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Flying with kids isn’t easy for anyone — the parents, the nearby passengers, the flight attendants. And hostility between parents and airlines seems to be reaching an all-time high, with stories of families getting kicked off flights regularly making headlines.
Last week, one mom and her baby were booted from a Frontier Airlines flight after an altercation that started with a flight attendant asking the mother to take her five-month-old out of a baby carrier. Despite having worn the carrier on an earlier flight, after connecting, Nicki Gazlay was told before takeoff that she had to hold the child in her lap, according to WMC Action News 5 in Memphis. (Baby carriers are, in fact, not approved by the Federal Aviation Administration for take-off and landing.)
After a back and forth between Gazlay and the flight attendant, Gazlay says she was asked whether she was going to comply with the flight attendant’s request. Gazlay’s response: “Of course I am going to comply, I’m going to do whatever you say because you’re the queen of this airplane.” That was enough to get the mom and her son kicked off the plane and forced to rebook another flight on a separate airline for her Denver to Memphis trip.
In a statement provided to Yahoo Parenting, Frontier Airlines said: “Ms. Gazlay was attempting to use a restraining device not approved by the FAA for use onboard an aircraft. Our flight attendant politely let Ms. Gazlay know that due to FAA regulations that were in place for their safety, that she wouldn’t be able to use the unapproved device. Upon verbal notification by the flight attendant, Ms. Gazlay immediately became belligerent and argumentative with our crew member (this fact has been corroborated by two customers seated in the vicinity of Ms. Gazlay). The flight attendant then calmly repeated the FAA regulations concerning the device’s use and Ms. Gazlay continued to argue with the flight attendant which now made others on the plane ‘very uncomfortable’ (this fact has been documented in writing by other customers). Federal Aviation Regulations require customer compliance with crew member instructions in this regard. We support the actions of our flight crew 100% as they did exactly what they were trained to do in professional manner. Everything we do onboard is done with safety as the primary driver and we simply will not tolerate abusive behavior on board towards crew or other customers. This is the reason she was removed. We love children and families but customer compliance with crew member instructions regarding safety is critically important and mandated by Federal Aviation Regulations. This is for everyone’s safety on board.”
There are clearly a number of factors that contributed to this mom getting kicked off the plane — stress, frustration, and rudeness, perhaps from both parties — but why is it so hard for families, flight attendants, and passengers to peacefully coexist on airplanes these days? In October, a family in St. Louis was met by police after their 2-year-old had a tantrum during a flight from the Dominican Republic (also Frontier Airlines). And in December, a fight broke out between two women on Air China over — what else? — a crying baby.
“Airliners are one of the few places where social norms don’t exist,” Todd Curtis, aviation safety expert and creator of Airsafe.com, tells Yahoo Parenting. “Even the most patient person who has kids of their own might go off when they expect a nice, peaceful, six-hour flight and end up next to a crying toddler. But you can’t avoid sitting next to a baby with a poopy diaper, or a whiny 8-year-old.”
The best thing everyone can do, says Curtis, is remember common sense and common courtesy, and that a little politeness goes a long way. Especially since, as Curtis points out, “the flight crew and the cabin crew have wide latitude for taking passengers off airliners. When it comes to general behavioral issues, there all sorts of rules in place so that if flight attendants expect an issue with a passenger, or a passenger is creating an issue, they can say ‘please leave.’”
Tension between families and surrounding flight crew and passengers is often exacerbated by stress—when you can’t quiet your kid and there’s a dirty diaper situation and the seatbelt sign is on, that frustration can cause a parent to be snappier than usual. The best way to safeguard against that, Curtis says, is to plan ahead.
“If you’re taking a trip and there is an aspect that might be problematic — and there are plenty of potential hiccups when you fly with kids — the best thing you can do is to educate yourself of the rules and regulations,” Curtis says. “The problem is, the airlines don’t really explain it you or make the information easy to find, and it’s on the parents to find out. You can be a mom thinking you’re doing the right thing — like keeping your baby safe in a carrier. If you don’t know that carrying a baby on your chest isn’t allowed and you’re already stressed, all types of things can happen.”
Per, Curtis here are 5 flight regulations parents of young kids should know:
Children under the age of two are allowed to be seated on the lap of an adult.
Children over the age of two must be in their own seat.
Use of approved child seats is optional.
A child seat must be approved by the US government for use in aircraft (typically any seat approved for use in motor vehicles is approved for aircraft).
If a child seat is not being used by the child, it may or may not be allowed in the cabin as a carry on item.
If you’re following FAA guidelines (don’t try to argue that you were allowed to do something on another flight if it’s against regulations, Curtis warns) and being generally polite, and fellow passengers or flight attendants are still shooting nasty looks every time your kid lets out a cry, there’s really nothing more you need to do. “At some point you have to say to yourself, you’re doing all the right things,” says Curtis. “Sometimes you bother other people despite your best intentions. It happens.”