Mom of Child with Special Needs says United Airlines ‘Humiliated” Family

ABC News. (yahoo news)

ABC News. (yahoo news)

I just read an article on about a mom who claims United Airlines humiliated her family. The family of six was returning to Newark, New Jersey from the Dominican Republic when they were approached by a flight attendant about a safety concern. Elit Kirschenbaum’s 3-year-old daughter, Ivy, has Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy and is a stroke survivor. The family bought Ivy a seat (in the economy section) because they were aware of federal regulations requiring anyone older than 2 to purchase their own seat.

Elit says despite the fact they bought the extra seat they planned on carrying the child on her lap because she was unable to sit up by herself. The discussion caused tension between the 4 flight attendants as 3 of them were okay with the exception to the rule. Elit says she doesn’t want to sue the company nor does she want any compensation. She simply wants an apology.

United Airlines responded:

“The parents, who were ticketed in first class, wanted to hold the child in their lap rather than have the child take the seat they’d purchased for her in economy. Federal safety regulations require any child over the age of two to have his or her own seat, and flight attendants are required by law to enforce that safety rule. As we did in this case, we will always try to work with customers on seating arrangements in the event of any special needs.”

So should the airline apologize to the Kirschenbaum Family?

My immediate reaction was yes. I quickly sympathized with this family and the daily struggles they must overcome because of the challenges accompanied with raising a special needs child. However, after much consideration I think the airline does not owe them an apology. I think the family should have contacted the airline, before the flight, and asked about the special traveling situation. I have not read this to be the case in any article.

In addition, I wonder if the child could have been put in a booster seat of some sort. Would that have been a solution? I am not sure. I just think that as much of a jerk the flight attendant looked in upholding the rule, she/he was only trying to ensure the safety of each patron. What if there was turbulence and the child was hurt. Would the airline have been liable? In addition, the point of the federal regulation isn’t to force parents to purchase a seat, nowhere near the family, for the sake of buying a seat. It is so that the child can be properly strapped.

What do you think?


Twitter: @adrakontaidis & @talkrealdebate


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About adrakontaidis

A conservative who doesn't pander to the GOP.

2 responses to “Mom of Child with Special Needs says United Airlines ‘Humiliated” Family”

  1. JF Owen says :

    This is a tough one. Linda was a special needs teacher for many years and I asked her opinion. She said that, even if the seat was right next to the parents, it’s highly possibly that the child would not have been able to seat in the set alone as it’s designed. Children with that condition have very little ability to sit up straight by themselves unless they are in special chairs with extra support and straps. One solution might have been the special car seat that the family probably has for their daughter. That seat could have been strapped into the airline seat, although it might have been too big for an economy seat.

    I agree with you that the best solution would have been to resolve the issue before the flight with a call. However, for me the critical piece of information was the paragraph that said:

    “The flight attendants pleading Kirschenbaum’s case then found a flight attendant’s handbook, Kirschenbaum said, that allowed for an exception to be made if the passenger cannot sit by themselves. But the flight attendant would not budge.”

    Apparently, other flights had gone without a problem, so I can understand the mother’s failure to contact the airline in advance this time.

    Where was the captain in all of this? He had the ability to make a quick call to superiors for guidance. I have a feeling that someone higher up in the chain of command would have made a quick decision in favor of the family.

    This appears to me to be a matter of one headstrong flight attendant who was bent on adhering to the letter of the law rather than the intent. As you said, the intent was to ensure the safety of the passengers. In this case, I suspect that the safety of the little girl was best served by keeping her with her parents.

    I hope that this situation at least opens the door for discussion and clarification of the rules. The truth is that very few rules are written to cover all circumstances and they need to be considered living documents subject to constant review.

    The airline may not have been completely wrong here, but neither was the family. I think that the situation could have been handled much better and that it wouldn’t hurt the airline to apologize.

    • realtalkrealdebate says :

      You bring up a good point. Someone in the airline should have asked a superior for what to do. Don’t know what the pilot was doing in this situation. However, I’m not sure if I think the airline should be the only one to apologize, since both parties are at stake. I don’t see the family apologizing. I think sometimes companies are quick to apologize simply for PR reasons and I don’t like the insincere gestures.

      Like you I thought this was a difficult case. As soon as I read the article’s headline I thought oh wow which airline was a jerk this time. I had a predisposition to think they were automatically in the wrong. I can see why the family would think that what they did was appropriate since they were never cited before. But then again many people don’t wear a seat belt while driving and are never cited. Doesn’t mean its safe, or compliant to the rules. The car seat option would probably have been the best thing to do, if viable.

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