A California couple traveling with their two toddlers say they were kicked off a Los Angeles-bound Delta flight from Hawaii on April 23 for refusing to give up a seat held by their 2-year-old son.
Parents Brian and Brittany Shear of Huntington Beach, California, filmed the entire encounter and posted it on YouTube. In the clip, employees can be heard threatening the family with arrest if they don’t immediately leave the plane.
“You and your wife will be in jail,” a female employee said, after Brian refused to exit the plane, according to the video.
Brian told KABC-TV’s “Eyewitness News” the employee told them: “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.”
Brian said he told a flight attendant that he originally bought the seat for his 18-year-old son Mason, but decided to put him on an earlier flight so that he could use it for his younger child, Grayson, who was in a car seat.
But the airline told them that they needed the seat for another passenger because the flight was overbooked and the passenger whose name was originally on the seat (Mason) wasn’t there, according to Brian.
“You’re saying you’re gonna give that away to someone else when I paid for that seat?” Brian told the airline employee in the video. “That’s not right.”
He added: “You need to do what’s right. I bought the seat and you need to just leave us alone.”
An airplane employee told him that under Federal Aviation Administration regulations, 2-year-old children can’t have their own seat and must fly while seated in their parents’ laps for the flight. However, the websites for both the FAA and Delta encourage parents to buy separate seats for young children and use a child safety restraint system. Rules on Delta’s website states that children age 2 and older should fly in individual seats while secured in an approved car seat.
When Brian eventually agreed to hold his child in his lap, the family was told to exit the plane.
In a statement to PEOPLE, the FAA said: “The safest place for a young child under the age of two on an airplane is in a child restraint, not on a parent’s lap. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) strongly encourages parents to secure children in a separate seat in an appropriate restraint based on weight and size.
“If a seat is purchased for a child, an airline must allow that child to use the restraint as long as the child meets the restraint manufacturer’s height and weight criteria, it is properly labeled and says that it is approved for use on aircraft, is not in an exit row, can be properly installed in the aircraft seat, and the child holds a ticket for the seat. FAA safety regulations do not address airline policies for overbooking or boarding procedures.”
At midnight that evening, the couple was left trying to find a hotel room and ended up paying $2,000 for another flight the following day — on United, according to Eyewitness News.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Delta said: “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.”
Brittany said the moment was terrifying for her and her children. “As a mother, you have a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old — it doesn’t matter whether that’s true or false. It put fear in me,” she told the news outlet.
The exchange is the latest in a string of recent airline incidents. In April, Dr. David Dao was forcibly dragged off a United flight for refusing to give up his seat on an overbooked flight. And last week, a Delta Airlines pilot was videotaped smacking a female passenger who was fighting with another passenger.
On May 2, leadership from airlines all over the country, including United CEO Oscar Munoz, testified on Capitol Hill before the House Transportation Committee, facing questions about the incident and what’s being done to improve airline customer service policies.