Parents Say Airline 'Humiliated' 3-Year-Old With Special Needs

A New Jersey mom and dad of four are enraged after they say United Airlines employees humiliated them by not letting their 3-year-old daughter with special needs sit on mom's lap during a recent flight from the Dominican Republic to Newark Airport. Elit Kirschenbaum says her daughter Ivy, who suffered a stroke in the womb and can't sit upright, was sitting peacefully on her lap and being greeted by flight attendants. Then one flight attendant approached them and demanded they place Ivy in the seat they had purchased for her -- as per FAA policy. Even after Kirschenbaum says she explained that her child couldn't physically sit up, she claims the airline workers were rude and delayed the flight one hour, ultimately humiliating their family.


Whether you're a mom or not, it's easy to empathize with Kirschenbaum because it must be extremely difficult to ensure her child is provided for everywhere she goes, given her special needs. Mom knew the most comfortable place for her child would be on her lap -- so she went about doing what she could to cater to her little girl's needs.

But I also empathize with the flight attendants. They were citing FAA regulations, which require that anyone over age 2 sit in his or her own seat. I'm betting 99 percent of people -- including the United Airlines staff in this case -- would have done anything in their power to help this woman and NOT create a scene. But we're talking about flight safety here, and it would have been risky and wrong to allow this mom to keep her daughter on her lap.

This story is a bit confusing, I'm afraid, for several reasons. One: United says that, by law, flight attendants MUST adhere to the safety regulations and that, in Ivy's case, FAA guidelines recommend an FAA-approved child safety seat.

But Kirschenbaum says this is the first time she has heard of this rule and that Ivy has sat on her lap on flights for the past "three-plus years."

Let's remember: it isn't clear whether this mom was allowed to have her daughter on her lap past age 2 on a United flight or a different airline, so it's difficult to comment on this point. Kirschenbaum says she isn't asking for a refund but believes United Airlines should apologize for the way they were treated.

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I don't feel anyone was acting out of malice here. From the information we have, it seems like this was a simple case of miscommunication -- one that, unfortunately, caused a great deal of embarrassment for this family.

Moms and dads can't rely on anyone else to prepare for them. We have to make sure we ask the right questions prior to flights and events, let people know we're traveling with children -- especially if our kids have special needs -- and gather all relevant information we need ahead of time.

With that said, I'm not sure how this family boarded the plane without someone -- an agent, flight attendant, someone -- asking whether the little girl had a child safety seat. This story reminds us that, as moms, we have to do our due diligence because we can't fly by the seat of our pants (pun intended) when we have children.

Do you think the airline owes this family an apology?


Image via Nan Palmero/Flickr

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