What to do if you're treated unfairly on a flight


United Airlines is making headlines again. And once again, it’s not good.

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This time, the airline forced a woman flying with her 2-year-old son -- both of whom were ticketed passengers with seats -- to give up her son’s seat to another passenger and make the flight from Houston to Boston with her son in her lap. 

The woman, Shirley Yamauchi, said she paid $969 for the June 29 flight, according to the Houston Chronicle.

“Not a single airline employee on that flight asked me why I had a large child on my lap,” Yamauchi of Kapolei, Hawaii, told the Houston Chronicle. “I didn’t feel safe or comfortable, but I really didn’t have a choice.”

On its website, the Federal Aviation Administration recommends against parents traveling with lap children because “your arms aren’t capable of holding your child securely, especially during unexpected turbulence.” United’s own policy on traveling with children states that “once infants turn 2 years old, they are required to have a purchased ticket and occupy a seat.”

These are not the first headlines United has made this year. In April, a man made international news after he was forcibly removed from a United flight after not voluntarily giving up his seat. The month before, the airline sparked outrage after barring a couple of teenagers from flying because they were wearing leggings.

With outrageous news about airlines making waves so frequently, what should you do if you believe your rights are being violated before or during a flight?

  1. Document everything. If you’re going to go up against the airline, you’re going to want a paper trail. Save every email, transcribe every call, take down every name of every person you talk to, and, if it gets really bad, shoot video. You want as much information, and evidence, as possible to make your case.
  2. Make social media your best friend. Post about the infraction on social media, and be sure to tag the airline. The louder you are, the better chance you have of catching the attention of someone who can help.
  3. Know your rights. The sad truth is that airline passengers have very few rights, but it doesn’t hurt to get familiar with the airlines’ individual “contracts of carriage,” which are filed with the government and outline each airline’s rules and regulations. Here’s what the United Airlines contract of carriage looks like. 
  4. Call customer service. Even if you’re at the airport, calling customer service — especially once you’ve read the contract of carriage and know your rights — can offer a quicker solution than standing in line after line of disgruntled fellow passengers. Call center representatives sometimes have more information, and more ability to make change, than gate agents. You may also want to file a complaint with the Department of Transportation.
  5. If it’s really bad, reach out to local news outlets. Ever notice how every time local news starts covering an airline story, the airline seems to take swift action? Nobody wants a public relations nightmare on their hands. Getting media coverage can be a quick way to get attention, and a solution.


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