Can your child’s crying get you kicked off a flight?

Airplane warning sign. Stock photo by Getty Images

It seems like airlines are waging war with their passengers. From excessive fees and security to cramped seating and annoying delays, it’s far from the “friendly skies” it used to be.

Lately, it’s gotten even worse.

This week got off to a bumpy start with Air Canada enforcing strict new carry-on baggage standards that had many customers crying foul.

But air carriers were just getting warmed up.

On Wednesday, a Burlington, Ont. woman was booted from a United Airlines flight en route to Vancouver from San Francisco, because her 23-month-old son’s unruly behavior was deemed a “safety” hazard.

It turns out the mother, Sarah Blackwood, is also seven months pregnant and kind of a big deal — she is the lead singer of Canadian Juno-nominated group Walk Off The Earth. Blackwood took her outrage to Twitter, where she has more than 27,000 followers.

United’s regional operator, SkyWest Airlines, said in a statement that Blackwood’s son was “repeatedly in the aisle of the aircraft before departure and during taxi” and that “the crew made the appropriate decision to return to the gate in the interest of safety.”

According to Blackwood and another passenger, her son was asleep by the time the plane returned to the gate. It took another 75 minutes, however, to remove Blackwood’s luggage from the flight.

Blackwood also posted a video on Twitter that showed her conversation with an unidentified United employee, who appeared surprised by the ejection, saying: “I’ve never heard of somebody taking you out because [the baby] is crying.”

United is also the target of another angry mother, who has threatened to sue the airline after a flight she was on earlier this month made an emergency landing to kick her family off, claiming the outbursts from her 15-year-old autistic daughter posed a “safety” risk.

Last December, an Air Canada flight from London to Toronto was diverted to Halifax and a female passenger was removed after she reportedly threw water on a passenger, called flight attendants “stupid” and “useless,” and then shoved another attendant.

Getting tossed from a flight is a bit of a grey area with seemingly different levels of tolerance for disruption from airline to airline.

Section 602.05 (1) of the Canadian Aviations Regulations states that “every passenger on board an aircraft shall comply with instructions given by any crew member respecting the safety of the aircraft or of persons on board the aircraft.”

The act has a section called “Levels of Interference with a Crew Member” that details four levels of graduated incidents that escalate from verbal abuse of crew members to violent outbursts and attempts to seize control of the aircraft.

The website for the Air Canada Component of the Canadian Union of Public Employees does not specifically list any regulations or punishments, but does address unruly passengers and “air rage” incidents. It states: “extreme, and often frightening, behaviour by unruly passengers, commonly known as ‘air rage,’ can lead to tense situations, and put both passengers and flight attendants at personal risk.”

Examples of unruly behaviour include:

  • excessive alcohol consumption (often prior to boarding the plane);
  • smoking bans (especially on long flights);
  • basic fear of flying.

Actions, however, governing the specific removal of passengers are difficult to find. Air Canada spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick confirmed via e-mail that the airline does have guidelines and protocols, but said “as these relate to security and safety we do not disclose them, because that could compromise their effectiveness.”

He added the ultimate decision to kick someone off a flight rests with the captain.

While most passengers know it’s illegal to smoke on a flight, or use your cellphone during takeoff and landing, it would be helpful the average air traveller to have a clearer list of bad behaviours that could get you ejected.

Find a Lawyer