An online campaign started by a New Jersey mother against United Airlines after she says that she and her disabled daughter were “humiliated” on a recent flight has sparked a debate over how airlines treat special needs passengers.
Elit Kirschenbaum, the mother of 3-year-old Ivy, who has Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy, told ABC that a flight attendant wouldn’t let her daughter sit in her lap on a Dec. 30 flight returning to New Jersey from the Dominican Republic.
According to FAA regulations, every child over two is required to have their own seat, but due to her condition, Ivy can't sit upright on her own. Kirschenbaum, who was flying business class, purchased Ivy an economy ticket to comply with the rules, but planned to have Ivy on her or her husband’s lap.
Kirschenbaum said that during boarding other flight attendants saw them, but when a fourth flight attendant noticed them, the situation escalated.
In a Tumblr post, Kirschenbaum wrote: "My husband pleaded with her, my other 3 children were sobbing, my niece was sobbing, other passengers were getting involved yet this woman still displayed zero compassion ...”
The flight was delayed for about an hour before the pilot intervened. Ivy was eventually placed in a seat and buckled in for takeoff and landing, but laid across her father’s lap during the flight.
Following the incident, the airline said that they were following federal safety regulations and that "flight attendants are required by law to enforce that safety rule. As we did in this case, we will always try to work with customers on seating arrangements in the event of any special needs."
But Kirschenbaum took to the social media with a hashtag #UnitedWithIvy campaign to express her anger over how they were treated.
United eventually contacted Kirschenbaum and apologized over the phone.
But not before she received a flood of online support.
— Lejla Somun K (@NiteMiller) January 2, 2015
— Alurna (@AlurnaGraven) January 2, 2015
But many are criticizing Kirschenbaum for not following federal safety regulations.
#unitedwithivy in a nutshell: parents who poorly planned for a trip are offended by someone doing their job correctly.
— 95Sports (@95Sports) January 2, 2015
This #unitedwithivy family is full of crap. Should have bought seats together & belted her in. Airline was in the right.
— Emily (@thedoorchick) January 2, 2015
FAA recommends "an FAA-approved child safety seat" in this case, but Kirschenbaum says she had no idea about the rule. She said that she hopes the incident will push airlines to make it easier for special needs families to comply with regulations.
CBS reports that the family is planning a trip to Mexico in the near future, and this time they'll bring a safety seat.