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Family booted from plane in dispute over infant seat

A California mother says she was forced off a United Airlines flight in a dispute over a seat row too narrow to accommodate an infant carrier.
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A California mother who bought a separate airline seat for her baby says she was just trying to do the right thing.

But twice in the last month, Melissa Bradley, 39, says she has encountered airline seats that are too narrow for her Federal Aviation Administration-approved infant carrier.

Bradley said she was forced off United Airlines Flight 75 at San Francisco International Airport on Wednesday in a dispute over an economy-class row too narrow to accommodate an infant carrier for her 1-year-old daughter.

United spokesman Rahsaan Johnson said Bradley was removed because she was disruptive.

"The customer refused the flight attendant’s numerous attempts to accommodate her and the infant seat that unfortunately would not fit her assigned seat," according to an airline statement supplied by Johnson. "The captain elected to have the customer and her party removed after she became disruptive, interfering with the crew's ability to prepare the cabin for a safe departure and taking pictures of other customers on board, even after they asked her to stop."

Bradley also encountered problems with her infant carrier two days before Christmas on a Skywest flight from Aspen, Colo., to San Francisco, although she wasn't asked to leave the plane in that instance.

Federal safety officials urge parents to put their children in a child seat on planes.

Bradley said she took a picture of the narrow row on the United plane because an FAA inspector with whom she spoke after the Skywest incident had asked her if she had a picture. She denied that she was disruptive.

Following the rules
Airlines cannot prohibit the use of an approved safety seat, according to FAA safety regulations (PDF).

"The airline had the responsibility to move them — with the same class of service — and that's where United failed," said Kate Hanni, founder of

Johnson said other passengers who paid for extra legroom in Economy Plus offered to trade seats, but Bradley declined the offer.

"That is absolutely not true," Bradley told from Hawaii. "I would have been so happy to have a seat." Furthermore, Bradley said she would have accepted a seat away from her family and flying companions. "I told them: 'All I'm asking is for my baby and me to be moved' ... I said that so many times."

Bradley, who owns a real estate firm in Marin County, said she called a United customer service executive two weeks before the Honolulu flight to ask what she needed to do to make sure she'd be able to use the infant carrier. She said she was told to simply let United employees know when she checked in, which she did. But when she boarded the Boeing 777, she discovered the rows in economy seating were too close together to accommodate the Graco Snug Ride infant carrier, which is approved for airline use.

Bradley, who has four older children, said she has been using infant and child seats on planes for years without a hitch until the recent incidents. She said she buys separate seats for her children because she worries that she won't be able to hold them in her lap if the plane encounters turbulence.

'I begged them to accommodate me'
United rebooked her, her family and their traveling companions on a later flight to Honolulu, Bradley said. The rows were far enough apart on that plane to accommodate the carrier, she said.

"Honestly, this was the last thing I wanted to have happen on that plane," Bradley said. "I begged them to accommodate me."

National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Deborah Hersman has been campaigning for regulations that would require all infants and young children be secured in child seats on planes rather than allowed to fly in a parent's lap. She has said that children deserve the same safety protections as seat-belted adults.

A Transportation Department aviation advisory panel recommended last month that the Federal Aviation Administration conduct a new study of the issue. Glen Tilton, chairman of United's parent company, UAL Corp., was a member of the panel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.