Delta debacle highlights ridiculous airline ticket policies

A Delta airlines plane is seen on the tarmac of the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on July 14.
Image: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Today in daily airline outrage: A husband and wife with two small children onboard a recent overbooked Delta flight were threatened with jail time after being told they could not use a seat they’d purchased for their 18-year-old son, who had instead taken an earlier flight.

Brian and Brittany Schear were flying from Maui to Los Angeles with their three children, reportedly ages 18, 2 and 1. They bought three tickets, likely thinking the youngsters would sit on the laps of the other three during the flight. But the family changed plans ahead of time, buying a ticket for their older son on an earlier flight so, as the father said, their other son would actually be able to sleep.

This did not sit well with Delta.

Because the Schear’s older son never checked in for the later flight on which he was booked, the airline likely viewed it as an open seat available to a passenger not yet onboard.

The Schears bought the seat, though, and figured it wouldn’t be a problem to set up a safety seat for one of their infants.

Thus, the conflict.

The video starts with Brian Schear being told that he and his wife could wind up in jail with their children in “foster care” if they didn’t give up their third seat.

The situation was already tense, but it’s about to get confusing, so stay with me.

At this point, a woman introduces herself and begins to explain the situation, although she doesn’t appear to have a good grip on what she’s explaining. Presumably an airline employee, she informs the Schears that their younger son has to be held in their laps instead of a safety seat.

“With him being two, he cannot sit in the car seat,” she says, and goes on to say that this is an FAA regulation.

In fact, the opposite is true. According to an emailed FAA statement, “children two [years] of age or older are required to be in their own seat.”

Now, maybe the child is not quite two, and it was just easier for the Schears to round up when asked about his age. If that’s the case, the woman is still wrong. The FAA discourages sitting children in the laps of parents no matter their age, and Delta’s own policy says, “for kids under the age of two, we recommend you purchase a seat on the aircraft and use an approved child safety seat.”

We’ve asked Delta to get on the phone with us in hopes of clearing up which employees were responsible for providing incorrect information, and why that information was provided in the first place. They haven’t taken us up on it yet.

Now, it seems logical to just transfer the older son’s ticket to the younger son. With a new name attached to the seat, the flight manifest would accurately reflect the actual flight, and everyone onboard could go about their business. But Delta doesn’t allow ticket transfers.

From their FAQ section: “All tickets are non-transferable per the fare rules. Name changes are not permitted.”

The Schears bought that seat for their oldest child, but the only way they could have used it would be to cancel the ticket and re-purchase it in the name of their younger son, incurring cancelation fees and paying extra for the last-minute fare in the process. As you might imagine, this isn’t the first time the non-transferrable policy has been scrutinized.

After it becomes plain that the Schears won’t be able to use the three seats they purchased, Brian asks whether for the sake of finally taking off they can just hold their kids and get out of there.

Apparently not. He’s told, “it’s come too far,” and their options are either to go or Delta will deplane everyone.

“What are we supposed to do?” Schear asks. “I’ve got two infants, and my wife, we have nowhere to stay, there’s no more flights. What are we supposed to do, sleep in the airport?”

Schear presses for an answer, but the (presumable) Delta employee says it’s not up to her or any of her colleagues.

“At this point, you guys are on your own,” she says.

“Un-fucking-real,” Schear says.

Hard to disagree.

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