LOS ANGELES - Delta Air Lines is offering refunds and compensation to a California family that says they were forced off a plane and threatened with jail after refusing to give up one of their seats on a crowded flight.
A video of the April 23 incident was uploaded to YouTube on Wednesday and added to the list of recent encounters on airlines that have gone viral, including the dragging of a bloodied passenger off a United Express plane.
Brian Schear, a father of three, posted video on YouTube showing his encounter with a Delta Airlines employee on April 23. Schear, his wife and two children, ages 1 and 2, were on Fight 2222, a redeye. Schear said he was asked to give up the seat his younger son was sitting in, even though he paid for the seat.
"I paid for the seat. I bought the seat," Schear said in the video.
In the video, Schear explained to staff that he bought another ticket to put his teenaged son Mason on an earlier flight so he could use that seat for one of his infants.
"We decided to get him a ticket on an earlier flight so we could use his seat and put a car seat to let the kid sleep because it's a redeye," Schear can be heard saying in the video. "He won't sleep unless he's in his car seat."
But a woman can be heard saying off camera that a child under 2 years old can't be in a car seat on a flight.
"He has to sit here in your arms the whole time," the woman tells Schear. "Technically, he couldn't even be on a seat."
That is false. The Federal Aviation Administration “strongly urges” that infants be in a car seat, although it permits those under 2 to be held in a parent’s lap. On its website, Delta recommends that parents buy a seat for children under 2 and put them in an approved child-safety seat.
However, the Delta employee warned that if they didn't leave, "This is a federal offense, then you and your wife will be in jail."
In the end, Schear and his family left the plane. He said once they exited the plane, their seats were filled with four other customers who had purchased tickets, but had no seats. Schear speculated that the airline may have been trying to open up the seat to a possible stand-by passenger. But employees also told him that because the seat was in his son Mason's name, the seat couldn't be given to the infant. Delta does have a policy on its website that all tickets are non-transferrable per fare rules.
Brian Schear spoke briefly to The Associated Press by telephone Thursday and said he has been overwhelmed by media requests. He declined additional comment said the family may hold a news conference.
The Atlanta-based airline issued an updated statement late Thursday afternoon.
“We are sorry for the unfortunate experience our customers had with Delta, and we’ve reached out to them to refund their travel and provide additional compensation,” the statement read. Delta said its goal is to work with customers to resolve travel issues, “that did not happen in this case and we apologize.”
A spokesman said Delta would not disclose the amount of the refund or compensation.
This incident is the latest in several shocking moments between passengers and airport staff grabbing headlines. Starting it all off was a confrontation between United Airlines staff who dragged off a passenger who refused to give up his seat on a flight that was overbooked. Days later, a passenger on an American Airlines was brought to tears after she and a flight attendant got into an argument over a stroller. Then just last week, video posted to TMZ showed a Delta pilot was caught on video hitting a passenger in the face while trying to break up a fight.
Congress held two hearings this week on airline customer service — a response to the video of Chicago airport security officers dragging a 69-year-old man off a United Express flight to make room for crew members who were traveling for work.
Executives from United, American, Southwest and Alaska testified at one or both hearings. Delta was notably absent.
The incidents have spurred a discussion about creating a bill of rights to protect passengers from bumping, change fees and smaller seating space.