airplane seat. Hopefully, this temporary settling process can be managed during boarding so that by the time the plane is ready to go, so is the toddler. If a little one can’t be safely strapped into their seat by the time it is time to go, the situation can deteriorate and families with toddlers have been asked off the plane on more than one occasion. However, there should be a lot of grey area between not immediately settling into a seat and kicking a toddler off the flight. There are certainly situations when a child should perhaps fly at a later date because their behavior is unsafe, but you would think that would be the absolutely last resort, especially when you are just talking about a scared or tired little toddler.

Video of Toddler Getting Kicked Off of a Southwest Flight

I wasn’t there, but after watching the video of the family who was reportedly removed from a Southwest flight yesterday, I’m left just feeling really sad that the best outcome the crew could come up with was removing a young (now calm and seated) toddler and her family from the flight.

The video linked above doesn’t start until the crew is telling the family they are getting removed, but the adults are still calm, the child is seated and quiet, and the surrounding passengers seem to be very much supporting the family and little girl. I’m left a little baffled as to how removing the family and making them go through that process of getting settled all over again at a later time when everyone is more exhausted is the best solution.

The woman who filmed and posted the incident, Alexis Armstrong, was quoted by INC as saying that the toddler “had a fit for about 3 mins…while still boarding and people seating. Then the flight attendant in red came over and said she needs to calm and sit or will be escorted off. The man calms the child gets her popcorn sets her up.” What happened next was that the captain announced they would be returning to the terminal and you can see the events transpire pretty much from there. If what happened is anywhere close to that version of events, and I have no reason to think otherwise, I’m left shaking my head.

Sometimes rules are rules (and airplanes have plenty of them), but you would think if you absolutely had to remove a now settled toddler from a flight because of some extreme situation, that it would be done in the most empathetic and apologetic way since, you know, kids are not tiny adults and Southwest is regarded as a family-friendly airline.

If you are a parent who is now worried that your toddler will be the next one kicked off a flight, know that while this does happen, it isn’t a common occurrence. Your child who is two years old or over does need to be in their seat with the seatbelt fastened when the seat belt sign is illuminated. Consider bringing their car seat onboard if you think that will help your kids feel secure and remain seated. If you can’t logistically get a car seat on the flight, a CARES Harness can also be helpful in keeping them strapped in.

CARES Harness

Watching the video of the toddler getting kicked off of the Southwest flight made me angry, frustrated, indignant, exasperated, but ultimately, mostly sad. Kids are just kids, and families trying to fly from Point A to Point B aren’t dealing with tiny programmable robots, they are dealing with real little humans with big emotions. It is not easy, especially at first, going through all of the steps of flying with a toddler and getting all the way to the point of having them calm in their seat only to then be removed and have to start all over again. If everyone is working together, there just has to be a better way.

Huge virtual waves of support for the family who stayed calm in the face of all that transpired on that flight where they never got to fly. I hope it somehow becomes a funny family story someday and the friendly skies can only get better from here.

Thanks to One Mile at a Time for flagging this incident.

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Comments

  1. This is the kind of thing that gives me anxiety about traveling with my kid. I can usually get him to calm down (in other words, I’ve never not been able to, but never say never…), but the expectation that he won’t protest a little before settling is just too high a bar.

    • Agree, and that really isn’t usually the bar. I know these incidents are anxiety-inducing, but as long as you can get them strapped in, you should be fine.

    • Emily, some airlines do allow families to board early and some do not. Southwest does it 1/3 of the way through the boarding process, so not early. I wish all let families on board first to allow time for car seats and strollers and such to be dealt with and a few extra seconds for little ones to be calmed if necessary.

      • Why should families get to board early? You made a choice to have kids – if you want to board early, pay for premium class or early boarding.

        • Jenny, personally, I think young families should board early because they move slower, their stuff is bulky, they sometimes have to install car seats, and it slows everyone else down. Get them on board and out of the way first and everyone is better for it. It isn’t really different than why they preboard those with a disability. It is better for that person, and everyone else.

        • Take that up with the airlines, it’s there policy. It’s not like families demand it, but they use it if it’s allowed. This is actually one area where airlines actually show civility.

        • I agree with the points about it being a general benefit to everybody, but I’d also like to point out that it’s not something I necessarily feel entitled to. To me, it’s one of the benefits Southwest offers that generally makes it a better choice for our family than other airlines. Other airlines don’t offer it and we sometimes take that into consideration when planning our travel, just like checked bag fees, layovers, etc.

    • “It’s not indefinite.” TBU: true but useless. THIS particular child DID calm down, and in a short time. Why kick them off?

  2. I am stunned by how inconsistency there is among flight attendants. You would think after all the recent incidents, and the fact that everything is caught on camera, airlines would have training to make sure they all follow the same rules and guidelines. There are few things worse than being on a flight with a screaming kid, but many kids are fussy or throw a tantrum when they get on a plane. The fact that she was settled makes this just seem punitive. My guess is those flight attendants are not parents.

  3. We used a CARES harness around this age, precisely to cue our daughter it was time to sit and remain seated just like in the car seat. Airline lap belts are way too loose and in no way restrain them if they decide to stand up in the seat. 2-3 is a very difficult age to be sure.

  4. Was the child standing when the aircraft was moving? If the capt said they were returning to the gate i;m assuming it was taxiing. If the child was standing in the seat while the plane was taxiing then I think the flight attendant could be correct. But if not, then I don;t understand why the child was removed.

    I don’t have kids but have taken the nieces and nephews to Disney enough to understand what it’s like to travel with little ones. I’m sympathetic to parents with you kids but safety still has to take precedence.

  5. Our 3-year old son travels great with a car seat, but last trip on Southwest he was having none of it and didn’t want to sit down. We don’t know why, but suspect he felt uncomfortable. Luckily we were carrying the harness (yes, we do extensive planning to avoid disruptions to others) and there were empty seats for us to just toss aside the empty car seat in one of them. Most of the times we fly with our child he does great, but I still have to take a Xanax to calm myself down from the anxiety that I’m going to run into a flight attendant like this, or passengers that will give us a nasty look, and get kicked off. Traveling with a child is not like filling out a checklist where everything gets done happily and nobody gets pissed. Stuff will go haywire from time to time. In fact, the situation above exactly describes our last flight, except for the mean flight crew.

    • I get so much anxiety about flying with my kid too. Luckily it’s usually gone pretty smoothly. It does amaze me how some adults act though regarding children on a plane. They seem to think that they are entitled to a child free zone. Maybe they should pay for private if they have that much of an issue. Just yesterday a woman gave me the stare down when my daughter cried once and nothing after that. The more times we fly the less I worry and really don’t care. If someone has an issue with my kid being in the same space as them it’s their issue to deal with not mine.

  6. My understanding was that they were cleared for take off and the child would not sit down.
    The Captain was the one that ultimately made the decision to return to the terminal, so it shouldn’t all rest on the flight attendent’s shoulders.

  7. IDK… there is no video of what transpired previously. However, if the toddler was out of control where it could be a hazard of some kind, they can’t take the risk – Southwest is usually very forgiving, next to Spirit – it’s almost anything goes type of airline so I won’t be quick to judge.

    As a parent, you know when you’re toddler may become a problem. Some are perfectly fine and may get a little ansy – they’re a toddler. BUT, there are some that… I’ll just say, shouldn’t be flying. Our kid went through a period where we simply did not travel with her – our trip to Hawaii when she was 14 months was crazy, so we decided not to travel with her again until she was 3 years old. It was the best decision for us. She’s almost 6 now and she’s a good traveler.

  8. I’m sure if the planes were half full everything would be different. Demand exceeds supply and the necessity creates these arrogant flight attendants who don’t believe in customer service. Also I refuse to believe that so many of them are individually bad. I think it’s the airline culture of take it or leave it that trickles down from upper management!

    About time Elon Musk’s hyperloop gets implemented so we don’t have to deal with power tripping flight attendants…

  9. I am so saddened by this story. We recently witnessed the opposite experience when a family traveling with a toddler couldn’t get her to settle in her seat. They had pre-boarded, but the girl had used the time to play musical chairs with her various adults, and when it came down to strapping in, she simply wouldn’t have it. Her mother was so patient and calm, but just couldn’t get her to sit in her seat. Finally when everyone was seated and the captain was ready to push back, the other flight attendant said over the speaker, “As soon as EVERYone is strapped in, we can leave.” However, this one flight attendant, Tara, came over to the girl, called her by her name, and very gently, but firmly explained to her about having to be buckled when the seatbelt sign was lit. She gave her until she came back with cookies (enough for all of the kids in the vicinity) to get strapped in. The little girl immediately complied, and Tara made a big (but not too big) deal about how she had gotten her seatbelt on, etc. It was one of those moments where you are so grateful that there are people like Tara in the world who can empathize but hold firm limits on safety while allowing everyone to maintain their dignity.

    • This is the right response and the right result.

      But I did some research. FWIW, so long as someone is not assaulting a crew member or being “unruly,” politely not following an instruction appears to be at worst a civil offense that would have to be pursued by the FAA.

      Data on these proceedings is hard to find, but one online source says:

      “IV. Civil Penalties
      Violations of section 46504 [the flight crew interference statute], in addition to being a basis for a criminal prosecution, can also be the basis
      for the FAA to impose a civil penalty on a passenger. FAA regulations prohibit much the same
      misconduct that is prohibited by the statute, which the agency refers to as “unruly” passenger
      misconduct.18 Other regulations impose additional specific compliance obligations on passengers,
      including that they obey smoking and seatbelt signs,19 obey instructions for the use of portable electronic devices,20 and obey instructions to properly stow baggage.21 FAA may impose a civil penalty of up to $27,500 for violations that involve a physical assault or a threat of a physical assault,22 and of up to $1100 for other violations.23
      According to the FAA, the peak year for civil penalties involving unruly passengers was 2005, in which there were 304 proceedings; in contrast, as of December 17, 2010, there had been only 92 proceedings for the year.24 The agency only publishes decisions in which the decision of an Administrative Law Judge is appealed to the FAA Administrator, so it is unclear how severe civil penalties typically are; but recent examples of appeals decisions suggest that they are typically below the maximum. For example, in 2008 the FAA upheld a fine of $1500 levied against a passenger for two regulatory violations (improperly operating a portable electronic device and interfering with crewmembers in the course of their duties);25 in 2007, the FAA upheld a $6100 fine levied against a passenger for assaulting a flight attendant and interfering with crewmembers in the course of their duties (which was stated to have been the first appeals proceeding which involved the higher penalty ceiling for physical assaults).26”

      I cannot find the answer to whether refusing to get off the plane, back at the gate, under circumstances such as these would be deemed “unruly” under the FAA regs. But I have to think you’d have a pretty good defense on the facts presented.

      Moreover, I’d just like to see someone stick it to one of these authoritarian FA’s on cross examination before an ALJ:

      you didn’t help calm the child
      you didn’t offer a cookie
      or some milk
      you didn’t talk to the child
      you didn’t talk to the child to calm her down
      you didn’t explain why she needed to sit down
      you did nothing to assist
      you were standing right there
      instead you walked to the front of the plane
      you told the captain you had an unruly passenger
      you had the POWER to tell the captain that
      then the plane went back to the gate…
      where the child was sitting down!
      she was quiet!
      obeying!
      what you asked for
      but YOU had the POWER to order them off the plane
      YOU knew you were going to order them off the plane
      the father and the two year old, sitting quietly
      YOU had made the decision
      You had the POWER to order them off the plane
      you USED your POWER to order them off the plane
      etc.

      A very powerful theme in trials is “choices.” One could very effectively put the FA’s choices on trial.

  10. There are huge inconsistencies in the story you present. If the captain announced the plane was returning to the terminal, then the child was out of control on the runway, NOT while people were boarding and getting seated. There’s a huge safety difference there. I’m sure this was hard on the family, but let’s get the facts straight before claiming something that seems to be erroneous. Kids can’t be going wild and out of their seats while taxiing. Solid fact.

    • That’s clearly in the story. Also in the story was that the child was fine, in her seat and quiet, by the time the family was ordered off the plane. The issue had passed, but the FA and captain decided to assert their power to revisit it. Poor judgment. Poor choices.

  11. My 4 children are grown now, and I’m a grandma ( Kiki). Honestly, I think being the LAST to board is advantageous! ……this, of course, is if you have assigned seats….not an option on Southwest though. Perhaps, if they had a “family area” that could be reserved for them to be seated in this could work. I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’m just thankful that there are usually kind souls both in and out of the airline industry that rise to the occasion when needed!

  12. Yes the child was seated and under control AFTER the plane returned to the gate. Video clearly includes WN staff talking about having returned to the gate due to toddler. Dad talks about having asked for time to get toddler settled again. (Who is now settled by the time they returned to the gate)

    Sounds like the child got settled prior to pushback, then became disruptive/ out of seat during taxi. If after being settled the child can’t stay seated then it’s not a good day for the family to fly. Sad but safety of other pax on the flight trumps one family’s sporadic ability to calm/ control their toddler. Can’t exactly pull the plane over if the toddler has mid flight melt down. Crew made the right decision.

    • Well, there will always be people who side with authority. But as I noted above, flight crew authority is not absolute.

      Think critically here: the average two year old is objectively not a safety/security threat to other passengers. If they had evidence this one was, they would be welcome to put that evidence in the record at a hearing. But so far no one has come forward to say something like, “oh, this toddler was wielding a switchblade in one hand and brass knuckles in the other and wanted to throw down.”

      Even if you/they want to make the “could become a projectile if not buckled during turbulence” argument, that becomes a selective enforcement issue, because no airline diverts its flights every time someone gets up with the seatbelt sign on.

      What did Frances McDormand’s character in Almost Famous say? “Make good choices!” FA and captain failed here. Must just not have been a good day for them to fly.

  13. For me, the issue isn’t about whether or not they technically could remove the toddler because she was not strapped at the exactly correct second. Of course they could, and in this case, did. For what it is worth, I have seen adults run to the restroom or get something from the overhead bins during taxiing and I’ve never seen a single one of them removed from the flight.

    Again, for me, it is about taking a bird’s eye view if you will and determining what is actually necessary and best for the involved parties, including the flight crew. Was it really best for them to remove a calm family just because they technically could? Based on what I have seen and heard, I have a very, very hard time understanding how this was the best route to take. It just seems that for some reason the ball got rolling in this direction and it gained momentum instead of someone realizing that there were alternate paths that could be taken.

    • Your point that you’ve seen grown adults up during taxiing isn’t relevant here. Someone doing something wrong on flight A and not being punished doesn’t excuse the same behavior on flight B, C, or D. I understand your thinking, but with how many million flights a year things are going to be overlooked. I’m definitely not saying it’s right or fair, but someone else getting away with something isn’t a defense.

      As I said upstream, for someone with no kids I’m very sympathetic to travelers with little kids. But if the kid was acting in such a way the crew felt was unsafe and had a probability of being repeated then I can’t fault them for removing the child.

      Sure, the crew seems cold hearted and strict here. But if the kid stood up again during take off and they the plane hits some chop and the kid goes flying 6 rows forward what happens? The crew looks negligent and the child could be seriously hurt.

      I think in general people should be a bit more sympathetic to families traveling with small kids. But at the same time I think parents need to really evaluate whether your child is ready to fly and how the child will realistically behave.

      • Shaun, the point of saying that is that flight attendants are not and should not be robots. It is not you broke X rule so we automatically must deplane you or be punished. None of the folks I saw break that rule accidentally or otherwise should have (in my view) been kicked off the flight, even though maybe some of them could have been by some technicality. The same judgment calls and discretion can be applied to families.

  14. Omg same thing happened to us on our last flight except crew was understanding and allowed us time to get my son to seat on his seat he threw a horrible fit I had to force him down on his seat , thank god we boarded early and had time to get him settled before take off
    We were nervous we would be kicked off the flight too
    Crew should be more supportive of kids

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