United Airlines has some serious competition when it comes to the lousy treatment of passengers, as Delta Air kicked an entire family off a flight and threatened them with jail and foster care.
Airlines recently came under heavy scrutiny after United Airlines dragged and bloodied a passenger off an overbooked flight. The whole thing was caught on camera and went viral, drawing more attention to how passengers are sometimes mistreated even when they've done nothing wrong.
Delta Air Kicks Family Off Flight
The latest airline to put on a show in terms of sleazy passenger treatment is Delta Air, which kicked a family off a flight because they wouldn't give up their toddler's seat - a seat they had paid for.
Brittany and Brian Schear from Huntington Beach, California, boarded a Delta Air Lines flight traveling from Maui to Los Angeles with two of their children, a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old.
Delta Air kicked them off the flight when they refused to give up the 2-year-old's seat, which they had already paid for. The couple had originally bought the ticket for their teenage son, but ultimately decided to send him home early so they could have the seat for their toddler.
The Schears told NBC News that they notified the ticket agent of this situation at the gate, and the agent agreed and accommodated them to sit together. They boarded the flight without any issue, but the airline had other passengers on the wait list for the flight and asked the family to give up their 2-year-old kid's seat.
When they refused to do so, Delta staff kicked them all off the flight and threatened to throw the couple in jail and the kids in foster care. The family had to find their own accommodation and transport for the night, as it was already after midnight, and buy new tickets for another flight the next day.
The incident occurred on April 23, but went under the radar until Thursday, May 4 after the family shared a video of the ordeal online. The video went down in the meantime, but it showed the argument before the family got kicked off the flight.
Brittany Schear filmed how an airport employee told Brian that if they did not give up the toddler's seat, they would all be removed from the flight. When Brian said they can't kick him off the plane, the employee said that the matter was a federal offense and both he and his wife could end up in jail and their kids would go into foster care.
Stunned by the employee's threats, Brian tried to reason and explain that they paid for that seat and it's not right to force them to give up a seat they paid for so they could give it to someone else.
The employee, in turn, explained that they had purchased the ticket for their teenage son and it was in his name, and the toddler could not take his seat. Later on, the video showed another employee stating that Federal Aviation Administration rules dictate that a 2-year-old can't be placed in a seat or a car seat, as it needs to sit on an adult's lap. Schear said that on their way to Maui, the 2-year-old sat in a car seat placed on his own seat on the plane and there were no issues.
Can Delta Air Legally Do That?
On its website, the FAA stipulates that it "strongly urges" parents to secure small kids in a car seat or an approved child safety device throughout the flight. Delta's own guidelines stipulate the same.
How Delta Air treated this family is undoubtedly nasty, but the airline could have the law on its side. Washington Post talked to an attorney for the Aviation Law Firm in Annapolis, who has also worked for both the FAA and the Justice Department, to inquire about this situation.
The attorney, Gregory Winton, says that under U.S. law, airline passengers who interfere with a flight attendant or crew member's duties by "assaulting or intimidating" them can face fines and up to 20 years in prison (or life in jail if a "dangerous weapon" is also in the mix).
In this case, however, the issue is open for interpretation, as it comes down to weather a heated argument would qualify as interfering with the duties of a crew member. Winton says that it could be interpreted in this manner, but the airline lacks the necessary authority to make such decisions.
The Department of Justice is in charge of criminal matters, so it would be its call. The FAA can only issue fines and other civil penalties. Winton further explains that in case of a threat to crew members, flight attendants could request assistance from local law enforcement to handle troublesome passengers. Then, if officers consider that the crime was serious enough, they could detain the passenger(s), but that's not really the case in Delta's situation.
If law enforcement detains passengers, the DoJ would then file criminal charges, and Winton says the DoJ is typically not interested in cases like this.