Watching the 8-minute YouTube video of Delta Airlines personnel explaining to the Schear family why they must remove their 18-month-old son from his “paid seat” is nothing short of infuriating. But while the video and articles circulating about it are creating enough confusion about what FAA regulations—and airline recommendations, including Delta’s—are regarding the use of car seats on airplanes, there is a bigger picture that I don’t hear being discussed—not by the Delta employees, not by the media, and not by the outraged parents and travelers, all of whom have had a part in making this clip go viral. I feel it’s critically important at times like this for parents and airline employees to understand the facts behind a widely publicized situation like this, especially going forward with future travel plans.
First, Let’s Clear the Air About What Delta Got Wrong:
Yes, the Delta employee has got her facts all wrong in telling the parents, “He can’t occupy a seat because he’s two years or younger. That’s FAA regulations,” she says. First of all, children can only fly as “lap children” (for free on domestic flights or generally 10% on international flights) BEFORE their second birthdays. Any two-year-old, including the one the Schears flew with, is required to be in its own paid seat and is not allowed to fly on a lap—at least not during taxi, takeoff, or landing (but it wasn’t their two-year-old they were asking to fly on a lap).
As most of this readership knows—and hopefully EVERY SINGLE DELTA EMPLOYEE knows going forward—children under 2 years old can certainly fly in an FAA-approved car seat when an airplane seat has been purchased, even during taxi, takeoff, and landing. In fact, they are encouraged to do so for safety reasons (and the comfort of all passengers, including those who might get stuck sitting next to two people rather than just one).
As Delta states on its own website, “We want you and your children to have the safest, most comfortable flight possible. For kids under the age of two, we recommend you purchase a seat on the aircraft and use an approved child safety seat.” Saying the child could not fly in the seat because he was too young to fly in a car seat was just plain incorrect, and holding up the flight and bullying the parents in front of the passengers over that false claim is terrible.
Now, Let’s Clear the Air About What the Family Got Wrong:
In the video, you hear the father insisting he paid for that seat, but in fact he’d paid for a seat for an older child in the family, his 18-year-old son, who had flown home on an earlier flight instead. If he expected this paid-for seat to still be available, it suggests that rather than pay Delta’s hefty $200 change ticket fee to change the older son’s existing reservation, they opted to get a completely separate ticket for the 18-year-old with the hope (and plan) that they could still use the same seat for their family. However, according to Delta’s ticket rules: “Tickets are valid for the named passenger only and are not transferable.”
So by leaving the ticket in the older son’s name, he would have been counted as a no-show for that flight. And what happens when a passenger does not show up for his flight? Yes, his seat may be given to another passenger. Particularly, to another paying passenger who may be on a stand-by list. And from everything I’ve watched and read so far, there is no indication that the Schear family had paid for a seat for the 1-year-old, in which case he would be obliged to fly on a parent or caregiver’s lap instead of in a seat–and instead of in his car seat, which was surely the family’s original plan when they’d purchased seats for the eldest son but not the youngest.
Of course, if a flight does have extra seats available, a family flying with a lap child and car seat might be allowed to use one of the extra seats for that child–and for no additional fee. It does happen, particularly when customer service-savvy airline personnel see this opportunity present itself, and it’s happened to me on more than one occasion (thank you, airline angels). Perhaps that’s even how the Schear family had acquired a seat for their youngest child on the outbound flight. But the fact remains that if you want to ensure you have a seat for your child under 2, you’d better pay for it–and make sure it’s reserved in his name and not someone else’s in the family.
Previous post (how ironic!): Five Things You Should Know Before Flying With a Car Seat
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