By Sandy Eller – VIN News
Brooklyn, NY – A Crown Heights couple are taking an airline to task after flight attendants insisted that they face their infant’s car seat toward the front of the plane, despite FAA recommendations that babies be placed in a rear facing safety seat when flying.
Yosef and Sarah Shidler were returning to New York from Florida on June 11th on Southwest Flight 4173 from Fort Lauderdale – Hollywood International Airport to La Guardia with a stopover in Atlanta when the incident occurred.
Boarding Flight 3128, the connecting leg of the Southwest flight in Atlanta during family boarding, the couple, who had paid for a seat for their 10 month old daughter Tiferes, strapped the child safety seat into the window seat in the plane’s second row when the difficulties began.
“The passenger in front of us went to lean her seat back but it only went halfway back because of the safety seat,” Sarah Shidler told VIN News. A discussion ensued between the couple and the passenger in the first row and a flight attendant intervened, telling the Shidlers that they had to turn the safety seat around to the forward facing position.
“I tried to explain that I paid for a seat for my daughter for her safety and that I feel bad that the woman couldn’t recline her seat but there was really nothing I could do about it,” said Yosef Shidler. The couple said that they are loyal Southwest flyers who travel monthly with their young daughter, either on business or to visit out of town family members, and that they have never been asked by Southwest to turn their safety seat to the forward facing position before.
The woman in the first row relocated to another seat, but the situation repeated itself when another passenger sat down in the same front row seat and experienced the same difficulty reclining her seat. While Yosef Shidler left the plane to speak with a supervisor, Mrs. Shidler said she was issued an ultimatum by a flight attendant and the pilot: turn the seat around or get off the plane.
“This was expected to be a turbulent flight,” said Mrs. Shidler. “I told the pilot, you are an educated man and you understand that if the plane takes a quick drop, my daughter’s tiny body will be thrown forward instead of her just leaning into it in the rear facing position. He just looked at me and said ‘this is our policy.’”
This Shidler’s car seat, an Evenflo SureRide DLX Convertible Car Seat is certified by the Federal Aviation Administration for airline travel and according to the manufacturer the seat can only be used in the rear facing position for infants weighing less than 22 pounds. Tiferes Shidler’s parents say that she weighs only 18 pounds.
On its website, the FAA “strongly urges” parents to secure children in a government approved child safety restraint system during air travel, with a table on the agency’s site saying that children weighing less than 22 pounds should be placed in a rear-facing child restraint system. As stated on their website, Southwest does offer special infant fares and recommends proper use of a child safety seat in order to enhance child safety during air travel, with no further mention of which direction those seats should be faced on the aircraft.
According to the Shidlers, the airline made no attempt to address the problem by arranging for them to relocate to the front row of the full flight, where the reclining issue would have been resolved and that after being pressured by the flight crew to either comply with their requests or to leave the aircraft they turned the safety seat around, against their better judgment.
“It was the last flight out of Atlanta and when they told us we should try a different flight, they made it very clear that we would have to make those arrangements on our own,” said Shidler. “They kept pushing us, telling us that we were delaying the entire flight.”
The day after their return to New York, Mrs. Shidler posted the story of her flight on Facebook where it sparked outrage and caught notice of baby gear expert Jamie Grayson, who posted the story on Twitter. Grayson’s tweet attracted the attention of Southwest, who responded that they had already reached out to the Shidlers and are investigating the incident.
While the Shidlers say they do expect to be compensated for their experience, they are far more concerned about what they call an industry wide failure to educate flight crews about the proper use of child safety seats in flight.
“My primary concern is that no child should ever have their safety compromised because of flight crews who put the comfort of a passenger ahead of the safety of a child,” said Yosef Shidler, who noted that a similar incident took place just days earlier on an American Airlines flight.
“So many people travel with child safety seats and flight crews need to be educated about safety,” added Mrs. Shidler. “This is serious stuff and I want a paper I can take anywhere so that I won’t have this problem ever again.”