Delta Incident Highlights Child Air Travel Rules

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Delta Incident Highlights Child Air Travel Rules

Photo:Lasse Fuss

 

When a video went viral of a Southern California family being removed from a Delta Air Lines Maui-Los Angeles flight in April, many viewers were angered by how the family was treated, and a public debate ensued about the requirements for infants and children traveling with a family.

Brian and Brittany Schear, of Huntington Beach, CA, and their small children, were removed from a red-eye flight April 23 when they got into an argument with airline crew and officials after being told that they had to give up a seat they purchased to another passenger.

The family was using the seat for its two-year-old, though it was originally purchased for a teenaged son who had flown home earlier on a separate flight. The Shearers said they wanted to use the seat for their toddler’s car seat to better enable the child to sleep.

In the end Delta apologized and compensated the family, but the incident brought airline rules for traveling with children to the forefront. Travel Market Report offers the following tips for traveling with children this summer season.

1. Be aware of your airline’s passenger age rules. On the Shearer’s flight, a Delta agent said the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) develops passenger rules for children, but in actuality the FAA only makes recommendations. Generally, children under the age of two can sit in the lap of someone who is at least 18 years old on a United States domestic flight. If a family has two children under the age of two, and is already having one of them sit in an adult’s lap, a ticket is usually required for the second child.

2. Airlines are not required to provide an empty seat for a toddler to use a Child Safety Restraint (CRS) system (a car seat) unless you purchase a seat for them. “Buying a ticket for your child is the only way to guarantee that you will be able to use a CRS,” the FAA states on its website. The FAA “strongly urges” children be seated in government-approved car seats versus laps, especially if the flight experiences turbulence.

3. The FAA recommends that a CRS “be placed in a window seat so it will not block the escape path in an emergency. Do not place CRS in an exit row.” Travel agents typically recommend less busy dates and flights for parents as well, to increase the likelihood of finding an empty seat for the child.

4. Make sure your CRS measures less than 16 inches, the standard width of an economy airline seat.

5. Most airlines require families to purchase a ticket for both legs of a trip if a child turns two during a trip and “prefer” the child sit in a seat with an approved restraint.

6. Some airlines offer discounted child fares when traveling outside the United States or when between certain countries. Delta’s website says “the price of the ticket will depend on the age of the child,” and taxes and fees may also apply, even for infants held in the adult's lap.

7. Some airlines limit the number of infants that can travel together with one adult. Delta specifically limits the number to two infants less than two years old per adult. (The Shearers said they were traveling with their one-year-old child as well.)

8. Don’t try to transfer seats from a child older than two to your toddler. Delta’s rules specifically state that “all tickets are nontransferable per the fare rules. Name changes are not permitted.” This was a large part of the dispute between the Shearers and Delta.

9. If things escalate, passengers should realize that the law likely is on the airline’s side. The FAA saysit’s a federal crime to interfere “with the duties of a crewmember.” During the Delta incident, an agent told the Shearers that if they were forced to remove them they could be charged with a “federal offense” and be jailed, and their children would be placed in state foster care temporarily. This caused tremendous distress for the family.

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