Analysis

United Airlines flight attendant humiliates family of child with special needs

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Elit Kirschenbaum was just trying to get her family of six back home to New Jersey in one piece  when a United Airlines flight attended “humiliated” her for holding her daughter, who has Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy, in her lap before takeoff.

Elit explains that Ivy, whose condition was caused by a stroke she endured, is three years old. Federal regulations mandate that children over 24 months be in their own seats during certain parts of the flight, including takeoff. But Elit didn’t know of another solution that would guarantee her daughter’s safety during takeoff, since Ivy cannot move her arms or legs voluntarily and cannot hold her own head up.

Elit says that of the four flight attendants assisting with their flight, three seemed to understand their needs. But one flight attendant  was more harmful than helpful to the situation when, instead of working with the family to find a solution and explain the rules, she insisted that the little girl sit in her own seat in spite of the fact that that did not seem feasible. Elit recounted the story on Tumblr:

We have flown on United several times since she had turned 2 and she had always been on my lap.  This flight attendant returned to her co-workers and began to argue with them.  She returned to argue with us.  She kept quoting FAA regulations.  She brought up members of the staff from the airport, including several baggage handlers who spoke very limited English, to lecture us about seating despite the fact that we were clearly Americans and spoke little to no Spanish.

Although the FAA mandates that children over 24 months sit in their own seat, there is a clause that allows individuals who cannot sit on their own (like Ivy) to be held. The flight attendant was shown this exception, but refused to allow Ivy’s parents to hold the little girl. Ultimately the crew helped Elit and her husband find a way to place Ivy’s body in her own seat and lean her over her father’s legs so that she could remain seated during takeoff. But the debacle ultimately delayed the flight by nearly an hour.

“I want them to recognize that not everyone fits the same mold,” said Elit of the discrimination her daughter faced from United Airlines. “You need to put humanity into your decision-making. You need to put compassion into your decision-making.”

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