by Harriet Alexander, The Telegraph, May 5, 2017
A California family has become the latest to be caught up in the growing row about the treatment of passengers by airlines in the United States, after they were removed from their flight - and threatened with having their children taken into care if they did not comply.
Brian and Brittany Schear were flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles on April 23, on a Delta airlines flight, when they were asked to give up their seats.
“Well, they can just remove me from the plane,” said Mr Schear.
An official replied: “In that case you and your wife will be in jail, and your kids will be taken away from you.”
The couple was with two of their three children; their two-year-old son Grayson, and a one-year-old daughter.
They had found travelling from LA to Hawaii with infants on their laps tiring, and so for their return flight their teenage son, Mason, 18, had agreed to fly on another plane, in advance. The family believed that this meant one of the infants could have Mason’s seat – and all four members of the family therefore have their own seat.
But when Mr and Mrs Schear were seated on the plane, with the two infants beside them, one in the 18-year-old’s seat, they were informed that they could not fly.
Mr Schear said he had bought another ticket for Mason, and that one of the infants was using it. Delta said that was not allowed.
Delta representatives then told them that federal regulations prohibited a two-year-old from travelling on his own seat. The FAA website does not state that a two-year-old cannot travel on his own seat; merely that it is recommended they travel on an approved safety seat, such as a car seat.
Mr Schear argued that he had paid for the seat – albeit for his teenager – and so should not be ordered to give it up.
“I’m not trying to cause a problem,” said Mr Schear, in a video clip which was uploaded to YouTube.
“I believe in standing up for what’s right. I paid for the seat.”
An unseen representative of the airline replies: “Federal policy, sir, is that the named person must be in that seat.”
Mr Schear insists that that is not true.
“I’ve been in many flights where people move around seats,” he said.
“After it’s in the air,” the representative replied.
After their discussion, a woman introducing herself as Jenna came to speak to Mr Schear and said that federal regulations forbid the two-year-old child from flying in the car seat, placed on the plane seat.
“He can’t occupy a seat because he’s two years old – and that’s FAA regulations,” she said.
Mr Schear replied: “How did we get through security with two kids, two car seats, and you’re telling us now that we have to get off this plane?”
Jenna responded: “This plane will not go anywhere with you.”
Mr Schear asked what the family was supposed to do, at night, in an airport – asking whether they were all expected to sleep inside the airport.
“From this point you’re on your own,” she replied.
The family eventually left the plane. Mr Schear later said that he had to scramble for a hotel room and pay $2,000 for another flight the next day, on United.
Mrs Schear wrote on Facebook: “We did not receive a refund and had to purchase all new tickets the next day. It was the middle of the night, we had no hotel to go to or a car.”
Her husband accused Delta of overbooking the flight, and said that four people were waiting to board as they left, taking the four seats they vacated.
“Unbelievable,” he said as he left. “ You guys are unbelievable. Great customer service. Good job. ”
The legal position is unclear.
However, if the family was travelling on four tickets one of which was bought in their teenage son's name, it would appear to favour Delta, who insisted that neither of the infants could fly on Mason’s seat, if the seat was still in his name.
According to Delta’s website, a two year old can fly on his own seat, in a car seat placed on the airline seat, if that seat was bought for him. Delta appeared to be arguing that as the seat was not bought in his name, he could not fly on it.
The one-year-old could have flown for free on her parents’ lap. Or, if a ticket was bought for her, she could fly in a car seat placed on the plane seat.
A spokesman for Delta told The Telegraph: "We are sorry for the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta, and we’ve reached out to them to refund their travel and provide additional compensation.
"Delta's goal is to always work with customers in an attempt to find solutions to their travel issues.
"That did not happen in this case and we apologise."
The incident comes after United Airlines reached a settlement last week over a passenger who was dragged down the isle of one of its jets, after refusing to give up his seat.