Stuck next to two screaming toddlers in first class — can I get a refund?

If Jody Clark’s recent United Airlines flight from Houston to Vancouver had been a scene in a movie, it probably would be the one where the protagonist is finally pushed to the brink of a nervous breakdown.

“There was a family with two extremely disruptive toddlers seated in the row behind me in first class,” she says. “In the seat directly behind was a two-year-old who, without any break during the entire five-hour flight, continued to utter high pitched screams, cry and carry on yelling instead of talking, clanged together loud metal toys, and, worst of all, kicked at the back at my chair.”

But Clark’s flight was no disaster movie. It was real life. (Fortunately, minus the breakdown.)

And that’s just the half of it.

Let me hand Clark the mike for a minute:

When the kids were not in their seats they ran up and down the aisle spilling food and water, grabbed onto my armrest or hung off the side of my chair — I was seated on the aisle — and when I tried to ignore them, tapped and pulled my arm until they were given the attention their parents wouldn’t provide them.

The parents treated the first-class cabin as though it was their personal living room and did not respect the personal space of others at all for the duration of the flight.

After two hours of trying to ignore the actions of the children and after having a drink spilled on my clothing, hair and pillow through the middle of the two chairs from behind, I asked the parents to handle their kids and to at least please stop banging my chair.

Nothing changed, as they had no regard for others and merely gave me a dirty look.

I then approached the two flight attendants and they advised that they had never seen anything like this before and had no idea of what could be done. They were very nice and apologized, but nothing at the time could be done to remedy the situation.

Uncontrolled children rampaging through first class? The only thing worse than that, maybe, is uncontrolled adults rampaging through first class. Cue the Gerard Finneran flashback.

Clark wants United to reimburse her for the cleaning costs and to refund the difference between her first class ticket and an economy class ticket. Here’s how United responded to that request:

I sincerely regret that you did not experience the level of service you have come to expect when traveling with United Airlines.

You have my most sincere apology for your trip not being more pleasant. Your frustration with the described level of cabin noise is understandable. Please know United Airlines is a family friendly airlines serving millions of customers traveling with children every year and has earned a reputation for exemplary customer service and safety. Our employees are expected to treat our customers with dignity and respect and to perform duties in a professional manner. Our in-flight crews are trained to handle all situations professionally and with ease and decorum when approaching a disruptive child’s parents.

Please know while I can not undo the circumstances you had experienced, I can not honor your request for full reimbursement. We did transport you safely from your point of origin to your destination. We do not provide a refund when transportation has been provided. I will though request a certificate to help offset your cleaning bill.

Your electronic travel certificate will be sent to you via a separate email, which you will receive in 3-4 business days. We appreciate your business and look forward to welcoming you on board a future United Airlines flight.

OK, so “no” to both requests.

Although Clark declined the offer, United sent her the voucher anyway. If she redeems it, she’d be letting United off the hook. The fine print warned:

By acceptance of this travel certificate you release United; the operating carrier, and their respective employees, agents and representatives from any and all liability, claims or damages resulting or arising from the matters relating to your flight, compensation therefore or any related complaint.

Part of me thinks this is much ado about nothing. Kids will be kids, after all. But maybe, as the parent of three young kids, I’m biased.

I agree with United that it delivered Clark to her destination safely, and in doing so fulfilled its contract of carriage. But I also think first class comes with a higher standard of service, and that includes — how can I say this? — a more upscale and less noisy experience. United’s flight attendants didn’t even try to stop the misbehaving kids, by her account. And now it’s telling her she’s out of luck?

I’m not sure if a full refund is appropriate. The $50 voucher she received is no way to say “we’re sorry” to a first class passenger. Then again, maybe it is. Either way, I’m tempted to take this case.

Should I mediate Jody Clark's case?

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • polexia_rogue

    not sure how long ago this was, but as of late i have been reading allot of “THE AIRLINE KICKED OFF ME AND MY CHILDREN!” articles.

    they are always from the point of view of the parent, so the story reads like “yes, my child was a little disruptive but the airlines never gave me a chance!”

    my point- airlines know that if they stand up to disruptive kids, the parent will get mad and make a blog post/consumerist article/etc and the airline will get bad press.

    picture this from the parent’s point of view. the airlines COULD have landed the plane and kicked off the family (there have been articles about this – it’s is possible and it has happened), then the family will say “the in flight crew was so unfair! we paid good money for out tickets and now our family vacation is ruined! they forced us to take out young children off the plane and wait SEVERAL hours! they have no sympathy for parents of young children!”

    in short- i voted no. the OP made it from point A to point B.

  • LFH0

    No. The carrier provided the transportation, along with the amenities going with first class service. Any expense incurred by the action of other passengers should have been treated as with any other encounter with a stranger, i.e., reimbursement from that other person. United Air Lines went beyond their responsibility by providing a credit.

    In short, Jody Clark was traveling on public transportation. When using public transportation, one is traveling with all sorts of other people. While we expect other people to act as civilly as we do ourselves, that is not always the case. If one cannot stand the possibility of other people not living up to our own expectations of civil behavior, then one should use private transportation instead. Yes, private transportation costs more, sometime much more, than public transportation (on the ground, a trip on public transportation (subway) here in New York costs $2.50, while the same trip using private transportation (personal automobile) might cost ten times as much; a private jet might also cost many times the fare paid by Jody Clark). But if you’re going to take advantage of the lower cost of public transportation, sometimes you get a lower-priced experience.

  • Chester P. Chucklebutt

    I voted yes, but think the mediation should only be to the extent that the airline provide the names and address of the parents – at the point the OP should pursue her claims with them.

  • Bettina

    The issue is this: The staff could have said something and at least tried, and they did not.

    That alone merits more than the cleaning bill.

    I do not think the lady is unreasonable in expecting a flight that is
    relatively quiet when booking first class. I also believe that she would
    never have posted if the crying had been limited to the starting and
    landing phases as well all know that babies and toddlers sometimes have
    difficulties in equalising the pressure on their ears.

    this is ludicrous. Having the children scream and yell the entire
    flight, spilling things on her, clamoring for her attention because the
    parents didn’t care is more than should be endured with a stiff upper

    If the flight attendants had done something, at least then they had tried. But they did not. So United is in the hot seat!

    And I do hope they flagged the parents and will deny them carriage from now on.

  • Pepp90

    I’ve been stuck next to them in coach and thought a refund was in order!

  • technomage1

    Regardless of class, if your flight is that disrupted and the attendants do nothing even when asked – then the airline is on the hook for a partial reimbursement and certainly for the dry cleaning bill.

  • henare

    if this were a hotel and the room next door were hosting a loud party which kept you awake. you call the front desk and explain the issue; front desk sends goons to the room to fix the loud party and everyone goes to sleep. If you called the front desk and got no action then you’d have a legitimate gripe, and that seems to be what has happened here. [note that this doesn’t even take class-of-service into consideration–i fully expect that if i’m in the front cabin i’ll be able to get some work or rest accomplished during the flight.]

    to be fair, i spent a SFO-LHR flight in virgin atlantic’s upper class with an upset infant two rows back … screamed the whole flight. the difference, of course, is that this was nobody’s fault really, and the infant was better behaved than some fully-grown passengers.

  • sirwired

    I’m not sure there is any good answer to such problems… it’s not the airline’s fault that they picked up some lousy passengers, and it’s hard to do anything about them once the plane takes off.

    That said, the flight crew should have at least tried to get the parents to do something useful to control their children, so I voted to mediate. A full refund is a bit much, but the $50 voucher that any schmoe gets for writing a letter is too little.

  • TonyA_says

    How about accidently spitting your beer at the kids? Will that work?

  • DChamp56

    Once more, IF I PAY IN CASH, REFUND ME IN CASH!!! Chris, how come you don’t start a revolution over this?
    Also, does anyone think his dry-cleaner will take the voucher for cleaning his/her clothing?
    I’m so tired of these businesses sending a voucher instead of cash.

  • frostysnowman

    I voted no. I think $50 for the dry leaning is fair. I feel United is under no obligation to make financial restituion of any kind. It is rather nervy of the OP to request a full refund in this situation. She got to her final destination and United did provide the first class accommodations she paid for (either with money or miles). The misbehaving children made the experience very unpleasant, but that is not United’s fault.

  • Chris_In_NC

    To Ms Clark: Take the certificates and move on.

    While I am sympathetic to your plight, your beef should be with the parents, rather than United airlines. There really is not much difference between what you experienced and my experience of sitting next to a drunk adult on a flight last year who was using racial slurs, spilling his drink on another passenger and overall acting obnoxious.

    What exactly did you want the flight attendant do to? Besides apologizing, come down too hard on the parents, and the article might read “The flight attendant yelled at me for having a well behaved child on my flight.” If the flight wasn’t full, perhaps you could be re-seated. If flight was full, and it was so intolerable, I’m sure someone in coach would have been willing to exchange seats.

    Should this case be mediated? I say not. But, if mediation is in order, a full refund is ridiculous. Perhaps mediation might garner Clark (in addition to the E-certificate) another certificate with an unrestricted one way North American upgrade to first class.

    While I agree that “domestic” (ie North American) First Class should offer a higher level of service, if you believe that statement, I’ve got oceanfront property in Idaho to see you. Due to laws, airlines can’t “ban” anyone from First Class, so if you got the $$$ or the status, you’re in. We all know that $$$ and status can’t buy class!

  • Kathleen Proud Keyte

    I am sort of left with questions regarding the flight attendants saying “there’s nothing more we could do”…what did they attempt to do at all exactly?

  • Nicola Milligan

    Yes, this is a very touchy subject indeed but on the contrary to LFH0’s point it may be that economy class passengers have come to expect a degree of disturbance by other children and babies whereas first class/business class passengers have paid a significantly bigger sum of money on order to get a higher service and a more relaxed journey. I don’t think many people would enjoy a plane ride like that, having paid so much more money for a relaxing plane journey.

  • chickadee

    The key for me is the line about how UA’s flight staff are trained to handle these situations….in this case, they weren’t and they didn’t. The passenger was incredibly patient and she should have the difference between first-class and coach refunded.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Maybe the solution to this going forward is for airlines to ban children from 1st class. I mean, kids aren’t going to appreciate the wider seat, or free cocktails anyway (for obvious reasons). If a parent wants to travel with their children, they can suck it up and fly in coach.

    Now, I only fly coach, so I’m no elitist. But if I paid several hundred dollars extra to have somebody’s brat screaming in my ear for five hours, I’d be royally PO’d.

    Reminds me of a flight I was on a few years back. This kid on the opposite side, about three rows forward was screaming as we took off. I felt sorry at first, because I thought he was scared. But as the flight wore on, I realized that he just didn’t want to sit . He wanted to stand on the seat and play peek-a-boo with the person in front of him.

    Well, we hit some rough air and the captain turned on the seatbelt sign. This kid screamed at the top of his lungs until his mom unbuckled him. Then we hit a fairly large bump and this kid went flying, ending up in the aisle. I didn’t feel sorry for him at all. While de-planing, I told the FA what happened and gave her my name and phone number in case the parents sued and they needed a witness to the fact that the parents unbuckled their kid.

  • Cybrsk8r

    She should sue the parents of the two screaming brats.


    I too have been a victim of ill-behaved children and their equally ill-behaved parents on flights. I do not think they get a pass because of their age. At 2 they are capable of learning the rudiments of good behavior. And I wonder why so many times that Chris thinks we need to give poorly behaved children a pass. A crying infant is one thing, but out of control children are a different category entirely.
    It is obvious the parents were sitting together and sat the children together unattended. I think the flight attendants were negligent in allowing that as it is a safety hazard in the event of an emergency. They were also negligent in allowing the children to run up and down the aisle as that too is a safety hazard.
    The flight attendants should have required that one child be seated by each parent and not allowed them to run around. They have that authority and chose not to use it.
    But the traveler lost me when she said the two-year-old kids were kicking her seat back in first class. Their size along makes this almost impossible–even if they were standing in back of the seat. So either the children were older and larger than 2 years or she is greatly stretching the truth here.
    UA offered a future flight credit. I think it should have been more if this happened the way she said it did. (I wonder if other first class passengers complained about the toddlers that day too?) But I am stuck on the kicking–it would be difficult for children that age to accomplish that in coach and in first class, where there is more pitch, almost impossible.
    So I vote no to mediation.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Here’s my idea for how an airline should handle this type of situation. The FA politely asks the parents to control their children, and explains to them, that if they don’t, they will be blacklisted from flying that particular airline until their all children reach the age of 18.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Maybe not, but I gave you a thumbs-up anyway.

  • MarkKelling

    How do you know the OP paid in cash? It was not mentioned anywhere what got her the seat in 1st. It could have been a “free” frequent flyer upgrade. It could have been mileage redemption. The airline might have placed her there because she got bumped from a different flight. The possibilities are nearly endless.

  • Doug Marshak

    I think you should mediate if only to get the airline to understand that it does need to meet the expectations of its first class passengers. This is coming from somebody who has only flown first class once in my entire life. I know kids will be kids (and I have two kids too), but parents need to teach their kids to respect others and control them. It would seem that part of the first class contract of carriage for traveling families should include the possibility that the flight attendants can force them to move to coach if their kids cannot behave to a first class standard. Move the family back and bring some responsible coach (or whatever they call “coach plus”) people forward for an unexpected bonus. For the attendants to do nothing seems extremely disrespectful of all of the people in first class. It would seem this would be a decent midway point between nothing and kicking people off flights.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Please read my reply to SirWired above.

    Change seats? Let’s see. Sit in coach and have a peaceful flight, or sit in first class next to a screaming brat. That’s a tough one. Actually, it’s not. I’ll stay in coach.

    And while the airline might not be able to ban someone from first class, they CAN ban them from the plane altogether. It’s called a blacklist and every airline has one.

  • MarkKelling

    If the drunk sitting next to you was being served alcohol on the plane by the flight attendants, it is the airlines fault. Sure, everyone should know their tolerance level for alcohol and not keep drinking just because it’s available. But the FAs need to realize they should not keep bringing more when someone has had too much.

    The FAs should have said something to the parents.

  • naoma

    Years ago I was flying first class to Europe and a woman had a dog with her that she let run around the cabin. I did not pay to have a dog running around and told the flight attendant. She made the woman put it into its cage. Also on one flight a child screamed throughout the entire time. Been there and seen all this stuff but little is ever done. Sometimes the attendants hover at the back like they do not know what to do. Parents should be able to “control” their children by talking to them, playing games, etc. or reading. Below someone suggests “suing” — I think this would be thrown out of court. I try not to sit near kids and even had my seat changed when a man had 5 drinks before take off. Do not need drunks either. I remember reading about a flight long ago where the people did unspeakable things onto the food cart and they were BANNED from the airline.

  • Len Oxman

    I think that the flight attendants could have offered a downgrade to coach, which would have alleviated the immediate problem. A free first class ticket on another flight would have been appropriate compensation.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Oh, there’s an answer all right. I’m thinking about the guy flying Delta from Minneapolis to Atlanta back in February who listened to it and listened to it and listened to it… then hauled off and smacked the kid. Of course, that was a terrible thing to do, and you should never do that, and the guy’s an evil monster who should be shunned forever, and blah, blah, blah… but for one shining moment, I’ll bet it felt GREAT!

  • Asiansm Dan

    I think she should have some compensation, since she’s already in First, some Vouchers or Upgrade Certificates are reasonable, but 50$ is not enough, she would settled for 1000$ voucher and it’s reasonable because it’s funny money.
    Once I had a 4 hrs flight from Nadi Fiji to Auckland in ECONOMY, the baby next to me crying all the way to Auckland. I didn’t complain because I am more pity of the woman who was very embarrassed and cannot do anything. The Air New Zealand pilot was very embarrassed too, so he tell me he put me on Business Class on my next 11 hrs segment Auckland AKL to Tokyo NRT.

  • MarkKelling

    Children in general can be annoying. Especially if you don’t have children of your own and are not used to having them around. They can be extremely annoying when you are on a plane trying to work or sleep and they want to run up and down the aisle screaming. But I have been on flights where the children in 1st were much better behaved and much quieter than the entry level elite businessman who yells at the flight attendants because they are out of his favorite alcohol and that they should have known to have enough because didn’t they know who he was and he was on this flight. Unfortunately, this is part of travel no matter where you sit on the plane. If you don’t like it, don’t travel or just fly on private planes.

    On a UA flight a couple years ago, a couple with a child sat near me in 1st. The father next to me and the mother and child behind me. They had been bumped from the flight they expected to be on which was to be their connection from a flight in from Europe. All 3 were exhausted. The parents started hitting the alcohol pretty heavy as soon as they were seated. The child kept asking if it was “naked time” to which mom replied “Quiet!. Not till we get home.” Not long into the flight, just as soon as the seatbelt light went off, mom passed out. A few minutes later, the child got undressed and got out of her seat and ran up to the FA and yelled “Naked Time!” and began running down the aisle. I nudged the father and he got up and grabbed the child. I though it was funny. The parents were red faced with embarrassment the rest of the flight.

  • ExplorationTravMag

    Wait. Did I read that right? Her clothing needed professional cleaning and they sent her a travel certificate to compensate for it?

    When I buy a plane ticket, I pay actual money for it, not coupons or certificates from other companies! I don’t think she can walk into the cleaners and hand them that certificate!

    I’m so tired of airlines using funny money to compensate for damages due to the negligence of their airlines.

  • Bill___A

    Family friendly is one thing, but it is the responsibility of the airline to ensure that the safety and comfort of all passengers is addressed.
    United and other airlines have a unique advantage, which is, from what I understand, passengers are required by federal law to follow the instructions of the cabin personnel. Therefore, the cabin personnel have a lot of leverage to encourage people to do what they say.
    It has been my experience that airline cabin personnel NEVER DO ANYTHING no matter how disruptive someone’s kids are. They merely leave it to everyone to endure whatever the hellions do. This is wrong. This is especially wrong in first class.
    I know Chris is often critical of those who feel “entitled” in first class. The point is, every passenger is entitled not to be disrupted by children like this. I see this a lot. Certain parents do not raise their kids well. This “kids will be kids” think is crap. Most kids are good. ‘The bad ones are the ones whose parents are a miserable failure. I’m not talking about the kids who are sick or having problems. I am talking about the kids whose parents do not prep them with what to expect and what is expected of them. I am talking about the kids whose parents let them get away with everything and therefore have no leverage over them once they are on a plane.
    Not only should this passenger get a refund, but all the other ones should too. It is high time the airlines took some responsibility in this issue and stopped doing nothing about these disruptive passengers. Yes, I do think there should be a no fly list for people who are disruptive like that. Is it fair? You bet it is. If you’re a bad parent and your kids are disruptive, I don’t think you should be able to take them on a plane. Period. Learn some parenting skills. Most kids are pretty good if raised half decently. I’ve dealt with a lot of kids on planes. Most of them are great. I can tell when they are just having a bad day or if their parents are not doing a good job. It is clearly evident. The kid whining “mama mama” 15 times a minute is the victim of horrendous parenting. The kid whose ears are popping is not. The difference is that the kid yelling “mama mama” never stops and the kid who has the ears popping is fine once we’ve reached cruising altitude or landed.
    As frequent flyers, we need to let the airlines know in no uncertain terms that it is unacceptable to let irresponsible parents ruin flights for entire cabins. The airlines need to put their heads together and figure out what to do about this. The current practice of doing nothing is very annoying to many thousands of people.
    Chris, if you do choose to mediate this, please advice United that many people are completely sick and tired of them and other airlines doing absolutely nothing about this. It ruins the flight for everyone and we expect the airlines to have some way to deal with these things.
    Often, you can tell even when boarding when there are kids like this.
    Suggested route:
    Airline to parent: Obviously you haven’t prepped your children for flying, so we are going to rebook you for tomorrow. You can take the time to prepare your kids and teach them what they can expect on a flight and what is expected of them.
    Remember, only a very small percentage of kids are poorly raised enough to be so disruptive.
    I think everyone was quite happy when I believe it was Jet Blue ejected the whiny kid and parent, and also ejected the unruly high school class.
    These are continuing problems, and they only are continuing problems because nothing is done about it.
    Maybe United’s contract of carriage does say they just need to get you from point A to point B but I think they need to ensure a safe trip for everyone and if children are disruptive, that’s not acceptable.

  • Rob S.

    I voted yes. I have had this happen to in both coach and 1st and it is infuriating to say the least. 1st class does come with the expectation that you are being treated to a higher level of service– and that certainly should include FAs that insure all the passengers in that class of service be allowed an enjoyable experience. The Op does not indicate if the FAs tried to intervene– but at the very least they should have warned the parents and if needed rearranged the seating and split up the children with a parent next to each. Depending upon the difference in 1st and coach fares I would thing half of that difference would bve fair.

  • Miami510

    I voted no… because I could see no answer to the problem that wouldn`t be against public policy in a court of law. I was on a train from Philadelphia to Washington some years ago when a young woman persisted in speaking loudly on her cell phone. Finally someone sitting next to her began to read… no shout… the text of his newspaper so the woman could not continue her conversation. She hung up… got the message, and evereyone in the area gve the man a thumb`s-up. Maybe something similar would have embarassed the parents into controlling their kids.

  • Bill___A

    Kids shouldn’t be allowed in first class. Disruptive kids should not even be allowed on planes. Something should have been done about the drunk. Just because someone else was equally or more bad does not make it right. Flying should be a privilege, not a right.

  • Vox_Rationis13

    I don’t mind confrontation, so after a first initial polite request to the parents, I would have escalated it. If the FAs refused to get involved, I probably would’ve stood right by the parents and stared at them until they felt motivated to do something about it. A refund from United is insane. But unfortunately, there are loser parents to go along with loser children.

  • Bill___A

    The airline is in control of the cabin. People are required to follow crew instructions. They made no attempt to control the situation.
    If we all asked for full refunds whenever this happened, maybe the airlines would start to address this absurd problem.

  • Bill___A

    This whole “public transportation” thing doesn’t mean that anyone should be able to do anything. What if someone decided to smoke? Is that supposed to be allowed because it is “public transportation”? The kids were bad, the parents should control it, the airline should control the parents. They do have means at their disposal and did nothing.

  • Bill___A

    I would like to read a lot more of the “airline kicked kids off the plane” stories. If it happened as much as it should, I expect it would taper off once the parents in question realized this was likely to happen.
    Right now, nothing happens most of the time, so the parents just do nothing.

  • Marmoset509

    The problem here lies with the parents, who should be engaging and disciplining their kids. I’m not sure what the flight attendants are authorized to do in a situation like this. Maybe they’re allowed to politely say something to the parents, but of course, people are tools and these parents are probably the type that wouldn’t have taken kindly to someone telling them that their kids are disruptive little tyrants. Anyway, even if the flight attendants COULD have said something and didn’t, I still don’t think this is the airline’s problem. As aggravating as it is, when you’re dealing with the public, this kind of crap is just a fact of life. Take the certificates and move on.
    Side note: We’re taking our son on his first flight in November. He’ll be 8 months old. Reading some of these comments has me very worried about the looks and judgments we’ll get from other passengers if he’s not perfectly quiet.

  • Chris Johnson

    Screaming kids is one thing, not a lot you or the airline can do about it. But an entire family that treats the first class cabin as their personal living room – why couldn’t the flight attendants have done anything about that? I believe the airlines can require an individual to stay seated if they are being disruptive on the flight – couldn’t they have done this with the family?

    I wouldn’t really expect any reimbursement for whatever extra I’d paid for first class but I’d expect United to at least acknowledge my complaint and have some kind of protocol regarding this. Loud kids you can’t do anything about, but kids bouncing around the cabin and not respecting the personal space of others is a safety issue. The airlines should handle that, especially if all the other passengers are being affected by it, regardless of where they’re sitting.

  • segv

    Had a similar occurrence on a Delta flight from YVR to MSP….only it also involved a passenger of size taking up half my seat….got an actual refund for that segment which I thought was fair….total refund not in order, but definitely the difference in cost between a coach and a first class ticket

  • gratianus

    Since UAL’s response depends on it having fulfilled its responsibility to safely transport the passenger from Houston to Vancouver, then perhaps UAL should refund the difference between a first class fare and a coach fare. As for the parents, if there is any justice I can’t wait to read about what their lives will be like when these unruly toddlers turn into really unruly teen-agers.

  • backprop

    Why? Is first class guaranteed to be quieter? Did the OP have a wider seat? Meal service? Board first?

  • Eighmeagh

    I’m trying to understand how a 2-year old has long enough legs to kick the seat in front of him in first class. While I’m sure the kids were unruly, I wonder if there’s a little hyperbole going on here (really, a two-year old “without any break during the entire five-hour flight, continued to utter high pitched screams, cry, and carry on yelling…” He didn’t stop yelling once?). I would tend to have a bit more sympathy if the LW had sounded a bit more objective.

    I don’t have kids myself and lose patience quickly with poorly behaved children whose parents aren’t even making an attempt with them. I have a very low tolerance for loud conversation from adults OR kids in any public place. And on the rare occasion that I fly first-class, I expect a peaceful flight. Despite all this, I find myself thinking the LW sounds like the same kind of entitled special snowflake that the parents likely consider those children.

  • Joe_D_Messina

    If it was that bad, my condolences to the OP. But I’m having a tough time believing the flight attendants would allow it to get that bad. Just another laundry list with plenty of embellishments hoping to hit the jackpot.

  • Marmoset509

    I think the mere fact that she’s requesting a full refund as compensation says a LOT.

  • backprop

    They’re not giving her a refund. How many times will you come on these stories and repeat the same, incorrect statement over and over? Your assumption that any reward, gesture, or compensation is a “refund” borders on the absurd.

  • gratianus

    I realize there are other benefits for not sitting in coach, but UAL staff seems to have done nothing to curb these toddlers. And yes, first class is supposed to be quieter and almost serene. Do you think that UAL would sell many seats in first class if the ads promised screaming kids as a feature of the flight?

  • backprop

    He repeats this same line on lots of stories. If, for example, someone is compensated for an inconvenience with loyalty points, he screams that it’s a refund and needs to be in cash.

  • cahdot

    we had clueless parents of a toddler who had earth curdling screams from most of san diego to atlanta. At the end of the trip the child was red faced with scratches on her face and her hair was sticking straight up looking like a devil child.. the parents need classes ..get a binky or a lollipop etc and let the FA’s help vs sending them away

  • Marmoset509

    We’re also assuming that the OP isn’t exaggerating at all here. If we’re just talking about a couple of kids who were noisy and kind of obnoxious, then I think we do need to look at it from the perspective that when we’re out in public, we won’t always like everything we see. Does it suck? Yes! But in my opinion, unless the behavior presents some kind of safety hazzard, what can we reasonably expect a FA to do? They’re not referees or babysitters, although I think a lot of people expect that of them.

  • California_Dave

    Where do you draw the line on any behavior? I believe the airlines should have a clearly defined “Code of Behavior” for all passengers with concequences if they are not followed. This would include manner of dress, sexual behavior, intoxication, loud or disruptive behavior, physical altercations (throwing toys, kicking seats, etc). Consequences could be a verbal warning, written warning, banned from flying the airline for period of time, being put off the plane, criminal prosecution, or being put on the No Fly List. It is easy to embellish a story about disruptive children. I’ve sat next to people where just the sound of a talking child has set them off. Any complaint should be signed by at least 2 flight attendants and 2 passengers. Sorry, no refund. May I suggest BOSE headphones?

  • Joel Wechsler

    Refund of the fare is a bit much but a possibly useless voucher doesn’t seem an adequate response. UA should somehow find a way to pay the dry cleaning bill.

  • frostysnowman

    Maybe, but I doubt it. I’m not sure what the what flight attendants can do in situations like this. I just can’t imagine demanding a full refund if I had been in this situation, annoying as I’m sure it was.

  • Alan Gore

    Clearly the OP was treated to a cattle-class experience for a first-class price. She should get a refund of the difference. This is exactly the kind of case where messaging the carrier’s Twitter presence immediately after the flight would have had people scrambling to fix the problem. Waiting for the usual stonewall from outsourced Customer Service is a guarantee of frustration.

    Being online-aware carries another option: video recording of the problem as it happens. Add this to the tweet at the end of the flight, and you have yourself a case.

  • geekybytes

    As a parent of two toddler myself, I understand the difficulties of managing kids on a long haul flight. But at the same time, it is my responsibility to ensure that there is minimum disturbance to my fellow passengers. On the issue of transporting from point A to point B, the argument would have been valid to some extent for economy class. But if I am travelling Business or First Class, I expect more than transiting from point A to point B. I expect comfort for which I have paid extra dollars. If I don’t get that, I would certainly vouch for difference of fare between economy and first class. I don’t intend to offend people travelling by economy because I am one of them, but as a first class passenger, I might have paid exorbitant money or claimed several thousand miles for an upgrade, and If I don’t get that experience, the airline deserve refund me that additional first class fare.

  • Alan Gore

    The whole reason a few people are willing to pay the first class premium is to avoid the hassle of “public transportation.” So since she doesn’t own a Gulfstream, what would her non-public transportation option be – a cross-country limo?

  • Barry Moss

    I voted yes, but I don’t think the passenger is entitled to a full refund. Given the severe degradation in service, I think something a little more substantial than a $50 voucher is in order though. Most people travel business class (regardless of whether they pay in cash, points or upgrades) in order to be well rested when they reach their destinations or to be able to use the time productively and get some work done. So while United did get the passenger transported from A to B safely, they didn’t deliver the full value of the product they were selling, in part because the flight crew did not take steps to control the cabin. (Consider the same situation if it had been a belligerent or inebriated adult rather than children). I think fair compensation would be a voucher for the difference between a business class and a discounted coach fair, or an unrestricted upgrade for a future flight, plus a cash reimbursement for actual cleaning costs.

  • MarkKelling

    Don’t worry. As long as you are at least trying to keep the child under control I believe most people will be understanding. Who knows, your child might turn out to be one of the great travelers and cause no issues at all. Just make sure to bring stuff that can be used to entertain the child and enough food so that if the flight is delayed the child doesn’t get cranky from being hungry. A good gauge of how the child will act on the flight is to look at how he handles long car rides. If he can stay in his seat without loudly wailing, things should be fine.

  • jim6555

    I think that a threat to evict the family from first class and place them in coach would be enough to get the parents to cooperate.

  • jim6555

    What laws state that the airlines can’t ban someone from first class? As long as discrimination because of race, religion, sexual orientation,etc. does not take place, an airline can assign seats as it wishes.

  • dave3029

    While I don’t believe a full refund is in order (she did get from point A to point B), she did not get the level of peace and quiet you expect as part of a first class experience.

    The FAs handled this wrong. I didn’t see in the article if the Coach/Economy section was full, but if I was an FA and saw this behavior and the parents not correcting it, I would have been more than happy to advise the parents to control your children, or (A) we will move all of you back to Coach, or (B) have the authorities waiting to take you into custody when we land as they are interfering with our duties.

  • LFH0

    My understanding is that Amtrak recognizes that issue, and in the cars it labels as “Quiet Cars” the train crew requests quiet but cannot actually do anything to enforce the “rule” legally.

  • LFH0

    I tend to view this as people paying a premium are likely more wealthy than those that do not, and that those who are wealthy have a greater likelihood of having been taught good manners (not always true, especially the wealthy who consider themselves privileged and above everyone else). In other words, one improves the odds by flying first class, but not a sure bet.

    I think the interesting aspect is where a carrier has made a promise to provide serenity. For example, some carriers advertise individual spaces on transoceanic flights where one can sleep peaceably. In those cases the carrier might be liable to failing to provide the advertised service (though it is possible that the carrier will claim that the “promise” is not actually a term in its tariff).

  • LFH0

    The same line of thinking exists here in New York City, where the masses use the subway but some people choose to travel by express bus since it is perceived as being a higher class of service on account of the premium paid for that type of transportation. And, just as in first class air transportation, NYC express bus transportation generally meets that expectation. But when someone tenders the premium price, otherwise adheres to the terms of transportation, but then engages in legal activity that you personally don’t like, well the character of public transportation; the “class of service” is not relevant.

    As to the issue of affordability, that doesn’t really matter. I can’t afford a private automobile, and instead I rely on buses and subway trains. Every once in while I might hire a car or taxi, perhaps in order to enjoy the controlled environment of private transportation, but I can’t afford to do that all the time. Maybe every now and then. Likewise, most people probably use public transportation by air for the same reason. Few can afford to own and operate a Gulfstream, but once in while–not all the time–a person might be able to afford to charter an aircraft for themselves.

    Common carriage means carriage for everyone able to tender the fare and otherwise adhere to enforceable tariff conditions.

  • LFH0

    Smoking on aircraft is prohibited by law, and the federal government could take action against against the violator. Smoking on aircraft may be prohibited by the passenger contract, and the carrier could take action against the violator. In each case another passenger might be considered a third party beneficiary, with a right to sue as well. But that’s different from other activity that is legal. For example, a baby crying is not unlawful, and is something that a person using public transportation can reasonably anticipate having to endure.

  • pauletteb

    I feel sorry for the teachers when these brats get to school!

  • lvswhippets

    I was on Amtrak Washington to California & the reserved cabin section was constantly disrupted by children running around & screaming. The porter wouldn’t or couldn’t help. I got a full refund from Amtrak!!

  • Cybrsk8r

    Good idea, except that planes are so full these days, there probably won’t be enough seats in coach to do that. And certainly not enough seats together.

  • mizmoose

    I love children. I really do. But I do not like people who have children who cannot be bothered to parent.

    Franky, I’m appalled at the airline’s attitude. Had these been 40 yr old drunks smacking into people and pouring things on other passengers, the plane would have landed early so the problem people could have been removed, probably under arrest.

    The idea that children are going to behave perfectly on a flight is just as insane as the idea that they should get away with everything because they’re “just children”. These children were out of control because there was no control. The parents are the responsible parties here. The flight attendants should have told the parents to monitor and pay attention to their children, and if/when they refused, handled it the same way they would any other disruptive passenger.

  • John Keahey

    Keep in mind that those parents will get everything they deserve when their kids turn 16.

  • sara8032

    I’ve never travelled on Amtrak – do they not have any kids cars? Where I come from, on any long stretch the trains will have a car where a playground takes up about half the car, and people travelling with children will be seated either in that car or in the car before or after it so that there’s less likelihood of disruptive children in the rest of the train.

  • Daddydo

    So what are you going to say? Kids should be in a separate compartment! This has been discussed many times. I would have flat out terrorized the children’s parents. I spill, I slobber, I can make then suffer as much.

  • nyctraveler

    It’s one thing if an infant is crying during take-off and landing, as we all know that it’s very uncomfortable for their ears. I even have compassion for the parent who is doing their darnedest to appease a fussy child. No one is expecting every child to be perfectly behaved at all times. We all have our bad days.

    But I’m sorry, when your child is running amuck that line of “they’re just children” or “kids will be kids” is a load of crap and a cop-out. It’s called lazy parenting. Teach your child some manners and discipline. It is unsafe for children to be running up and down the aisle of a plane. What if the plane hits sudden turbulence and that child went flying down the aisle and really hurt themselves? Oh, now you’ll want to sue the airline. Guess what? That child should have been buckled into his/her seat. That alone should be reason for the FA’s to have had a word with the parents about controlling their children.

    Full refund for the OP? Maybe not. But perhaps a free upgrade to first class on another flight.

  • Raven_Altosk

    She doesn’t deserve a full refund, but a one-way upgrade coupon seems reasonable. I’ve been in her shoes–stuck in FC across the aisle from a woman and her badly behaved school age kid. This kid was a handful and then some. He shrieked like a drunk chick in a horror movie for the entire flight while Mommy sat plugged in to a movie. When another PAX tapped her and asked her to control her child, she snapped, “He’s autistic!”
    During cabin service, he threw a glass of juice at the FA. That’s when the Captain came back and told Mommy to get the kid under control or they’d have to divert. Miraculously, the child sat quietly and watched a movie after that. So much for being “autistic.”
    I got an upgrade certificate after that one. It was completely ridiculous.

  • Raven_Altosk

    I’ve handled the “parents ignoring their kids and leaving me to entertain them” situtations by putting on some hard-core anime. I mean, the really violent, R-rated stuff. Generally after seeing a few minutes of that, the parents realize I’m not the best supervisor for their kid.

  • Raven_Altosk

    Put hentai on your iPad. That usually gets the parents attention. Sure, I’ve been called a pervert, but they made sure their kids weren’t near me.

  • Mel65

    I also have raised 3 children and they’ve flown a lot both domestically and internationally. “Kids will be kids” is no excuse for the kind of behavior the OP detailed, and if you think that’s standard behavior for kids, I pity you. They weren’t acting like kids, they were acting like ill-behaved, spoiled, obnoxious kids–not the same thing at all. Although the FAs are not babysitters, etc… they ARE essentially in control of the passengers and the environment for the duration of the flight and certainly could have at least told the parents, “Your children must remain seated and belted in and stop disrupting other passengers.” Hell if I were on board and drunk and disruptive, I’m sure some action would be taken. If FAs can tell me that I have to sit down and belt up, they can tell parents that their children have to do the same. Although I’m curious if the children were paid for and had seats or if they were both young enough to be lap children, hence the parents being okay with letting them run around. Also, as soon as I got spilled on, I’d have told the parents, “Uh, you’ll be paying for this, right?” and collected the mony then and there. I might also have said, “You might want to tell your children not to touch strangers; I have been known to suddenly lash out upside the head–purely a reflex of course, but I’d hate to see your little angel get smacked due to my twitchy nerves.” They should have confronted the parents more firmly, and everytime the little darlings acted up, until the parents were as annoyed as the other passengers and decided to take some action. Surely the OP isn’t the only one in FC who was annoyed–did EVERYONE suffer in slience?

  • Dr Humbug

    One poster said that FAs do not act as referees. But they DO on occasion. They have the right to classify a pax as disruptive, not following their commands, etc., and as such have the pax(s) “thrown off the plane.” The FA should have told the pilot and he/she should have flown to the nearest airport on the route and then have the offending pax – in this case, the entire family taken off the plane.

    there is no excuse for the FA to do nothing. disruptive children and their parents should be held to the same standard as the pax that won’t follow the commands of the FA. When this becomes an example, there perhaps parents will be more considerate.

    It’s difficult to stop a toddler or baby from crying (I have three children) but to do nothing to stop them from running up and down the isles and kicking seats, etc., is inconsiderate and they should be removed ASAP.

    I occasionally fly in the “front of the plane” and most of the time when there are children in this cabin, they usually behave better than the adults.

    Those flying in business or first class generally expect an “elevated” level of service. They paid for it and should get something more than the pilot getting them safely from point A to B.

  • emanon256

    According to my legal dictionary, under the law, a common carrier is required to transport anyone and may not discriminate or turn anyone away who can pay the fare. A contract carrier, on the other hand, can pick and choose who it transports so long as they don’t discriminate based on race, religion, age, etc. as specified by the law in the state or states in which they are licensed.

  • sara8032

    I agree fully agree with your post – the FAs definitely had options about seating and didn’t enforce it – except for the last bit about the kicking.
    My son was not even 14 mo’s when we travelled last, and for those times he was seated in my lap he had absolutely no trouble with the reach, in fact, I had to keep ensuring that he wouldn’t kick the seat in front of us by accident just sitting in my lap! So I could easily see another older child sitting at the edge of the seat and thus being able to kick the seat in front of them.
    I’ve also only travelled 1st class once (in the first row so no seats in front) on a regional European flight so I don’t know what 1st class would be like on the flight that the OP took, but if they have trays the way coach seats do, then it could equally have been the children playing with the tray over and over again; kicking the tray, knocking into it while playing if it was down, or opening/closing it. I’ve been sitting in front of children doing such; and I’ve had to stop my children from doing it, because it can be just as bothersome as the seat kicking. They could also just have been climbing or playing around and repeatedly bumped into her seat; and it’s possible that the OP did not look enough to specify “the children would either kick, play with the tray, play with the magazines / safety cards, hit, use the seat as hold while climbing/playing, or otherwise bump into it while playing.” And that’s not even considering a child who is on a stubborn rebellion mission to specifically kick the seat in front, and will consider no obstacles to doing so. To her, it just felt like they kept kicking the seat.

    All things combined, while I do not think the OP deserves a full refund, I think she deserves more than $50 travel voucher, especially if the FAs did no or no “real” effort at curbing the situation. For example, there would’ve been various seating arrangement options, and the FAs have the power behind them to enforce it. If the parents wouldn’t comply to that, then they should’ve had law enforcement meet them at the destination for not complying with the FAs.

  • emanon256

    I was on a recent flight with my son who was 10 months old. He was very good, surprisingly good. He didn’t cry the entire flight, he was very happy, he smiled, played, napped, drank, and seemed to have a good time. People kept telling us how great he was and wanting to say hi to him. After we de-plained and were waiting for the stroller, at least 10 people told us how great a flyer he was and how fun it was to see him. Then, when I was getting our bags, a woman came up to my wife and chewed her about about how she had no business bringing the baby on the flight, it ruined her entire flight, she said people like us need to stay home and not bring our offspring into public, she went on an on. My wife started crying she was so upset. If I had been present, I would have had a few choice words with this woman. I think no matter what, there are people out there who hate kids and will feel miserable no matter what kids do. Just try to do your best, and don’t let people like this hurt you.

  • jim6555

    Did I say anything about actuallymoving them to Coach? The threat of doing so should be enough to get the parents’ cooperation.

  • lvswhippets

    No separate cars on any train I have been on-longest was from CA to New Orleans. No problems. Where are you from

  • MarkKelling

    But I’m sure you will find any number of volunteers willing to swap an economy seat for a 1st class seat.

  • Fifty Years

    It is time to implement height restrictions for getting onto an aircraft. Just like at Disneyland, you must be this tall to get on zee plane.

  • backprop

    No, but then UAL wouldn’t fill as many seats in coach “if the ads promised screaming kids as a feature of the flight”

  • emanon256

    I voted no. While I have seen my share of bad parents, I feel like the OP is grossly exaggeration what happened. Many people brought up the whole kicking issues, and I agree, I have flown upfront in every domestic plane UA offers and don’t see how any 2 year old in first class could reach the seat in front of them. Also, the tray table is in the arm rest, so they weren’t messing with that as someone mentioned. Metal clanking toys, really? This appears to be just another laundry list and the demand for a full refund plus dry cleaning makes it seem as if the OP is just over the top demanding. I believe if things were as bad as the OP states, then the flight attendants as well as other passengers would have intervened. I just believe some people are too sensitive to children. I was on a flight recently where my child was quiet and well behaved the entire flight, never made a peep, he was happy and did so well. After we landed and got many compliments on how well behaved our child was, including some people who didn’t realize there was a baby on board. Then some lady chewed out my wife saying we had no business bringing our child on a plane and said that we ruined her flight and she was miserable the whole time and we need to stay home, she paid good money, etc.

    I also want to add that under the law an airline like united is a “Common Carrier” meaning they must transport anyone who can pay the fare. They can not discriminate on who they will fly, and it is expected that anyone who pays the fair has access. If the bad parents paid for their fare and their kids fare, they had just as much right to fly as the OP. A “Contract Carrier” can discriminate as much as it wants, as long as it does so within laws which may offer certain protections. So if you care going to fly on a common carrier, you have to expect that pretty much everyone else has the same right to fly it as you do.

    That said, I have no sympathy for parents who refuse to control their children. But I believe the OP should have a problem with the bad parents, not United. Passengers have to follow the flight attendants instructions in regards to safety and security, the flight attendants do not actually have any authority in regards to parenting. If the children were not a safety or security threat, it really isn’t the flight attendants business, they they often try to intervene and help on behalf of other passengers, but should not be forced into the middle either. If I were the OP I would have been telling the parents they need to do something about their children’s behavior. The OP says she asked the parents only once, then went to the flight attendants who said they couldn’t do anything. So she demanded a refund and demanded United pay for a dry cleaning bill as a result of another persons actions. Seriously? She needed to talk to the parents again if this continued. And I have a feeling other passengers would be saying something too if it was as bad as she made it sound. Why suffer in silence and then demand a refund, if it was really that bad why not talk to the parents and try to remedy the situation?

  • Mark Carrara

    Let’s look at it from the other side. Maybe the OP is just a whiner and the FA did not think the situation rose to the level that required an intervention. There are just as many people who think they are better than others just because they fly first class as there are bad parents with awful kids. I wonder what an investigation by the airline would show?

  • Extramail

    I will never forget the first time I flew in first class with my daughter when she was a toddler. The dirty looks I got were priceless. My daughter behaved 100 times better than the obnoxious entitled businessman sitting across the aisle from us. The man sitting next to the obnoxious passenger loudly complimented my very well behaved child and offered me a couple of drink coupons as a thank you (to be used when I wasn’t flying with my child). It can be done with a little of preparation and attention by the parents. I’m curious as to why the FA’s did nothing or is this a case of someone overstating the circumstances trying to garner more sympathy?


    First/Business on a regional European airline is not the same as first on United. Trays are in the armrest so that would not have been an issue. The distance/pitch between first class seats is enough that my 6Ft 3in spouse’s legs do not hit the seat in front of him. Next time you fly take a look at the space between rows in first class. The kicking, as described, by the OP, is pretty much impossible unless they were on a commuter jet and that is highly unlikely on a flight from Houston to Vancouver. There are some elements to truth in her story but she has exaggerated so much it is really hard to know exactly what went on.

  • AJPeabody

    Adults unrelated to unruly children need not be kicked. Put the kid in front of the adult. Oops, that means another person kicked. Put the parent in front of the kid. Oops, no supervision of the kid.

    Aha! Put the kid and the parent in the first/bulkhead row. No one to kick. Too many kids vs bulkhead seats? Put the next bunch of little angels in the next row and let them kick other kids.

    Problem solved. If you want to be generous, don’t charge extra for the bulkhead kid seat. Or charge extra no option. Either way, no one will kick me.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Pretty good idea. Maybe I’ll pack a Hustler magazine in my carry-on next time.

  • Cybrsk8r

    Hmmm. Let’s see. Quiet coach seat versus 1st class seat with screaming kid. Which would you pick?

  • MarkKelling

    Oh, you are talking moving the annoyed lady, not the loud kids. Yep, no takers there.

  • jmtabb

    Here’s an interesting thought – maybe the flight attendants could be the babysitters on a flight. One airline is testing it out:–abc-news-travel.html

  • Cybrsk8r

    Not true. We read stories all the time where disruptive passengers are removed from planes. We also have something called a “no fly list”. If your statement were true, the no fly list would be illegal. And it obviously isn’t.

  • Shayna Friedman

    Hey, I was in a semi-private room when I gave birth to my children. The woman in the bed next to me shrieked and moaned the whole time. Should I demand a refund from the hospital for my room? Let’s say that theoretically I was traveling first class, and this woman and her children were traveling in coach. The two children misbehaved the whole time, and the fabric curtain between coach and first class did not mute the sound. Am I entitled to a refund now? How about the rest of the peons in coach? Are they entitled to a refund as well, or does it only count for the “special” people? Should they all be entitled to a refund as well? My dinner at a fancy restaurant was ruined because some inconsiderate parents brought their newborn, who cried the whole time. Shouldn’t the restaurant comp all the diners?

    The woman got from point a to point b. Kids cry and misbehave. That’s life. Will she also ask for a full refund because a child at her hotel splashed her with water at the pool, or perhaps a child cried out in the night down the hall from her hotel room?

    I recently flew back from China to JFK. A very long 13+ hour flight. I was in the window seat. The flight was completely full. The woman in the seat next to me, I was certain, had tb, she coughed continuously into a series of tissues for the entire flight. I spent that flight cringed up into the corner hoping she would not cough my way. Did I complain or ask for a refund? No, I got off the plane and went on with my life, as this woman should also do.

  • MarieTD

    Oh, yes, a child that age most certainly can kick the back of my seat I coach, even if it means they have to lay down on their seat to do it.

  • Guest

    This level of customer service is highly unacceptable. The flight attendants handled it very unprofessionally. They should have required the lazy couple to hold the brats at all times and to shut them up in respect of other passengers. Both the kids and the parents behaved in an outrageously unacceptable way and they should have been brought to order strictly. No wonder demand for kid-free zones is rising.

  • Guest

    As for the silly “kids will be kids” excuse, kids will be polite kids or kids will be rude kids, depending on what kind of behavior the adults teach them and enforce. The flight attendants should have strictly and unconditionally enforce the “kids will be polite kids” attitude. As strictly as they require to fasten the seat belts.

  • emanon256

    I didn’t post all the details from the common carrier section, just an overview. Carver can probably add even more since i just touched the tip of the iceberg. However, from the limits of my dictionary, any and all Common Carriers must have a government body that provides regulation and authority, which I believe is the FAA. The body can uniformly apply rules to all operating carriers. As the No Fly List is applied uniformly to all carriers and is a federal law, I believe it is legal as it is not one specific common carrier refusing service, its a government law limiting service for all common carriers to names individuals. And of course, a common carrier has the right to remove someone who is a threat to safety and security, again permitted under the regulations. But they can’t simply refuse to transport someone in general who wants to buy a ticket.

  • BillCCC

    Maybe she should have hit them. That would prove who the adult was.

  • BillCCC

    I am sure that that nothing makes a person feel better than hitting a child.

  • Autumn Vallette

    Please take this case! What the airline did was terrible, and they could at least reimburse her for the trouble that she went through. The behavior of these children was absolutely atrocious, and their parents would do NOTHING, and neither would the airline. As someone who works customer service, there are many ways to remedy such situations, such as speaking with parents, coming up with different ways to amuse children to make them behave and stay seated.

  • Jody Lynn Clark

    Jody Clark here (article written about my experience): In answer to some of the posts below, I actually didn’t ask for a refund of the flight in full, I requested the difference between a coach and 1st class fare for my flight. Also, the FA’s chose not to do anything/speak with the parents because they assumed it would do nothing based on the lack of concern evidenced already by the parents over their children’s behaviour. As for as switching seats myself, the flight was full, unfortunately that was not an option.

  • Christopher Elliott

    Sorry, I misunderstood your initial request. I’ve changed the post to reflect that you are looking for a refund between first and economy.

  • Sean

    “Kids will be kids, after all.” – The best excuse for bad parenting I have ever heard. What does that even mean? All kids are loud and abnoxious with parents who dont know how to dicipline?

  • MarkKelling

    UA flys a wide variety of planes on the multiple IAH / Vancouver routes daily from the regionals with not much more legroom than coach to 767’s with their lay flat business seats. No idea what kind of plane the OP was on.

    I am also about 6’3″ and find some on the UA planes to have fairly tight legroom in domestic 1st (which is what all of their planes on the IAH/YVR have except for the 767). True, my knees don’t poke into the seat in front of me as they will in a regular coach seat on any of them, but I can see where a child could easily stretch their feet to reach the seat especially if they were in the passenger’s lap.

  • Mark

    Picking a random date in November 2013, searching on HOUSTON TO VANCOUVER:

    Coach: $800 return ($400 one way), minus $55 tax = $345
    First upgrade (on $800 + $466 = $1,260 ($630 one way), minus $55 tax = $575
    First fully paid: ~$2200 return ($1100 one way), minus $55 tax = $1045

    Now, lets put a nominal value on the services she DID receive above and beyond coach:

    Priority check in: $15
    Lounge: $50
    Priority Boarding: $10
    Onboard food/drink included: $20
    Extra baggage allowance: $50
    33% extra space over economy (lets call this 10% of ticket price one way as there are 9 other perks): $57
    Extra FF miles: $10
    Extra cabin service: $10
    Priority security lane : $5
    Not getting DVT: priceless
    Not being in 97E: priceless

    Total extras more than economy: $227

    So, if she had paid the upgraded first ticket at $575, we remove the extras ($227) and we are left with a $3 premium paid over the coach price.

    If she had paid the full first ticket price (which lets face it – NOBODY EVER DOES) at $1045-$227=$818-345… there is a $473 premium.

    Key points:
    – No airline ever, in history ever gives full refunds. It’s dumb to even ask.
    – Airline did get her from A to B, which is all it requires of in the contract you agree to when you buy the ticket.
    – No mention of frequent flyer status, which indicates zero loyalty/low yield customer.
    – In last row of first class, classic sign you’re the least important person (points to upggrade or deeply discount ticket), however not always the case.
    – No sign if passenger used miles only for the ticket, in which case the cost basis is approx 1c/mile (approx same cost as a coach ticket).
    – Airlines ALWAYS look at the greater value of the customer (eg: credit card spend, frequent flyer status, type of fares purchased in the past, size of family/abiltiy to spend, career, age and so on…)

    With those points in mind, lets look at what United offered to remedy the situation:

    – Fast reply… tick
    – Customer service actually read the letter… tick
    – Offered something other than a letter… tick

    So what does a gesture of $50 represent?

    – 1600% premium as compensation over the coach price (if deeply discount/upgraded)
    – 10% of airfare ‘refund’ if she paid the full price on


    Babies on planes usually suck. Bad parents with kids on planes suck. But so do bathrooms that don’t work, food that isn’t 100% cooked to our liking, seatmates that have a little too much extra fat, flight attendants that don’t look like super models, the flight attendant that refuses to make you a mocha with no sugar, extra dry with skim milk and a picture of a unicorn on top suck too. None of which will get you a $50 voucher.

    Things suck. Get used to it – or – fly privately and get it your way 100% of the time.
    Both of these outcomes offered by United seem reasonable.

    The biggest mistake here seems that she didn’t ask for the right remedies.
    I would have gone with a $50 credit and an upgrade on the next long haul flight. That is something that United could agree to and you’d be happy with.

    Buy some earplugs, bose QC 15s and learn for next time Jody.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Interest math. Pretty sure its a bit warm and fuzzy, especially subtracting both the value of the extras and the cost of the coach seat. But the point is well made. The OP received a good value for her money, arguably only $3 was wasted.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Alas, Carver’s knowledge of common carriers is limited :)

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Wealth = good manners? Not in my experience. In my experience there’s no correlation between finances and manners.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    No lawsuit. Not a prayer.

  • Carver Clark Farrow

    Good for you. As far as I’m concerned any well behaved person, including kids, can be in First Class. I’d much rather a screaming kid, that they guy next to me who hadn’t brushed his teeth in – I’m guessing – years? Shallow breathes the entire flight. Fortunately, it was a short flight.

    The second time that happened I just changed seat, politeness be damned.

  • emanon256

    My biggest pet peeve are the people wearing heavy perfume, or who have have BO. I have been fortunate not to sit next to someone with bad breath, very surprising actually in all my flying. I will also take the screaming kids over the obnoxious sales people who brag the entire flight. I can put on my headphones and not hear the kids, but I can’t stop the braggers from tapping me to remove my headphones because they need to tell me another story after I have told them I am not interested in a conversation.

  • Deb Kauffman

    There ARE kids who scream almost incessantly, and the parents just tune ’em out. I live in a small, 8 unit condo complex, everyone is over 55, actually over 60. One condo was bought by a woman from Canada (the complex is in SWFL). Unbeknownst to the rest of us, the condo was bought not just by the 78 yo woman listed on the sale, but her daughter and her husband. They have 2 kids, 5 and 6. These kids literally scream incessantly. We know they have arrived when we hear screams and car doors bang! The kids don’t talk, they scream. When they aren’t talking, it’s a constant, wordless, high pitched, scream. The neighbor who shares a wall has had to rent a hotel room to get sleep. I’ve gone down the block to the local restaurant to sit outside, read a book and have some iced tea…you can hear them that far away…glass shattering. The past year, they have quit flying here from Canada, “The airlines get so nasty. No one understands they are just children, people are so rude to us.” They drive a short way and take a “car train,” 15 hours long, but they have problems on that, too, now. Talk to the parents? Oh, yeah, “But we just don’t know what to do. When we give them a time out, they throw things thru the windows and we can’t afford to keep replacing that glass all the time…”

    Other residents have grandchildren, but they don’t constantly scream. Get loud, yeah, they are kids, but ask ’em to pipe down, they get embarrassed, and immediately apologize and pipe down. Kids WILL act up, kids WILL get loud, but unless they are taught boundaries, they offend everyone in hearing distance. And if yer 35,000 miles up in the air, in a 15 foot wide tube, hurtling 325 miles an hour, and ya can’t move anywhere to get away…even two hours is an eternity…and silence really does become golden…

  • Ward Chartier

    The airline needs to have a policy, a procedure, and training for implementing the policy when events like what Clark described take place. Flight attendants shrugging shoulders and saying they don’t know what to do shows the need for a comprehensive solution.

  • thabe331

    This is ridiculous the parents should control their monsters

  • Lindabator

    True, but does nothing for you when you are ON the flight, like this poor lady.

  • LFH0

    If what you say is true–and it may well be–then there would be even less expectation that first class would be any more “civil” than coach.

  • Bill___A

    Punitive damages – I think the FA’s can and should do something every incident. Far too many people are inconvenienced by this and it is high time that the airlines were either strongly encouraged or forced to make the parents deal with this issue. Enough is enough.

  • Bill___A

    …..booting them off the plane….

  • Bill___A

    Let’s look at it from the side of what probably really happened, which is the kids were bad and the parents did nothing about it.

  • Bill___A

    So which airline banned them from flying? I want to throw some business that airline’s way.

  • Bill___A

    It should be quieter, but economy shouldn’t be as loud as these kids were.

  • Bill___A

    Most kids are good on the flights. However, a small percentage are really bad. I think this is what the complaint is in reference to. You are talking about an entirely different issue.

  • Bettina

    That is a bit difficult to do if you are not seated next to the child but a row or more away! But a great idea, thanks!

  • Lindabator

    Why should THEY pay, though – they did not cause the spill – if she wants to sue the parents, that’s another problem all together.

  • Lindabator

    Unfortunately, had the FAs taken a hard line, the parents would be on here whining about the injustice to their little ones – its a no-win situation.

  • Bill___A

    I’m totally fine with that. Better than what’s going on now.
    Let them deal with the side effects of their poor parenting.

  • Lindabator

    Actually, I think most folks would at least cut you some slack if you at least ATTEMPTED to handle the kids – unfortunately, that is not the case in most of these situations, and no matter how many times FAs might comment on the behavior to the parents, they either don’t care, or even escalate the situation by getting nasty with the FAs. No win situation all together.

  • Lindabator

    True, that would would be a good perk in compensation. But I feel this woman is making even more of this situation than it was (not unheard of), and we don’t actually know what the FAs said, and how the other parents responded – it could well have become an uncomfortable situation altogether.

  • Lindabator

    Dear God, no! More excuses for unruly “darlings” not having their parents behave like parents while onboard!

  • Lindabator

    And what did you want them to do when they STILL mis-behaved? BEAT THEM???

  • Lindabator

    They are not JAILERS, though – not much they can do at 35000 feet if the parents don’t handle their kids. And if they DO take a hard line, then it only seems to escalate these matters.

  • flutiefan

    i WISH my airline had a “blacklist”. the fact is, we don’t. anyone can make a reservation online, regardless of their past behavior. the TSA’s “no fly list” isn’t decided by the airlines and we can’t add jerks to it.

  • Grant Ritchie

    Carver, I don’t think I have ever heard anyone on this site admit to knowing less than everything about anything. Huzzah! :-)

  • bayareascott

    I don’t believe it is physically possible for a two-year old toddler to kick the back of the seat in front of them while seated IN FIRST CLASS. In economy, sure, or that is the longest-legged toddler I have ever heard of. To me, this calls the entire veracity of the story into question.

  • Liz

    She didn’t request a full refund. She requested a PARTIAL refund (the difference between first and coach). United denied her a FULL refund. I think that says a LOT about how well United listens to their customers.

  • y_p_w

    On what grounds? Being annoyed by kids wouldn’t be anything that would work in court.

  • y_p_w

    Very few people own the aircraft that transport them.

    It’s possible to charter a private jet. It wouldn’t even have to be a Gulfstream. Cessna has some less expensive private jets.

  • JewelEyed

    Oh, I’m sure there are some coach passengers that would LOVE to be upgraded to first class to teach someone a lesson!

  • JewelEyed

    Screw that, downgrade the family and offer the first class seats to some very nice people in coach.

  • JewelEyed

    I would say by not intervening right when the trouble started to nip it in the bud, they did in fact cause the spill.

  • JewelEyed

    Yes, because screaming while giving birth (by the way, a semi-private room is like coach) is the same thing as creating a hazardous condition by running around the cabin and by throwing drinks on people. Are you kidding me, lady?

  • JewelEyed

    Land the plane, kick them off.

  • Jeanne_in_NE

    Several other people said essentially the same thing. The key word here? “Seated”. It sounds as if the children were NOT seated. Very, very easy for active children to bounce around and into seats and other objects while standing, running, and squirming about in general.

  • Lindabator

    Nice idea – but NOT always practical.

  • bayareascott

    Unruly kids and bad parents? Sure. But again, if the child was not seated, then it is physically not possible to be kicking the back of the seat. Changing the story doesn’t support the “facts” stated above.

  • Jody Lynn Clark

    The child was sitting in it’s mother’s lap when it wasn’t running up and down the aisle.

  • JewelEyed

    Nope, but if we don’t even try to make a point, nothing will change.

  • DChamp56

    Who repeats the same line, me? Yes, and ONLY if the person has paid in cash.

  • DChamp56

    Um, the word “refund” appears nowhere in my comment that I can see.
    Perhaps reading glasses are in order.

  • backprop


    “Once more, IF I PAY IN CASH, REFUND ME IN CASH!!! Chris, how come you don’t start a revolution over this?”

  • Lindabator

    But it is not up to the airline to determine poor parenting (unfortunately)

  • Bill___A

    It is the law to obey the instructions of the flight crew. Therefore, the flight crew should feel empowered to say something and there should be some consequences if nothing is done.
    I think that most people are tolerant of normal kids behavior and sick to death of the crappy parenting that sometimes happens. This needs to be addressed.