A California family says they were forced off an overbooked Delta Air Lines flight and threatened with jail time last week after refusing to give up a seat one of their young children was sitting in.
In video posted to YouTube on Wednesday, Brian Schear of Huntington Beach is seen arguing with airline staff after he’s asked to relinquish a seat that he says he purchased for one of his kids.
“I bought the seat and you need to just leave us alone,” Schear says in the cellphone video. “I’m not trying to cause a problem, but I believe in standing up for what’s right.”
Delta has since apologized for the episode.
Schear, speaking to KABC News, said that he, his wife and two of their three children, ages 1 and 2, were traveling on a red-eye flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles last week. They’d bought the seat in question for their oldest child, 18-year-old Mason Schear, who ended up flying home a day earlier than the rest of the family. Schear put his younger son in Mason’s seat instead. Upon learning that Mason wasn’t present, the airline ordered Schear to surrender the seat or be carted off to jail. (The original report from KABC News indicates that the son is 2 years old, which is not consistent with the ages of the children as indicated in a May 3 Facebook post from their mother.)
The video appears to capture this threat, with a woman off-camera telling Schear that after he and his wife were jailed, their kids would be placed in foster care.
“You have to give up the seat or you’re going to jail, your wife is going to jail and they’ll take your kids from you,” Schear said the airline staff told him, according to KABC.
“Which option do you want to take?” a woman is heard telling him in the video. “Do you want to get off on your own, or...?”
In a statement Thursday afternoon, a Delta spokesperson said the company has reached out to the Schear family “to refund their travel and provide additional compensation.”
“We are sorry for the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta,” the statement reads in part. “Delta’s goal is to always work with customers in an attempt to find solutions to their travel issues. That did not happen in this case and we apologize.”
In the clip posted to YouTube, an employee who identifies herself as Jenna tells Schear that a 2-year-old is not allowed to occupy his or her own seat because of Federal Aviation Administration regulations. Schear disputes this claim, arguing that the boy had his own seat on their earlier flight to Hawaii and that it’d be safer for him to remain in his car seat, rather than being held in his mother’s arms.
The FAA’s website appears to agree with Schear, recommending that children be secured in government-approved child safety restraints, and not in parents’ laps.
“Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence,” the FAA’s website says.
Delta’s website also advocates for kids having their own seats.
“For kids under the age of two, we recommend you purchase a seat on the aircraft and use an approved child safety seat,” it states.
Schear’s wife, Brittany, shared the video on her Facebook page on Wednesday. After the family was made to leave the plane, she said, they did not receive a refund and “had to purchase all new tickets the next day. It was the middle of the night, we had no hotel to go to or a car.”
The Schear family did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Brittany Schear posted another Facebook message late Thursday night, saying that she and Brian “appreciate the love and support shown” and “never imagined that our last 24 hours would be as they were.”
Wednesday’s video comes amid a period of dire public relations for the air travel industry, following several high-profile instances of airline staff apparently mistreating customers.
Most notoriously, in April, Chicago aviation officers violently removed Dr. David Dao, a Kentucky physician, from a United flight after Dao refused to relinquish his seat. Airline staff, at the time of the incident, said that they had overbooked the flight and needed the seat for their employees. They later retracted that claim.
This story has been updated with a statement from Delta Air Lines. It has also been updated throughout for consistency with the ages reported in Brittany Schear’s initial Facebook post.