Frontier JetExpress / Air crew forced us to violate FAA's on-board regulations!
A copy of Email to FlyFrontier:
Air crew forced us to violate FAA’s on-board regulations!
During our recent trip back to Austin, TX, from Boise, ID, the Frontier JetExpress’ crew forced us to violate FAA’s on-board regulations, put our toddler baby in danger, and violated our right of use of a paid-for seat by forcing us to have our 2-year-old baby travel on my lap instead of on his own seat. The flight was Frontier Airlines 4272, on Mon. Dec. 18, 2006.
Since our toddler baby is over 2 years old, knowing the airlines’ requirements and the FAA’s regulations, we dutifully purchased a ticket for him for our trip to Boise, ID. And rather than hauling around his toddler car seat with us we decided to shell out the close to $80 for CARES, the FAA-certified Child Harness Device (from www.kidsflysafe.com).
After my wife and I watched the instructional DVD and read the handy pictorial brochure (a single letter-size card folded in half, like a booklet) included with the CARES harness, we felt pretty happy with it and confidant of its function, its ease of use (it really takes less than a couple of minutes to setup), and of the safe travel it’d provide for our toddler. Then we just made sure the seat assignments we had for the 3 of us were ok to allow its use on the aircraft. We determined we were in full compliance with the usage limitations list, including not being seated in an exit row.
We completed our travel to Boise without incident, using the CARES harness on both trip segments (Austin-Denver, Denver-Boise), having our toddler securely and happily strapped in his own seat for the entire duration of both flights. We also had no problems on the last segment of our return flight, from Denver to Austin. It was truly great not having to haul around a car seat through the airports, security checkpoints, and down the narrow airplane aisles.
However, our nightmare started from the moment we got on board our return flight segment from Boise to Denver. Having been among the first to board (after a couple of people on wheelchairs), we got to our seats, 16A, 16B, and 16D (on the CRJ-700 jet, there’s no 16C seat. But there’s two seats on each side of the isle, so the remaining seat was 16E), and quickly setup the CARES. As soon as I started to set it up, the flight attendant (she was at the very rear of the aircraft, facing passengers as they boarded) told me, “You can’t use that; at least not for take-off”. To which I replied, as I completed the setup, “Oh, it’s ok, this is FAA approved”. Having verified that the harness did not affect or interfere in any way with the tray behind (it opened, closed, and locked ok), I went on to take my seat. – “I’ll have to check on that”, she said, as I proceeded to strap in our toddler. By then a few of the passengers sitting behind us were taking their seats and the flight attendant was on the phone inquiring/reporting on a “problem with a baby harness”.
A few minutes later the plane was almost full. She then headed to the front, to consult/check about the CARES, and came back to me saying “I’m sorry but you cannot use that harness”. – “Yes I can. It is FAA approved. Please read this FAA notice”, I told her as I handed her the CARES brochure, which highlights in a framed quote: “FAA APPROVED IN ACCORDANCE WITH 14 CFR 21.305(d)”. Which is followed by “The article may be carried on board an aircraft and installed by the passenger according to amended operating rules under Title ….”.
She read it and browsed through the remainder of the brochure. – “I don’t know. I’ve never seen one of these harnesses. I’ll be back in a second”. And she headed back to the front, brochure in hand. Returning after a few minutes, she told me: “Sir, I am going to have to ask you and your toddler to move to the last row, where your toddler’s harness won’t interfere with the tray behind”. By this point I am amazed that she’s still unclear about the FAA’s usage approval and, even more, than no one at the front is clear either. So I said, “But the harness is not interfering at all”, which she checked by lowering and closing the tray back up. Plus I asked the lady sitting behind if she thought it was interfering. – “Not at all”, was her reply. Still the attendant insisted we move to the back, saying in a quite audible tone (ensuring passengers nearby would hear), “Sir, the captain has indicated he cannot start taxiing until you move to the back”. I guess she intended for me to feel pressured by implying all was ready for the plane to take off and that everybody was waiting on me. However, taking a quick glance to the back I realized that there were no seats on the right side (no seats D/E, but only A/B). Thus, moving to the back meant that our family would be separated; something neither I nor my wife wanted to do. So I said, “Please, I want to talk to the captain. I’m sorry, but the CARES is FAA approved. Plus moving back there means we’d be separated. I bought the tickets well in advance and chose these seats purposefully for us to be together”. By now I’m wondering, is the CARES approved or not? Why is it ok in the back and not here? How contradicting and confusing these people are!
She darted to the front and along come another flight attendant. He came, holding his operations manual, which was open to a pertinent section and told me “Sir, you cannot use that baby harness. So we’re asking you to please take it off and hold your baby on your lap”. Unbelievable! I was completely dumbfounded. I could not believe my ears. –“But my toddler is over 2 years old, I paid for his plane ticket, and using the CARES harness is the safest way for him to travel. Please let me speak to the captain”, I said. –“No, those harnesses aren’t allowed”, he said, as he was now browsing the CARES brochure. And the female flight attendant (the one that started off this whole thing) chimed in again, “Sorry Sir, I’ve never seen one of those. You can’t use it”. At this point, Frontier’s gate attendant, Ron*, came to join the discussion. –“It is ok. We used it a week ago on our way here without any incident; on this airline, same segment, and same aircraft. All the flight attendants were ok with it. They even served our toddler his apple juice and everything”, I told them all. But the gate agent just asked me again to comply, “Please Sir, remove the harness and hold your baby on your lap”.
By now my mind is racing, in shock with the crew’s ignorance, knowing that I was right, and trying to decide what to do. Quick thoughts were flashing: “I could stand my ground; I know I’m right. Then they’ll probably end up throwing us all out of the plane. That’ll be a huge scene, with a great deal of embarrassment. Once on the ground they’ll find out we were right, apologize, and put us on another plane. That seems like a big hassle for us, especially for the baby [who now is seating comfortably, happily browsing the plane’s safety card, and looking up once in a while to see all the people just above him]. Plus we’ll get into Austin much later, if at all, today. But after all is said and done that’ll teach them a lesson…”.
The episode having been going on for about 20 minutes, I was finding it extremely difficult to keep my composure and my leveled tone of voice. My heart is pounding like crazy. My blood pressure, through the roof. My stress level, through the roof. So is probably my sugar-level (I’m pre-diabetic). Plus my dear pregnant wife, very stressed out by now, had asked me, during the last interim we were alone to “please be nice”, with a resigned expression on her face that meant, please give in, put an end to this.
So with much reluctance I said, “We bought a ticket for our son to comply with FAA regulation. If you are not going to let him use his seat, I want you to give me a full refund for his plane ticket. I want a note from you that states so”. The gate attendant kind of wavered (about the refund part, that is) and stepped back. Then the male flight attendant stretched out his operations manual and showed me a highlighted note about baby harnesses not being allowed for take off, landing, etc. But it referred to Baby B’air’s vest in particular, which is a completely different application (used for infants only, who MUST fly on an adult lap). So I said, “That is a completely different application. Your book doesn’t say the CARES harness is not allowed. Sorry to tell you, but you are not up-to-date. This is an FAA-approved harness and the regulation is that my toddler be in his own seat”. And here came the pinnacle of this mountain of ignorance: He answered, “We are up to date. The FAA recommends it, but it is the airline’s discretion whether we allow it or not” (!). So I insisted, “You are going to refund the ticket?” At this point Ron, Frontier’s gate attendant, said, “I’ll take care of you. Please check in with Frontier’s Customer Service when you get to Denver”. And as he saw that I started to unstrap my baby, he walked off. So I packed the CARES harness, held my toddler on my lap, my wife moved to his now empty seat, everyone went their way and we started taxiing. Here we went, with 3 paid seats but only allowed to use 2. So bizarre. In fact, the nice older man seating behind my wife, who along with all the passengers around us witnessed the whole thing, kind of booed the flight attendants, seeing that they had their way with such baseless arguments. [Incidentally, our toddler had played briefly with him as we strolled around the waiting area prior to boarding].
I was so upset psychologically and drained physically from the whole episode that I ended up eating most of the snacks we packed for our toddler (saltines, graham crackers, baby carrots, etc.) during the flight. Once we landed, we decided to wait to de-plane last, so we could ask more details about our refund. As the two older couples behind us passed by, they all wished us well and good luck with our claim, sympathetic with us. As we waited immediately outside the plane, we asked the captain for a note from him of how they forced us to comply with their request, he brushed us off, saying “Sorry, it’s not up to us. Whatever we give you won’t help you much. Just check in with Frontier’s CS.”
But that’s not the end of the story. There’s more. It turns out the Customer Service Desk people couldn’t care less! By that I mean they showed not a hint of an effort or intention to make things right. I told the first guy I talked to, “Hi, I’m here to request a refund for one of my plane tickets. Did a gate attendant from Boise call you about this?”. – “No. And for that type of request you need to talk to her”, indicating another woman. Although very sympathetic and friendly, as soon as I finished asking her the same question, she handed me a business card and told me “you need to call Customer Relations. Sorry, but our hands are tied”. You’ve got to be kidding me! (I thought). What? What kind of joke is this (I was still thinking). So feeling like a completely deflated tire (really, the pitiful customer service I was getting felt like a big punch that drained any remaining air I had in me), I said, “Wow, after such serious aggravation we were just victims of, we still have to waste our time on the phone, on hold, etc”. –
“Sorry. So what happened”, she said (on the plane, she meant). Then I summarized in one phrase: “they didn’t let my toddler sit on his paid-for-seat; they didn’t let me use the CARES harness on him. Plus they made me hold him on my lap, which is clearly against FAA regulation and puts him at unnecessary risk”. She was completely shocked, an expression of unbelief in her face. – “My. I don’t know what’s wrong with them. I don’t know why they did that. We all, all attendants, have gone through specific training about this new toddler harness. I’m so sorry. But give them a call”, she said pointing to the business card. “Tell them what happened. They’ll send you some forms. But you have a very strong case, so I’m sure they’ll refund you. Also send them an email to make sure they get your complaint”. That was that!
And if you think it can’t get worse, wait. It can. I called the toll-free number, repeatedly, and it was always busy! Then I tried their direct dial number (on my dime). Guess what? It rang, and rang, and rang... No answer! I mean, we’re talking about 1 P.M., on a weekday. Whatever. I decided to just
post this on the web to let others beware. And I’ll post it to the FAA too. Maybe they’ll make the airline understand what the regulations are.
A distressed parent.