A family of four flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles last week say they were forced to leave an overbooked Delta Air Lines flight after they refused to give up the seat their toddler son was sitting in — a seat his father had paid for — and put him on their laps instead.
As is often the case, there’s a bit more to the story than that: According to ABC-7,t ABC-7, the family had originally traveled to Hawaii with three children: a 2-year-old daughter, infant son, and their 18-year-old son.
On the way to Hawaii, each family member had their own seat. For the return trip, the family decided to send the teen son ahead on an earlier flight so they could use his seat for the baby boy and his travel seat.
The father claims that Delta knew he was planning to use the seat for his younger son when they boarded their return flight. But the family claims the flight was overbooked, prompting Delta staff to tell them they would have to give up the seat occupied by the toddler and sit with him on their laps for the duration of the flight, because the original passenger wasn’t using the seat.
In a video posted on YouTube, the father argues that he paid for the seat so it’s actually his. It’s a red-eye flight, he says, and his son can only sleep in a car set, instead of crawling all over their laps.
“You’re saying you’re gonna give that away to someone else when I paid for that seat?” he asks the airline worker. “That’s not right.”
Another airline employee introduces herself, and tells him that under FAA regulations, kids two and under should not have their own seats at all, and are supposed to sit in parents’ laps for the duration of the flight.
“With him being two, he cannot sit in the car seat,” one airline employee tells him. “He has to sit in your arms the whole time.”
The dad points out that that doesn’t seem to make sense — they traveled on a Delta flight earlier, with him in his car seat, with no trouble. He questions the employee, asking if they can hold him in their laps for takeoff and put him back in the car seat after.
“He cannot be in a seat at all,” the employee says. “He cannot occupy a seat because he’s two or under, that’s FAA regulations.”
“We want you and your children to have the safest, most comfortable flight possible,” Delta’s site says. “For kids under the age of two, we recommend you purchase a seat on the aircraft and use an approved child safety seat.”
An FAA spokeswoman told Consumerist — while not commenting on this specific incident — that when it comes to putting a one- or two-year-old in a parent’s lap versus a seat with an approved safety device like a car seat, the agency “strongly recommends that children under the age of two fly in an approved child restraint.”
She says parents should print out and take the FAA’s guidance [PDF] with them when they fly in case they run into any problems.
Although the parents finally agreed to fly with their son on their lap, they were not allowed to stay on the flight, the family says. Instead, they had to get a hotel room and pay $2,000 for another flight the next day on United Airlines.
“You guys are unbelievable,” the father says in the video as they prepare to get off the plane. “Great customer service.”
We’ve reached out to Delta for comment and will update this post if we hear back.