The author is a Forbes contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.
Logistics & Transportation 9/28/2014 @ 7:26AM 67,261 views
First American. Then Delta. Now United. Why Can’t Airlines Comply with FAA Kid Seat Safety Rule?
Over the last several months, passengers trying to fly safely with their children on three major US airlines have written to me about their attempts to do so being thwarted by airline crew members unfamiliar with federal rules regarding kid seats. Those rules require that an airline allow a parent to use an approved car seat or CARES harness (the only FAA-approved child harness) if a seat has been purchased for the child and is weight-appropriate. For some reason, this simple rule, easy for parents to understand, has proven difficult for three of the country’s major airlines. The first incident involved a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines, the second a Delta commuter, and this latest incident involves United Airlines.
As I previously wrote, the first reported incident involved a June 9 flight by Envoy, a wholly-owned subsidiary of American Airlines, from LaGuardia to Columbus, Ohio. Since I wrote about this, the FAA conducted an investigation in response to a Safety Hotline complaint filed by the child’s mother, Amy Harsch. According to documents provided by the mother, the FAA concluded that American had violated the Federal Aviation Regulations in refusing to allow the parents to use the properly approved infant seat. The FAA’s report states: “As a result of our investigation, the [FAA inspector] determined a violation [of the federal aviation regulations] occurred. As a result of the violation…the safety of the child was jeopardized due to the crew’s prohibition of the use of an approved [Child Restraint System]. “ The FAA’s report concludes by stating that it will “complete the investigation and take appropriate enforcement action.” American will have the opportunity to challenge the FAA’s conclusions.
Surprisingly, American Airlines continues to deny the parents a refund of the seat they purchased for their child but were not allowed to use during taxi, take-off and landing. In a letter from a Lead American Customer Service Representative denying the refund, Ms. Harsch was told: “Our reports indicate that your husband advised the flight attendant that the safety seat was properly secured; however, when it was discovered that it was not we held take-off until the situation could be resolved. The flight departed after your husband agreed to hold the baby for take-off which is an approved method for take-off with an infant under the age of two by the FAA.” Unfortunately, American’s Customer Service representative is not familiar with the FAA’s kid seat rules any more than the crew that day. The law requires that an airline must allow use of the seat which means that the flight had to be held until the seat was properly secured. There was no option to force the father to hold the child on his lap.
The Delta incident I wrote about involved one of its commuters, Shuttle America, refusing to allow a 9-month old boy to use an aircraft-approved infant car seat even though the mother, Katie Kinnane, had specifically purchased a seat for him so he could fly safely. In this case, both Shuttle America and Delta had misunderstood the rule relating to labeling of the infant seat. In fact, Delta’s website had erroneously stated the rule until the FAA questioned them in response to a request from this reporter. To Delta’s credit, it did correct its website and refund the cost of the seat the child was unable to use.
And now the latest incident involves a three year old child flying on United Airlines from Boston to San Francisco on September 14, 2014. According to the child’s mother, Beth Lovett, she and her husband were prevented by airline employees from using an FAA-approved CARES harness restraint for their daughter. Ms. Lovett stated in her complaint to United: We spoke to 2 flight attendants and a customer service rep, all who claimed to be passing on information from the pilots. They told us United’s policy is that the CARES device cannot be used during taxi, takeoff and landing. “ As Ms. Lovett knows, but apparently United’s crew did not, “this policy is in direct conflict” with FAA requirements. After several attempts to get a response from United, she finally got the following message: “The CARES restraint is approved for use inflight as noted on our website… Please be assured your comments will be forwarded to appropriate senior management within Inflight Crew Services for internal review and necessary coaching and training.” My requests to United for comment have not been responded to.
In this case, because of the child’s age, she could not be forced to fly as a lap child. But she was not allowed to use a restraint system that she is legally entitled to use and that is safer for young children than an adult seat belt that is not designed for use by young children. In the event of turbulence or a survivable accident, the CARES harness is a better method of restraint to prevent injury or death. The FAA’s rules specifically require that parents be allowed to use the harness, even for older children.
So what will it take for airline crews to learn the FAA’s kid seat rule? Maybe some focused enforcement action with penalties against airlines and crews will finally get the message across. In the meanwhile, here’s my advice to parents who want to fly safely with their young children when the airlines don’t know the rules.
Logistics & Transportation 7/16/2014 @ 6:00AM 9,484 views