“Unintentional things can and do happen during flights”

Before I tell you about Justin Cohen’s case, there are one or two things he wants everyone to know. He likes kids. He’s a former teacher and has a “high tolerance” for unruly youngsters.

Except maybe on an overseas flight where he’s seated next to a kid that doesn’t stop whimpering, whining and screaming for the entire trip.

That’s exactly what happened to Cohen last week. He says he was seated next to an enfant terrible on a US Airways flight from London to Philadelphia, and he wants to know if he can be compensated for the torture. His final destination was Dayton, Ohio, and his connecting flight was uneventful, he says.
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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.
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Pay another $166 or your baby stays in Costa Rica

Igor Stepovik/Shutterstock
Igor Stepovik/Shutterstock

When Daniel Weisleder tried to board his return flight from San Jose, Costa Rica, to Houston with his wife and 10-month-old son recently, a United Airlines ticket agent delivered some bad news: He’d have to pay another $166 to fly home with the baby.

“Someone made a mistake,” the agent said.

That might be an understatement. Weisleder, who directs an educational consulting firm in Pittsburgh and is an elite-level United customer, reluctantly forked over the extra $166 to fly home. But he couldn’t understand the late charge.

“When I booked the reservation, I notified United that I would be traveling with an infant on my lap,” he says. “I was charged $991 for the tickets. We checked-in in Houston without a problem, but when we were coming back, we were told that our baby had to pay an additional ticket.”
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Which airline passengers drive you the craziest?

As any new parent knows, air travel with young kids isn’t always easy. But few experiences come close to the Suelings’ Thanksgiving flight from Westchester County to Atlanta on Delta Air Lines.

After the family boarded, their children, ages 3 and 1 1/2, began “crying, screaming and hitting,” according to Christopher Sueling. His wife, Melissa, tried to calm her baby by nursing her, but it didn’t work.

“The flight attendants were just standing there, looking pissed off,” he says.

The jet taxied out to the runway, but then stopped and returned to the gate. The Suelings were told to get off the plane and that they needed to write to Delta if they wanted their money back. They even took a snapshot (see image, above) to document their ejection.
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TSA baby pat-down photographer: “I’ve never seen anything quite that bad”

Jacob Jester is the Kansas City pastor who took the infamous “poop bomb” photo of two screeners at Kansas City International Airport patting down an eight-month-old baby on Saturday. I spoke with him about the incident, and the ensuing firestorm, this afternoon.

Tell me what happened.

I was flying from Kansas City to Albuquerque, NM, on Saturday, and I had already passed through security. There was a woman with a baby behind me — she was about the same age as my son, and that caught my attention. So I looked back.

And what did you see?

I saw them patting the baby down from top to bottom. The mom was holding the baby, and she was being very cooperative.

I travel every week, and I’ve never seen anything quite that bad. I took out my phone and took a picture, and I tweeted it.
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“TSA screeners are all idiots”

You’d think that by now the Transportation Security Administration would have figured out a way of dealing with the infant formula issue. Then I got Kristi Grady’s e-mail with the provocative subject, “TSA screeners are all idiots,” and felt like someone had turned back the clock five years.

Grady’s account of her experience suggests TSA agents remain confused about how to deal with infant formula and related items.

Here’s what happened to Grady.

I recently flew from Amarillo to Orlando for a Disney World vacation with my family. We were given considerable grief about the water (Dasani and Nursery water, in original containers) we use to mix our daughter’s infant formula.

Apparently, they would like for me to mix it all at once, so they can test it, and then let me fly with it. When I told them that once mixed, it was unusable after one hour, they informed me that I should have read their policies on water, and formulas. I did. I also asked the man at the beginning of the security line if the water was appropriate to which he replied, “yes.”

Based on Grady’s reading of TSA policy, she concluded it would be acceptable to bring water bottles and powdered formula through the checkpoint. But that’s not how TSA saw it. At the Orlando checkpoint, a TSA agent told the family they couldn’t fly with formula, either.

Interestingly, the agents completely overlooked a three-inch long pocketknife that had been inadvertently packed in the Grady’s carry-on luggage. How’s that possible?

Frustration abounds. Baby formula = dangerous and lethal. Swiss army knives = safe.

What is the policy on formula, because last May in Houston, we were told at the beginning of the line that our gallon jug of nursery water was to be emptied into the bottles, and the jug surrendered, only to be asked at the end of the line “Where’s the ORIGINAL container?” by a rude agent.

Are these people misinformed, or just complete fools with considerable overinflated egos at their perceived power over the flying public?

I put that question to the TSA. Andrea McCauley, a spokeswoman for the organization, responded.

Infant formulas, powdered formulas, juices and breast milk are allowed through the checkpoint and are considered exempt by TSA.

We ask that the passenger declare the items prior to entering the checkpoint. Powdered formulas are always allowed through he checkpoint. If a passenger is traveling with special water for the formula (i.e. nursery water), that water must be declared as medically necessary for the child. Then it will be considered exempt and tested.

If the water is traditional water i.e. Dasani, then it is not allowed through the checkpoint and must be bought post security.

We want to make traveling with children as easy as possible for families and thus have exempted formulas, juices and breast milk. These items, however are still subject to testing. Passengers should never be asked to taste these items during the screening process.

Here are details on the TSA’s policy on formula, breast milk and juice.

Does anyone else think this is a little absurd?

I mean, here you have a mother with an infant returning from a Disney World vacation, and you’re harassing her about her baby water? Come on. Is it too much to ask for a little common sense here? The chances that these passengers represent any threat to the airline’s safety is infinitesimally small. No, nonexistent.

I’m getting a little tired of saying this: It’s time for the TSA to drop its senseless ban on liquids and gels.

Airline considers $10 surcharge for baby-free seating, priority disembarking

What will the airlines start charging us for next? After you read this, you’ll be sorry you asked.

Nigel Appleby’s daughter recently got a survey from WestJet which offers some clues about the Canadian carrier’s next move. It’s troubling, to say the least.

WestJet has denied that it sent the survey to its customers.

According to Appleby, the airline wanted to know if passengers would consider a $10 service fee for one of the following:

Priority boarding (getting on the plane first)

Priority disembarking (getting off the plane first)

Expedited baggage delivery

Priority rebooking in case of flight cancellation

Complimentary meals/hotel accommodations when a flight is either cancelled or substantially delayed

In-flight Internet access

Guaranteed space in the overhead bin

In-seat power

Premium snack/meal offering

A freshly laundered pillow/blanket set that you may keep after the flight

An amenity kit with earplugs, eyeshades and toiletries to keep you refreshed on the plane

A wait of 10 minutes or less to clear security checkpoints

Sitting away from parents traveling with babies/small children

If you could pay $10 less to not use particular services for a flight of two to four hours, how likely would you be to do so for each of the following services?

Savings for not checking bags

Savings for not earning frequent flier miles

Savings for only bringing aboard one small piece of carry-on baggage (e.g., only a purse or computer bag)

Savings for being the last to board

Savings for using online check-in instead of a kiosk

Savings for using either a kiosk or online check-in instead of a human agent

Savings for having my checked luggage to be among the last to be delivered

Savings for sitting in a middle seat

Savings for making no changes to your ticket prior to departure

Savings for not getting free water, coffee/tea, juices or soft drinks in flight

Savings for having a seat that does not recline

Savings to sit close to parents traveling with babies/small children

This is disappointing, but not surprising. Airlines are leaving no stone unturned when it comes to generating “ancillary” revenues from their customers.

The funny thing is that there’s no “discount” for services you don’t use. When airlines went “a la carte” they didn’t discount their fares – instead, they were busy trying to raise them.

So let’s call this what it really is – a hidden fare increase.

Waaaa! Baby gets socked with surprise $320 fuel surcharge on Delta flight

Oh, baby! Your domestic flights are free as long as you sit on a parent’s lap. But travel internationally, and Daddy must pay. Factor in the recent fuel surcharges, and taking junior on vacation can be prohibitively expensive.

And now that oil prices have fallen off a cliff? Flying families are still getting socked with ridiculous fuel surcharges. Yes, even now.

(This chart pretty much says it all. Any travel company with a fuel surcharge is engaging in illegal profiteering.)

Here’s what happened to Brian Burns when he flew to Athens with his family on Delta Air Lines recently. The outbound flight was uneventful. But on the return …

The agent asked for our ticket for our son. I will not go into all of the details, but an hour later (and 35 minutes to flight departure), we were forced to pay 332 euros ($423.10) to get my son a ticket so he could return back to the states.

Words cannot describe my outrage at the time, especially the justification of the fees ($320 fuel surcharge – $160 each way??!!). How can they legally charge that much when our ten pound infant does not even have a seat?

Here’s how Delta responded.

Dear Mr. Burns,

Thank you for your e-mail describing your recent experience with Delta. We apologize for the inconvenience and appreciate your taking the time to share the details.

We realize you expect to receive accurate information when you call us. Our Reservations Sales representatives are carefully trained in all our procedures, including providing a positive experience for our valued customers. Sometimes mistakes or misunderstandings occur, and we’re sorry there was a problem.

All passengers must be ticketed on transoceanic flights, including infants without a seat. Infants not occupying a seat on international flights are required to be ticketed at 10% of the applicable base adult fare (plus taxes and surcharges). The total fare collected is based on a combination of the applicable infant and applicable in-seat fare along with applicable taxes and surcharges. This policy is used throughout the airline industry and we regret any misunderstanding.

We value the relationship you have with Delta Air Lines and would be delighted to have another chance to restore your trust and confidence in our service.

Ah, don’t you just love those form letters? This one didn’t even address his question about fuel surcharges. Burns wasn’t charged an infant fare by the Delta agent; he says the extra fee was described to him as a fuel surcharge, not an infant fare. In fact, he had notified the airline of his infant and paid the required fare before leaving for Athens.

Think Burns will give Delta a chance to restore his trust? You don’t need me to answer.

Here’s the real issue: With fuel prices down, Delta shouldn’t be forcing infants to pay a $320 fuel surcharge. In fact, it shouldn’t be charging an infant 10 percent of any fare. If lap children fly free in the United States, they should fly free internationally.

This incident raises the question of how much fuel a 10-pound infant accounts for on a flight. If you said $320, you must work for the Air Transport Association.