Cassie Hutchins feared for the safety of her 8-month-old daughter on a flight last week. She shouldn’t have had to. Despite paying for an extra ticket and bringing her baby aboard strapped in an FAA-approved car seat, a United Airlines agent insisted the girl’s seat face forward, even though that’s an unsafe position for a baby her age.
Hutchins, 23, was flying with her daughter Mila from Denver to Sacramento and immediately took to Facebook to tell the story. She said a gate agent questioned her about her daughter before they even boarded. “The second we got to the gate, the agent had issues. This man was staring at my daughter as I scanned both her and my tickets. He asked if she had her own seat since I had her in her car seat. I replied, ‘Yes,’ because he saw me scan both.” United Airlines has been known to try to take seats away from children under 2-years-old ⏤ even though their parents have paid for their tickets⏤ and that’s exactly what Hutchins thought was going on.
After clearing the gate, though, Hutchins boarded the plane with her daughter and fastened 18-pound Mila’s car seat rear-facing as recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration’s child safety guidelines. As soon as their plane was about to take off, the same gate agent reboarded the plane, walked up to Hutchins, and told her to face Mila forward, which Hutchins refused.
“He then asked another agent to come on and berate me for trying to not face my daughter forward, which is so unsafe,” read Hutchins’ post. To have the seat face forward, she said, would put her daughter “in a dangerous position.” After being informed that the flight couldn’t leave unless Mila’s seat was forward-facing, Hutchins capitulated and turned Mila’s seat around.
No sooner did the plane takeoff, however, that they hit turbulence. According to Hutchins, Mila bobbed up and down in her seat and “I had to hold her head back,” Hutchins told People. “I was concerned if we hit something bigger this could’ve been an issue.” It wasn’t until the end of the flight that Hutchins received an apology from the United flight crew, who admitted to being in the wrong.
“I’m pissed,” Hutchins post went on to read,”How in the world is United letting their gate agents be unaware of safety precautions yet have the final say in how a baby sits?”
United is not the only airline to cause families grief. Last March Southwest Airlines kicked a family off of a flight to Los Angeles for being ‘too noisy,’ and the year before it tried to remove a pregnant Muslim woman from a flight. That same year, Southwest allegedly discriminated against a gay couple with children by not granting them family priority boarding.
Hutchins reports that she received a refund for both of her family’s tickets and that United has launched a formal investigation.