Open Letter To United Airlines.

I am absolutely mortified and disgusted with United Airlines’ behavior on our recent flight from Paris to San Francisco. At Charles De Gaulle airport, the UA gate agents told me my 19-month-old son was not allowed in First Class with me because he had ticket for a different class. Apparently, NO ONE is allowed in First Class without a First Class ticket, not even an infant traveling with his mother and should be sitting in her lap. No, I am not joking. This just happened to me. United Airlines told me that my son would have to sit in Coach…alone.

I’d like someone at United Airlines to explain this to me. Has the airline started providing child care services during flights? Is someone going to feed my child, change his diaper, and put him to sleep during the 10-hour flight?

My husband joined us for the last part of our trip and upgraded my ticket at check-in. We did not have seats together because we had not traveled to Paris together and had booked our tickets separately. He was doing his best to make sure we would all be together and comfortable on the long flight home. He spoke to a friendly ticket agent who said nothing about needing to upgrade our son’s ticket because he was still eligible to fly free. She simply handed us two Business/First Class tickets and an Economy Plus ticket for my son. We thought nothing of it. My husband and I just assumed that because our son was under two, and did not officially need a ticket, that he would sit with one of us. It all seemed pretty obvious and straightforward.

It wasn’t until we got to the gate and were about to board that a gate agent named Michelle stopped me after I handed her our boarding passes. She explained in a sharp tone that my son could not sit in First Class with me. At first, I thought she might be misinformed about my son’s age and told her that he was under two-years-old. Michelle did not seem to care. She kept pressing her point, repeating that he would not be able to sit in First Class with me. I was shocked and more than a little confused. What did she mean he couldn’t sit with me? He certainly couldn’t sit alone. He is a baby.

Michelle then said, “He doesn’t get to fly for free. His ticket is 10% of the fare for a First Class ticket.” I told her I’d paid way more than that. I paid 40% of fare because I purchased a full fare Economy Plus ticket for him. I bought him a seat, so we could all be more comfortable on the long flight. If someone would have told us about these ridiculous rules, maybe we could have changed his ticket during check-in, but no one said anything. Michelle argued a little longer and let us pass as the line behind us seemed to be getting impatient.

I thought the conversation was over and took my son to my seat, 1F, at the front of the plane, in full view of what was about to come. Unfortunately, the argumentative and unfriendly gate agent did not let it end there. She came to my seat to harass us further, bringing two women with her, and stood in the background while the other two women argued about the airline rules. At this point, I was getting upset. The women hovered over my seat for 15 minutes harassing me and telling me to take my son to “his seat.”

They told me it was “safer” for my son to be in his Economy Plus seat. How would a 19-month-old be safer without an FAA approved car seat? Was one going to magically appear? Did they have one on hand? No, they did not. They just wanted me to send my son to his seat alone. I am not sure what they thought was going to happen. Perhaps they assumed that I would forfeit my First Class seat based on their illogical rules.

Another passenger in First Class across from me then said, “You should record all of this. This is crazy.” I pulled out my phone to record the insane conversation at which point a woman tried to grab my phone from me and said that I wasn’t allowed to record in France. I later looked this up: no such rule exists.

When it seemed obvious that the situation was escalating and people on the airline were starting to question what was going on, they had a “conference” with the airline pilots and inflight crew. Finally, the woman in charge conceded and “let” my son sit with me.

Once we were underway (and a little more relaxed), the inflight crew came up to me and shared their dismay and shock at the incident. They had never seen anything like this. Carol, a San Francisco-based flight attendant said she had been working in the industry for 50 years and had never seen this type of situation.

To be perfectly honest, the inflight crew had come up to me during the drama and said, “Let them say what they want. You can bring your son up here.” The women who were managing inflight service were sympathetic and knew the craziness of it all. They got it.

If these are the rules for United Airlines, then I am shocked that these people believe separating a child from his mother is appropriate. In fact, it seems incredibly hypocritical when United Airlines says it won’t separate families for the government due to immigration issues at the border but has no problem doing it inside their planes with U.S. citizens.

Perhaps, it’s time to reconsider how you do things?


A mother and her baby.

Entrepreneur, mother and founder of Lipstick & Politics.