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Southwest Removes Screaming Child from Jet, then Apologizes

November 2, 2009 | Posted in: Ask Rick,Southwest,Travel Tips

A two year old child was screaming so loudly on a Southwest plane last week, that passengers could not hear the pre-flight safety announcements. Now that’s loud.

So the pilot turned back to the gate in Amarillo – and mother and son were escorted off the plane, instead of flying home to San Jose.

Apparently, Southwest crew members did what they could to calm the little boy, providing him with juice and crayons, but he wouldn’t stop yelling – and even his mother admitted that the boy’s meltdown “was worse than a normal fit for him.”

Southwest later apologized – but for the inconvenience, not the removal – and they refunded her ticket and gave her a $300 voucher. The family got home the next day.

Obviously I wasn’t there – but if someone was, more details please. And tell me if Southwest did the right thing.

29 Responses to “Southwest Removes Screaming Child from Jet, then Apologizes”

  1. John D says:

    They did the right thing. The comfort and safety of the rest of the passengers outweighed the family’s right to be on that flight. I think they handled it well by refunding her ticket and not just dumping her.

  2. Jesse says:

    Absolutely the right way to handle the situation- BRAVO!

  3. Stan says:

    YES YES YES YES they did the RIGHT thing.Nothing worst than a crying baby especially on a long flight.

  4. Erica Muller says:

    I have to agree they did the right thing BUT as a Mom who has been in that situation more than once, they should have at least offered her a first class upgrade for a future flight or something like that. Kids are humans not animals and sometimes they cry and scream on planes. It’s life.

  5. Maria says:

    Sounds like they handled it well. I don’t see why the mother should receive a first class upgrade. Southwest did not treat her child as an animal and she was given a $300 voucher. She should be given the same class of service she purchase. Additionally, Southwest doesn’t have 1st class.

  6. Judith says:

    I had been on a flight recently with the same thing happening. The child was autistic and was panicked however, the crew did not get them off the flight. It was distressing for all the passengers, and I am sure it was for the mother and screaming child. Thankfully, once we were airborn, the child calmed down for the rest of the trip.

    I see nothing wrong in asking anyone who is disruptive in any way to get off the plane — whether it is an adult or a child.

  7. Hotcha says:

    When, oh, when will airlines offer selected flights that are child-free? I’d pay extra to know I wouldn’t have screaming kids, seat-kickers, etc., on my flight.

  8. Jackie MacDougall says:

    YES YES YES, Southwest did the right thing. Believe me, having lived and travelled through some screaming kids for 4 hours we both know, my husband & I, how aggravating it is. Even a flight attendant told us on our way out, when aked: “mam, this was the flight from hell”.

    We wrote all all the airlines and Internet travel booking agencies only to be told that there was nothing they could do!!! How irreponsible to the rest of the passengers.

    We just returned from a 9 hours flight from Europe to Canada, seated beside 4 kids who were so well behave that the flight was a pleasure in spite of its length. We have nothing against kids but no patience for irreponsible parents.

    Sign me,


  9. Jeremy Haar says:

    I highly commend Southwest on its decision to boot the brat. I fly Southwest at least four times a month and more often than not, these egocentric young parents hold an flight captive with their poorly behaved young children and screaming baby brats, who I do understand, as a parent myself, suffer from pressure on their ears at take off and landing. However there is no reason that a full flight of paying adults should be subject to such abuse. Let ‘em walk or take a bus.

  10. Jeremy Haar says:

    I highly commend Southwest on its decision to boot the brat. I fly Southwest at least four times a month and more often than not, these egocentric self-centered young parents hold an entire flight captive with their poorly behaved young children and screaming baby brats and act as if this behavior is universally condoned. There is absolutely no reason why a full flight of paying adults should be subject to such abuse. .

  11. Jason says:

    Absolutely SW did the right thing. While I sympathize with parents on planes with screaming children, they are *your* children, not mine. Not the other passengers. It is not our responsibility nor obligation to endure the screaming of your children. I think being flown home, for free, when the child was ready to fly…and then being compensated financially is the best thing anyone could possibly hope for.

  12. Leslie Leline says:

    Are you kidding? I have sat next to people with hacking coughs, terrible gas, loud snoring, and a guy in a huge cast who’s arm was sticking half way into my seat! There are many ways to disrupt other passsengers, and they never get asked to leave. They should have asked her to go into the bathroom with the child while everyone heard the announcements. I stayed in the bathroom for a whole flight with my daughter when she was little. I knew it was quieter for others if I stayed in there and I felt more comfortable a bit removed. She had a ear infection, I did not know (until later) and the flight was painful. It is no ones fault when a baby cries and no one should be blamed or asked to leave!

  13. shirley says:

    Kids are humans, you are right to tell us so Erica, we wouldn’t have known that otherwise, as for the fact that kids scream and cry, “that’s life,” I say if your kid is a screamer, don’t fly with him. Why put your beloved child thru that torture and the rest of the passengers as well. Fly when they grow up. SWA was absolutely right, safety of all is paramount.

  14. sameer says:

    So, “passengers could not hear the pre-flight safety announcements” because of a screaming baby on the plane. Wow! Let’s take a poll of the passengers and ask them if they were really concerned for their safety or if they were simply annoyed by a screaming baby.

    Kids scream. Why? Coz they’re kids. The “adults” on the plane should grow up. SW should’ve let the mom and the baby fly.

  15. Evan says:

    They definitely did the right thing and I only wish more people would refrain from flying with screaming, seat-kicking, or sick children. I think airlines are missing the opportunity to schedule children-free flights.

  16. Brenda says:

    Yes they did the right thing. Used to keep my kids up and awake and running for hours before the flight, and then bring favorite foods, toys, bottle, and favorite blanket so they could sleep. If that doesn’t work if a kid is screaming that bad usually something is wrong (ie) ear infection or teeth, which can be a job for liquid tylenol.

  17. Marianne Bush says:

    Absolutely the correct thing to do. A tranquilizer would probably have done the job, but maybe not the correct treatment for a 2 year old ;-) .

  18. RobertKCole says:

    Southwest did the right thing. My family experienced a similar situation on a full Northwest red-eye flight a few years ago. The child was about 5 years-old and was screaming uncontrollably during boarding. The flight attendants tried everything in the book, all unsuccessfully.

    What made matters worse, the child appeared to be overcome by fear and was screaming things like “we are all going to die”, “the plane is going to crash”, “I don’t want to burn”, etc. This was obviously unsettling to the passengers not only because of the volume level, but because of the content of his rants.

    Oddly, both parents were not highly engaged and just let him keep going (assuming he would tire and pass-out at some point?) That strategy failed as well – the kid continued to cry (painfully evolving into raw, hoarse shrieks) and finally fell silent from exhaustion 2 1/2 hours into the flight.

    Multiple passengers asked the Captain to remove the party if the child could not be controlled, but his response was that he could not do so. One frequent flyer reasoned that if an adult was creating the commotion, the Captain would have used his discretion and called airport security to remove him. That assertion was not denied.

    The child’s actions created an unreasonable disturbance to 180 paying passengers and a clear safety issue – there was no possibility emergency commands could have been heard over the screams.

    A Captain’s judgment on removing a passenger should be discretionary and evaluated on a case by case basis. There are two fundamental criteria – severity (safety/security risk) and scope (number of people impacted.) An extreme impact on a single person could be grounds for removal. Or a slightly less severe impact on a large number of people should be weighed similarly.

    As a parent, I empathize with the situation, but air travel is not a right, it is a privilege that demands personal responsibility.

    Southwest did the right thing. The removed passengers returned home, albeit late. the refunded ticket and $300 voucher were a considerate and generous gesture – reaccommodating the passengers on another flight and waiving change fees would have been sufficient, but Southwest understands customer service – and that’s exactly why they were removed in the first place.

  19. Jo says:

    While I agree that kids that young generally can’t help themselves, why should I have to be subjected to ear-peircing wails that are loud enough to damage my hearing whilst flying in a steel tube in a seat where I cannot get away from them? I absolutely think SWA did the right thing. If the kid was that bad before they even took off (and the pressure change kicked in) how bad were they going to be when up in the air? I think it was nice of them to refund her and rebook, and they didn’t have to do THAT. If there had been an emergency on that aircraft in the air, there was no way people could hear the instructions over the kid wailing. I say thank you to those FAs for having a backbone.

    Ninety percent of the time I have an issue with a kid, it’s really a parent. I was on a flight recently where a woman went completely nuts when her family had been split up on a full plane. There were two other families with small kids in the same boat, and the FAs were trying to reseat peeps to put these kids with their parents as quickly as possible. So, while in the middle of this, after I had been asked if I were willing to move by the FA and saying yes, this woman demanded I move immediately because she held the seat next to me! I told her that the FA was already in the middle of a move involving me and someone else, and as soon as she finished that, she’d get to her, she totally lost it! Now I had VOLUNTEERED to move, no compenstion, to a seat further back when it would impact my connection time, and this woman took precedence because she had a kid and hadn’t bothered to check in earlier? Really?? (The genius FA ended up putting all the moms and kids in the back and moving all us singles up there with me…hehe)

  20. Melissa says:

    *All* airlines should have policies offering parents a courtesy re-route if their kids start melting down during the boarding process (or if parents think their kids will likely meltdown in flight). This way, the embarrassing situation of having to be kicked off could be avoided by (considerate) parents. Not sure if it would have made a difference in this case as the mother apparently didn’t see the issue with her kid’s behavior, but if it were an established practice for airlines to re-schedule families when these situations happen, maybe more parents would recognize that there is a line their kids’ behavior should not cross and we would all have more peace in the air.

  21. Karen says:

    The airline did the right thing. Not necessarily out of consideration for the other passengers, but for the safety issue. Sameer is right, most passengers were probably more concerned with comfort than safety, but that doesn’t relieve the airline of their responsibility to clearly communicate safety procedures. Most of us tune out but who knows? there could be a passenger who is flying for the first time and doesn’t know the drill. I hear such people still exist.

  22. Dennis says:

    Parents and people today think they have the right to do whatever , wherever, however and whenever they want to. Unfortunately this points to a very self centered mentality. Travel can be a stressful and sometimes uncomfortable event. As far as traveling with children, common courtesy should prevail. Parents should keep their offspring home until they reach the age of reasoning. Children are very egocentric and until they become socialized parent should bear responsibility for their choice to have children and sacrifice some of their own pleasures to teach and train their offspring. Society seems to be migrating towards the lowest common denominator of acceptable behavior.

  23. Portland Swan says:

    The environment and tone of a flight is similar to a library, it commands a certain behavior no matter how old the person is – whether 2 or 102. If that child were asked to leave a library nobody would complain. Given the safety concerns on an airplane I believe the pilot and flight attendants acted professionally, showing respect for the other passengers as well as the mother and child. In addition, given the mothers comment on the severity of the childs “normal fits” she shouldn’t have been traveling by plane with that child to begin with – the fault lies with the mother for taking a chance with an unruly child. She should count herself lucky they refunded her the money never mind gave her additional points.

  24. The Steel Phantom says:

    SWA did the wrong thing. The parent and child should have been removed from the flight. Refunding the ticket and $300 voucher is crazy. If you can’t control your children, don’t have them. There are many affordable birth control options available.

  25. jme9570218 says:

    Only people who do NOT fly even have to ask the question. Obviously its staged to create controversy. As public behavior continues to deteriorate with zero respect for strangers New lows are achieved everyday particularly on airplanes.When flying People somehow imagine that they are in their living rooms + feel no inhibitions about every sort of ill-mannered acts cell yell, dvd players with no headsets, game-boys no headsets, loud , farting, shoes off, etc..Individuals are NOT ENTITLED to ‘anything goes’ behaviors simply because they purchased a less than $200 ticket on SWA. Please someone restore civility & what was once considered “common courtesy” for fellow air travelers….. PS. – Than they have the audacity to ask for 1st CLASS tickets as replacements …..This loud, rude, ‘entitlement’ mentality is part of the decadence that foreigners despise in Americans……fantastically self-absorbed & disrespectful.

  26. Emily says:

    Wow, what a bunch of selfish jerks you are.

  27. Rick Seaney says:

    Finally, another opinion!
    Thanks for writing,

  28. Gloria says:

    Instead of rewarding the parents with a voucher, why not reward the rest of the passengers with a voucher? free drinks? extra bag of peanuts? and send the bill to the idiot parents.

  29. Rick Seaney says:


    Well, that’s one way of looking at it…

    Thanks for writing.

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