AirTran Airways on Tuesday defended its decision to remove a Massachusetts couple from a flight after their crying 3-year-old daughter refused to take her seat before takeoff.
AirTran officials said they followed Federal Aviation Administration rules that children age 2 and above must have their own seat and be wearing a seat belt upon takeoff.
“The flight was already delayed 15 minutes and in fairness to the other 112 passengers on the plane, the crew made an operational decision to remove the family,” AirTran spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver said.
In their cold, insensitive treatment of the Kuleszas they join Delta and its ‘Freedom Air’ subsidiary which ejected a nursing mother from one of their flights last November. I tell you, sometimes I think that what these airlines need is to have a few parents and children serve as consultants in their service training program. Airline flight crew and staff who have little or no experience with small children are the bane of the travel experience for flying parents.
Don’t get me wrong–I understand the stress and strain that they’re under. I know that some parents and children test the limits of endurance. I know how obnoxious a wailing child can be. But there’s got to be a better way than to eject a family from a flight.
Here’s the story from the victims’ point of view:
Julie and Gerry Kulesza, who were headed home to Boston on Jan. 14 from Fort Myers, said they just needed a little more time to calm their daughter, Elly.
“We weren’t given an opportunity to hold her, console her or anything,” Julie Kulesza said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
The Kuleszas said they told a flight attendant they had paid for their daughter’s seat, but asked whether she could sit in her mother’s lap. The request was denied.
She was removed because “she was climbing under the seat and hitting the parents and wouldn’t get in her seat” during boarding, Graham-Weaver said.
So you remove a family from an airplane because their daughter was “climbing under the seat and hitting her parents?” It sounds absurd. Since when are children forbidden to hit their parents on airplanes?? Sure it’s not a nice thing to do. But who hasn’t had their 3 year old hit them at one time or another? This wasn’t some drunk passenger hitting on a flight attendant, which is how they’re trying to make poor Elly sound. It was a 3 year old child for chrissakes!
One piece of advice I’d give to the Kuleszas and other fliers is: your toddlers are all 2 years old. You get my drift? That way, even if they wanted to the flight crew would have to allow you to hold your child during takeoff and landing. We just flew two horrific legs from Seattle to Florida and back with children who were just over 2. But for the purposes of these flights they were 2. Our daughter had a fever and diarrhea on the way home and was miserable the entire flight. We even allowed her to sleep on the floor during one landing. It was just that horrific. Luckily, our Continental flight crew was equally understanding. But who knows how they would’ve reacted if we’d told them the children were over 2? Best not to take the chance.
It is, of course, absurd for federal regulations to require a child over 2 to sit in a seat. Certainly, it may be safety-motivated. But how can you communicate that to a 2 year-old? Let’s get real fed bean counters. These are children, not automatons. Sometimes a 2, 3, or even 4 year old needs to be in mommy’s or daddy’s lap during takeoff. They require psychological comforting during such a potentially stressful event.
Kudos to the Kuleszas for giving Air Tran what for:
They also were offered three roundtrip tickets anywhere the airline flies, Graham-Weaver said.
The father said his family would never fly AirTran again.
Let’s start a movement, shall we? Let’s all make commitments never to fly Air Tran again. Then perhaps they’ll hire one of us to teach their staff how to deal sympathetically with child passengers and their parents. If you’d like to give Air Tran a piece of your parental mind, do so here. Or call their corporate headquarters or customer relations department at the phone numbers listed here. And how ’bout a new corporate motto: “Air Tran: only polite children allowed or we’ll chuck your ass.”
The Worcester Telegram (the Kuleszas are from Worcester) runs a terrific follow up article on this story which humanizes this poor family which is being tarred and feathered all over the ignorant blogosphere. The story notes an important fact left out of the AP story: Air Tran, after booting the family, told them that they were banned from flying the airline for 24 hours. Imagine the idiocy! This is customer service?!
Elly’s mother explains in this article that the reason her daughter may’ve reacted so harshly to flying was that the toddler had had an ear operation earlier in the month. The descent on the previous flight she’d flown may’ve distressed her so much that when the family boarded the plane she was reminded of the previous flight and had her meltdown. Doesn’t a child recovering from an ear operation deserve to be cut some slack?
Furthermore, it turns out the only reason why AirTran offered to refund the ticket price was because a reporter for the paper called the airline to ask them about the incident. The same airline spokesperson who’d been so hard-hearted in the above AP story seems to have at least a slight change of heart:
AirTran, meanwhile, has apparently had a change of heart. After the airline received a phone call Thursday from yours truly, an AirTran customer service rep called the Kuleszas, apologized profusely for the incident and refunded them the $595 cost of their tickets.
“We do believe the situation could have been handled differently,” said AirTran spokeswoman Judy Graham-Weaver. “We will use this case as a means to train our agents on dealing with this type of situation on our flights … While there are FAA regulations that mandate all passengers have to be securely fastened in their seat belts before a plane can depart, we need to work with our customers in situations like this to help them — and that is what we will focus on.”
Ms. Kulesza is appreciative of the response, but believes she could have calmed her daughter down, if given the chance.
“It wasn’t like she had a bomb strapped to her waist,” she noted.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.