LOS ANGELES - A Southern California family says they were kicked off an overbooked Delta airplane because they refused to yield a seat held by their young son.
The Schear family of Huntington Beach said they were flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles last week when airline staff asked them to give up a seat occupied by their 2-year-old son and carry him on their laps for the duration of the flight.
They tried to refuse and argued with airline staff, but they claim they were threatened with being sent to jail.
"'You have to give up the seat, or you're going to jail,'" Brian Schear recalled the airline staff telling him. "'Your wife is going to jail, and they'll take your kids from you.'"
Despite feeling they were in the right, that threat was terrifying, said Brian's wife, Brittany Schear.
"As a mother, you have a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old, it doesn't matter whether that's true or false," she said. "It put fear in me."
They recorded video of the encounter with airport staff and posted it on YouTube.
"You're saying you're going to give that away to someone else when I paid for that seat?" Brian Schear said to an airline employee. "That's not right."
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He eventually agreed to hold his son on his lap for the flight, but it was too late. The airline said the whole family had to leave.
That was around midnight, and the couple and their two toddlers were left having to scramble for a hotel room and pay $2,000 for another flight the next day, on United.
Schear said he originally bought the seat for his 18-year-old son Mason, but then decided to send him home on an earlier flight so that he could use the seat for his younger child, Grayson, who was placed in a car seat.
The airline staff told him they needed the seat because the flight was overbooked and the original passenger whose name was on the seat wasn't using it. One airline employee told him that under FAA regulations, 2-year-old children are not supposed to have their own seats at all, and are supposed to sit in parents' laps for the duration of the flight.
"With him being 2, he cannot sit in the car seat," one airline employee said. "He has to sit in your arms the whole time."
The accuracy of that statement is not entirely clear, as the websites for both the FAA and Delta appear to encourage parents to buy separate seats for young children and use a child safety restraint system.
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"We want you and your children to have the safest, most comfortable flight possible," Delta's website advises parents. "For kids under the age of 2, we recommend you purchase a seat on the aircraft and use an approved child safety seat."
Schear said Grayson flew in his own seat on the original flight out to Hawaii without a problem, and that Delta knew he was planning to use the seat for his younger son when they boarded their return flight.
"You need to do what's right," he told the airline employee. "I bought the seat, and you need to just leave us alone."
The encounter came as the airline industry is already facing bad publicity for video that showed a doctor being forcibly dragged off an overbooked Chicago flight on United, resulting in a concussion, broken nose and two lost teeth.
Eyewitness News reached out to Delta for comment, but has not heard back. The Schear family said the airline reached out to them earlier Wednesday to find out more information after they posted their encounter on Facebook and YouTube and began speaking out.