Please note this site has financial relationships with American Express and this post may contain affiliate links. Read my Advertiser Disclosure policy here to learn more about my partners.
We flew on United out of Denver this past weekend with little kids and car seats, and the airport was an absolute zoo on one of first busy summer travel weekends. Thankfully, once we had the car seat and kids situated on the plane, the rest of the journey was smooth sailing for us. The same cannot be said for another mom doing virtually the same thing, at the same place, at the same time.
United Express Forces Mom to Fly With Car Seat in Unsafe Position
Mom, Cassie Hutchins-Brosas, was flying from Denver on a SkyWest flight, operating as United Express, with her 8-month-old daughter who weighs around 18 pounds. She purchased a seat for her daughter in first class, and did just as the car seat manufacturer recommends for a child of that size by installing the car seat in a rear-facing position. She had done the same thing without incident on a flight two days earlier.
However, just when her daughter had fallen asleep in her rear-facing car seat while the plane was still at the gate, a United gate agent, seemingly unaware of the FAA rule that car seats can be installed forward or rear facing, reportedly insisted that she turn the child around to be forward facing. Per the FAA posted rules, the only forward facing requirement is that the airline seat itself face forward, not the car seat. In fact, the FAA website explicitly states that:
A CRS must be installed in a forward-facing aircraft seat, in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. This includes placing the CRS in the appropriate forward- or aft-facing direction as indicated on the label for the size of the child.
This traveling mom was well informed on the relevant FAA policy, and reportedly quoted it to the airline employees who continued to insist she turn the car seat around. As has happened to me in a similar situation, things got to the point that she felt she had to either comply or get off the airplane, which she was told wasn’t moving until her baby’s car seat faced forwards.
According to this mom’s account on Facebook, the car seat would not properly install in a forward facing position. Shortly after take-off, the mom says they hit a patch of turbulence that necessitated holding her baby’s head back, as it would get thrown forward when they hit bumpy air. Again, flying out of Denver myself this week, I 100% trust that the air was unstable as our flight to Denver almost diverted to Colorado Springs for a similar reason.
At some point during the flight, the mom was reportedly told by a flight attendant who did some deeper digging that the car seat is indeed supposed to be rear facing, but that it is the gate agents have the final say on where a baby sits on the aircraft. She was permitted to turn the child around to rear facing before landing, and United has now reportedly apologized and refunded the child’s ticket.
No excuse for airlines to not follow basic FAA policies
This mom knew the FAA rules, purchased a ticket for her baby, brought the car seat onboard, installed it correctly, and was still met with dangerous and incorrect information. Excuse me while I dust off this soapbox, but in 2018 with similar story after similar story getting national attention, this is 100% unacceptable. There is no excuse for frontline airline staff to not know basic information regarding flying with infants. Or rather, there is no excuse for them to not obtain the correct information before forcing a parent to do something that is not only outside of airline policy, but outside of FAA policy.
Perhaps it is time for airlines to have a dedicated family travel desk that all employees can reach by phone at a moment’s notice to verify rules and procedures when there is a question about car seats, family seating, nursing, pumping, or anything related that impacts traveling families. Maybe that already exists and simply isn’t being used effectively, but one would think a well-informed airline family travel point person could solve these sort of disputes before incorrect and dangerous information is passed on to customers.
Do not follow directions to put your own child’s safety at risk
Based on what has been shared, this mom did everything right and still ended up in a bad situation. My only additional piece of advice to anyone in a similar situation in the future is to not comply with rules that you know are both incorrect and potentially dangerous. I’ve relented on a similar issue before in the interest of getting home as quickly as possible, but would not do so again.
The airline can force you off the plane, but they cannot force you to do something dangerous for your child. Be polite, but hold your ground and wait for the right information to eventually come out, as it ultimately will.
That said, there are indeed some seats on the aircraft where you cannot use a car seat such as in a seat that would block access to the aisle, in the exit row and rows bordering the exit row, in rear-facing seats, in a seat where it does not physically fit, in some premium cabin seat designs, and in some seats with airbags built into the seatbelt. However, in all of those cases, the airline should work with you to find another seat onboard that will support the use of the car seat, provided that you purchased a ticket for your child.
United told me this morning that the SkyWest employee was mistaken in asking the customer to turn the car seat to a forward facing position and they have been in touch with her to apologize. They are reviewing the incident with SkyWest staff to learn more about what happened.
Has an airline ever asked you to do something with a car seat that you knew to be incorrect or even dangerous?
Editorial Note: The opinions expressed here are mine and not provided, reviewed, by any bank, card issuer, or other company unless otherwise stated.