An airplane video, an unhappy family: How confusing rules put Delta in the hot seat

A Delta Air Lines jet sits at a gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in Atlanta. The airline was the focus of a dispute involving a couple flying with two toddlers.
A Delta Air Lines jet sits at a gate at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, in Atlanta. The airline was the focus of a dispute involving a couple flying with two toddlers.
(David Goldman / Associated Press)

The latest airline passenger dispute — this one involving Delta Air Lines and an Orange County couple traveling with two toddlers — again points to confusing and little-known regulations that led to a delayed flight and frustrated fliers.

The couple, Brian and Brittany Schear of Huntington Beach, said they were kicked off a Los Angeles-bound Delta flight from Hawaii last month after airline staff insisted that their 2-year-old son could not sit by himself, even though the family had already paid for a ticket and had a car seat for the child.

The dispute comes as airlines face criticism for a series of onboard confrontations that have prompted federal lawmakers to hold hearings in Washington, D.C., on ways to improve customer service.


The conflict involving the Schear family touches on at least four airline and federal regulations, some of which were incorrectly cited by the flight crew.

Delta issued a statement Thursday saying: “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. 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.”

The argument began when crew members told the Schears that they could not put their 2-year-old son in an individual seat they had purchased for their 18-year-old son, Mason, who flew back to California on an earlier flight.

A flight attendant also can be heard on a video telling Brian Schear that both Delta’s guidelines and Federal Aviation Administration rules stipulate that the 2-year-old child must fly while seated on a parent’s lap.


Schear and flight crews are heard on the video, which Schear posted Wednesday on YouTube, debating the rules for several minutes before a flight attendant told the couple that they must leave the flight or be taken off by force. The couple left the April 23 flight and had to pay an extra $2,000 to take another flight the next day.

The dispute involves several rules:

  • Federal law requires each passenger 18 and older to show identification that matches the name on the boarding pass. Children under 18 are not required to show identification to board a flight. (This is where the conflict gets murky. Because the Schear family had bought a ticket for Mason but wanted to use the seat for their 2-year-old son, there was no way for the flight attendant to prove that the child was not Mason.)
  • Delta rules say a child younger than 2 may travel on the lap of an adult. If one adult brings two infants, the adult must buy a ticket and put the second child in “an approved safety seat.” Children who are 2 or older must be put in a child safety seat.
  • The FAA “strongly urges” parents to put young children in a “child safety restraint system.” The federal agency says, “Your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence.”
  • FAA rules also say that an airline cannot keep an adult from using a child seat for their child.

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2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with a new statement from Delta, which apologized for the incident and notes that the airline plans to compensate the family.

This article was originally published at 12:30 p.m.