An airline has apologized after a New Jersey family battled with a flight crew for an hour over how to accommodate their child with special needs in a seat.
Elit Kirschenbaum and her family, of Short Hills were heading back to Newark from the Dominican Republic on a United Airlines flight Tuesday, and a flight attendant became "visibly upset" when Kirschenbaum tried to hold her 3-year-old daughter Ivy in her lap, the mother of four said.
Ivy has a debilitating condition in which she is unable to move her arms and legs, or to hold her head up on her own, after suffering a stroke in utero, according to her mother.
"I would do anything to have Ivy sit up by herself, but she just can't do it," said Kirschenbaum.
FAA regulations require anyone over the age of 24 months to sit in his or her own seat for taxi, takeoff and landing, according to United Airlines. There is no exception in the regulations or in the United Airlines flight attendant manual that allows a lap child over the age of 2 under any circumstances.
Kirschenbaum said she didn't know those rules, and she wasn't stopped on her way to the Dominican Republic.
"The rules should be that she should be able to sit in a seat," she said. "Unfortunately, life doesn't play by the rules sometimes."
The hourlong emotional episode on the plane caused a stir.
"I just couldn't understand why this person was showing us so little compassion," she said.
The pilot finally came up with a solution, with the help of Kirschenbaum's husband. They decided to buckle Ivy in at the waist and have her lay across her father's lap next to her.
They all made it home safely, and Kirschenbaum said she'll use a safety seat offering additional head support for Ivy on future flights. But she doesn't regret what happened on the plane.
"I was given an opportunity to advocate for my child. I did not back down from it, I did not take the easy road," she said. "And the lesson I hope my own children get out of it is that I will always stand beside them."
United Airlines called Kirschenbaum Thursday to apologize for the incident, but did not say whether it took any disciplinary action against the flight attendant.