Flight attendant puts baby at risk

A San Rafael mother is furious that a flight attendant put her daughter in potential peril. (stock photo)

Sunshine Bradley is a world traveling 11 month old baby. She, and her parents Melissa and Robert, have traveled to numerous places around the world. And Sunshine has been on a plane more times than kids 10 times older than her – about 16 to 20 trips in the air.

At her age, Sunshine still uses a rear-facing carseat in the car and in the air. And the latest trip the family took on SkyWest Airlines was no different. It was December 23rd when the family was coming back home from Aspen. Melissa strapped her baby in only to be approached by the flight attendant just before takeoff who told her to remove Sunshine from the carseat since it was “not FAA approved”. He insisted that all children had to be in forward facing carseats, and that the plane could not take off until the baby was removed from the seat and in Melissa’s lap.

Melissa tried to explain to the flight attendant that this was the proper seating for an 11 month old baby. She showed him the FAA approved sticker on the side of the carseat, and then explained that babies under 20 lbs were safest when sitting in a rear-facing seat.

“My baby is not going to be safe,” she told him, nearly in tears. And that’s when the attendant gave her an ultimatum. Remove the baby from the carseat, or get off the plane.

See video HERE.

There are reasons that children under 20 lbs must be in a rear-facing carseat. When adults are in a car crash, a seatbelt holds on to the strongest part of the body – the hips and shoulders – distributing the force to these areas to help absorb the effects of the crash in a safer manner. A carseat is designed to be the object that absorbs the biggest impact of the crash, since a baby’s body is too small to take on that kind of force. And a rear-facing carseat does this most effectively by spreading the crash towards a baby’s strongest points – the back, head, and neck. This is why rear-facing seats are the safest way to sit, and why there are laws currently being urged through to raise the age and weight limits to encourage more time before the child is placed in a forward facing carseat.

An airplane is no different. Had Melissa submitted to the demands of this flight attendant and the plane had crashed on takeoff, her baby would have been seriously injured by not being placed in a rear-facing carseat.

Interestingly enough, the FAA clearly states on their website that it is recommended for any child under 20 lbs to be in a rear-facing carseat when flying on an airplane. There has also been talk about requiring children under 2 (who, as of now, can ride for free on their parent’s lap) to have a purchased seat on airplanes to increase safety measures.  

Melissa was forced to turn her 11 month old daughter’s carseat around and travel the rest of the way home (including several flight changes) in a seat that was installed improperly and wiggled with the slightest touch. If she didn’t, her family would have been forced to remain in Aspen. 

United Airlines, SkyWest Airlines partner, has since issued an apology regarding this incident, as well as two free airline tickets to the Bradley family for their ordeal. But Melissa isn’t satisfied. She would like to see flight attendants better educated when it comes to child safety on airplanes, as well as better safety regulations put in place. “I think the airlines give a false sense of security because babies can fly free under 2 on a lap. It’s not safe, even in mild turbulence a grip could be lost or the baby’s neck could snap.”

What would you have done if a flight attendant gave you the same choice – take your baby out of the carseat, or get off the plane?


9 thoughts on “Flight attendant puts baby at risk

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  1. The Airline was totally at fault. However if a mom is going to risk the safety of her baby because of an inconvenience of staying in Aspen……then the mom is even MORE at fault. Our society has gotten way too unwilling to give in to convenience. What was she thinking?
    Had she stayed in Aspen (paradise) she would of not only gotten reimbursed for all her expenses, she would of had story that wold of had more teeth, instead of making her look like a fool.
    She was in Aspen…..not Death Valley in August.

  2. Research says that it’s safer for your child to be rear facing well beyond 20 pounds. My son is almost two and is still rear facing, and my daughter who is almost five was only switched in the last year. The law states that you *can* turn them forward at 20 pounds (or at the age of one in some places), but that doesn’t mean you should. In specific regards to flying, I’ve flown with my kids many times over the years and both have taken many-a-journey rear facing on the plane (per the FAA instructions).

    I’m amazed at how often the safety of a child loses out to convenience or ignorance.

  3. I personally would have made them take me back to gate and gotten a supervisor of the airline involved, an authority of higher posittion of the flight attendant to show me, per FAA regulation and company policy that I was in the wrong for placing my child in the rear facing position. Only then when they had produced such evidence would I have aquiesced, but not until then. I would also be pressing harder against both the airline and the crew of the aircraft for the personal and emotional distress caused by their blatant disregard for an understanding of FAA regulation.

  4. I first flew with an infant in a carseat in 1987. I had a very simular experience at that time, on United Airlines in France. I am surprised and dismayed that the airlines have not improved in this regard during more than 20 years.

  5. Really important post, Crissi.

    When our kids were younger, this happened ALL the time – we tried every conceivable debate. Unfortunately, however, neither the airline nor the flight attendant are at fault: There IS in fact an FAA approval sticker, and the airlines are (quite rightly) required to go with FAA regs. Now, as pointed out in the article, we all know that a non-approved but well secured rear facing seat is better than a lap; indeed, almost ANY car seat buckled in is better than an untethered child on a lap. But that is NOT the FAA regulation, and THAT is where the problem lies: Until the FAA changes the rule, there is very little that parents or airlines can do.

    As an aside, we fought this 10 years ago. I cannot believe something so obviously unintended and dangerous for babies continues.

  6. I agreee with David. I would have created a larger stink than this parent. I could care less how insistent the attendant was. I would have his badge number, his name, and his supervisors name before the pilot even had the plane back at the gate. My ex-wife was a flight attendant and they are required to know the exact statute and be able to repeat the FAA rules verbatim. Sounds like this person hadn’t a clue. Be careful though if you would have made him mad he might have cussed you out and jumped off the plane.

  7. Um, the FAA regulation has a basis in fact. The greatest threat to life and limb typically comes from above and behind in any airliner during takeoff and landing mishaps. Anything that breaks loose and flies forward in the cabin will be approaching you and your child from above and behind at potentially greater than 80MPH, curving downward relative to you as it travels. That means it’ll hit the back of a seat. Wouldn’t you rather have the seat backs there to protect you and your loved ones during any mishap, instead of having some one’s face in the line of fire?

    And anyway, getting in the faces of the flight attendants over an FAA regulation that you disagree with and can’t change is just plain childish.

  8. Kenny you really think that the mom was acting childishly because she was concerned about her child’s safety?? I would be ready and willing to argue with anyone who is standing in the way of me protecting my child , to he** what anyone thinks about it. I would surely have opted to stay where I was rather than risk my child’s life with an improperly installed seat and I would have gotten the supervisors involved right away. That would be like the car rental place saying that their cars can only drive if the child’s seat faces the front. Arguing that point would not be childish; neither was this.

  9. The FAA clearly recommends that infants under 20Lbs should be placed in a rear-facing restraint. Flying debris, the finger of God, midget flying monkeys, none of it matters. She was in her rights to use a rear-facing CRS, the FAA has stated so:


    There was nothing to ‘change’, regarding the regs. What needed changing was the attendant’s inability to read and comprehend a simpe rule

    Read the regs before you comment, Kenny, you’ll look like less of a child.

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