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United apologizes for humiliating family with special needs child

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Flight attendant confronted family of daughter with special needs

A mother of four children, including one girl with significant special needs, says she was humiliated on a United flight in front of the whole plane. Fortunately the airline has apologized.

When a United flight attendant refused to allow Elit Kirschenbaum to hold her 3-year-old child in her lap during takeoff, it sparked a hashtag (#unitedwithIvy) in hopes the airline would apologize to her. Instead, it's become a rallying cry for an internet controversy, as people take up arms on both sides. While the child's parents might not have arranged the flight and their seating in the best way, the airline definitely should apologize for the treatment the family reports it received — fortunately United has called the family and done just that.

Three-year-old Ivy is a stroke survivor and suffers with spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy. Due to her special needs, she is unable to sit up on her own. Her parents say they've flown several times since she passed her second birthday, and each time they were allowed to hold her throughout the flight.

However, a recent flight didn't work out the way they had hoped. The family had purchased an economy seat for Ivy because they were aware that anyone over the age of 2 needed their own seat. However, they didn't intend to use it. And a flight attendant refused to allow Elit to hold her daughter in her own business-class seat during takeoff. "She insisted on creating a scene," Elit wrote. "The remaining 3 flight attendants pleaded our case, in fact one was in tears, but this one attendant dug her heels in and wouldn’t budge."

The ensuing scene took around an hour to settle, as Elit says that as much personnel as possible was brought into the plane to argue with the stressed-out family. She says she was horribly embarrassed, as the loud argument took place in front of all the other passengers and upset her children. The flight attendant ultimately refused to allow Elit to hold her daughter, and finally a "solution" was found — Ivy was belted in and allowed to lie down during takeoff and landing, and her mother was allowed to hold her for the rest of the flight.

While the Kirschenbaums originally hoped for an apology from United, the hashtag Ivy's mom started to bring attention to their experience has definitely taken off, but not always for the better. They have lots of support, of course.

However, there has been plenty of criticism of the family as well.

I think the way the flight attendant handled the situation warranted an apology from the airline, yes. But I also have to address the fact that the parents didn't verify that traveling this way with their special needs child was OK. Just because you've done it before and nobody has said anything doesn't mean you're allowed to do so. The rules do state that children over 2 years of age need their own seat. And Ivy cannot sit on her own, so different arrangements needed to be made in advance of their trip and not while a plane full of people waited for an hour to get alternative seating figured out.

Compassion is key when one works with the public, and humiliating and demeaning a family isn't the best way to go about it. The Kirschenbaum family is now planning to establish a proper and safe seating situation next time they go on a plane with Ivy, and it's great that United has phoned the family to apologize for their humiliation.

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