By now you’ve probably heard about the brouhaha last week over the Kirschenbaum family’s ill-fated family trip on a United Airlines flight from Costa Rica to New Jersey.
The family’s mother, Elit Kirschenbaum, went off on United after a flight attendant refused to let her hold her disabled 3-year-old daughter on her lap during take-off. Turns out the daughter, Ivy, has one of the worst forms of cerebral palsy—a kind that prevents the child from sitting up by herself. Momma Bear tried to turn the incident into some sort of discrimination case, and went to Facebook, Twitter and morning TV shows with a smear campaign.
The only problem: Momma was in the wrong.
As Hallie Levine pointed out in a recent post for Yahoo! Travel, FAA regulations require all children over the age of two to be able to sit in their own seats for take-off and landing. The Kirschenbaums actually HAD a seat on the plane for little Ivy. If she wasn’t able to sit in it on her own, the family simply should have brought along an FAA-approved car seat (which is what most airlines and the FAA recommend).
Look, there are plenty of other issues in this episode (for a relatively unbiased account of the facts, read this). Like why Elit Kirschenbaum and her husband had two tickets in first class and four tickets for their kids back in economy (and, um, who the heck was gonna sit with the kids in steerage). And why the airline allowed the parents to argue with flight attendants for a full hour before resolving the situation (the argument and subsequent delay forced many of the other passengers on board to miss their connections).
One even could assail the flight attendant herself for perhaps coming on too strong. Of course it also is understandable to ask why the family didn’t seek some sort of compromise before raising the stink—some reports I’ve read indicated they could have brought a wheelchair for the child, and that the airline would have been required to accommodate it because the flight had more than 60 seats.
(Ultimately, the pilot had Ivy lie belted across her father’s lap for the duration of the flight.)
Still, the fact remains: The Kirschenbaums should have been traveling with an FAA-approved seat, and the fact that they were not lies squarely WITH THEM.
It’s easy in situations like this one for families to cry foul, blame the airline, and demand sympathy. Heck, I’m usually the first guy to stand up and support the family traveler—especially when that traveler has the added challenge of traveling with a special needs child. But airline industry rules exist for a reason, and if some of us have to follow them, all of us should. The Kirschenbaum case reminds all of us that just because we’re traveling with children doesn’t mean we’re always right. Remember that the next time you fly with kids. I know I will.
To what extent do you think Elit Kirschenbaum was in the right?