Updates to this story can be found HERE:
Flying with baby is stressful. And if you choose to purchase a seat for your baby in order to use your airline-approved car seat on board, flying with baby is expensive. Everyone agrees an infant is safest in their own seat in a car seat or CARES harness (the only harness approved for in-flight use). So I was stunned to hear from Laurel this morning about her recent flight from Toronto back to Amsterdam on KLM Airlines. Laurel is a Canadian mom currently based in The Netherlands, and she was returning to Amsterdam on KLM with her husband and adorable son, H. They chose to purchase a seat for H., at a cost of almost €1000 ($1400 USD), so he would fly safely and snugly in his infant carrier car seat.
Laurel’s attempts at securing the bulkhead for this flight were unsuccessful, and H.’s car seat touched the seat in front of him, interfering with the recline. She was asked (repeatedly) by flight attendants to remove the car seat.
So that I don’t misquote or misrepresent Laurel in any way, I’ll cut + paste her note to me:
Following the advice of Transport Canada, I purchased a seat for my 1 year old. I knew that I was not required to do so, but based on my research (including your site) I felt that this was the safest option.
I tried in vain to get a bulkhead seat. It seems that infants traveling on their own ticket are not given the same priority at the bulkhead as lap-babies. At the gate, we were assigned to the economy row immediately behind “Economy Comfort”, which means that our seats reclined less than the ones in front of us. Once the baby seat was installed, the seat of the passenger in front touched my son’s car seat. Two flight attendants and the purser tried to get me to remove him from the car seat, which I refused.
My complaints to KLM about this policy have gone nowhere. They have insisted that their policy is in accordance with international safety standards, which do not require babies under two years to be belted. The President of KLM explained that “Just for convenience, you may choose to book an extra seat for your toddler and bring your car seat on board. But as the comfort of all passengers has to be taken into account, this car seat may never block the recline possibility of the seat in front.” (emphasis Have Baby Will Travel’s)
It was a truly horrible flight. I have been unable to convince KLM that there is anything wrong with their policy. I would be grateful for any leads that you might have. It is too late for me to change what happened on my flight, but I would really like KLM to fix this for future baby-travelers and their parents.
I’m proud of Laurel for standing her ground. And it sounds like it was an all-around unpleasant way to start a trans-Atlantic flight!
…I really had to stand my ground. It was a bit embarrassing to have to publicly argue with the flight staff while everyone just wanted to get going. And with a crying baby–probably because I was so stressed by the situation! The flight attendants insisted that I put the seat away immediately after take off. The first flight attendant actually said that the other passenger’s recline was “more important” than my baby’s safety. When I flat out refused and started to argue with them, another flight attendant offered that I could leave him in the seat, but facing forwards. I agreed that we could do this if he was out of the seat– but while he was in the seat (particularly if the seatbelt sign was lit) then I wanted it properly fixed to the airplane. Moreover, to have him forward facing in the infant carrier with the other seat reclined would have meant that the other seat would be right in his face–for an airline so focused on comfort of one passenger, this solution seemed to totally disregard the comfort of another.
Firstly, Laurel is correct that the FAA (US) and the CATSA (Canada) agree that the safest place for an infant to be on an aircraft is in their own seat in an approved car seat. The EASA‘s policy (Europe) is a little more vague. However all of the authorities mention that the seat must fit within the confines of the armrests. Nowhere does it mention interfering with the recline of another seat.
Interestingly, KLM’s policy on their website also does not mention the interfering with the recline business. Quoting from their website:
If a seat has been reserved for your child, you may bring your own car/child seat aboard on the condition that it fits between the armrests of the aircraft seat (42 cm/16.5 inches). Only child seats that display no defects and that carry a visible seal of approval awarded by the European Union or an official government agency may be taken aboard.
So either KLM’s president is mistaken about his own airline’s policies, or he quickly made one up to save face when confronted with Laurel’s shoddy treatment. A copy of the letter (with Laurel’s identifying information removed at her request) can be seen here: KLM President’s Reply To Laurel
In recompense, Laurel has been offered a bouquet of flowers and 10,000 frequent flier miles. I think an apology and an internal review of KLM’s child safety policies is more in order.
Ironically, last year my husband flew KLM home from a business trip to Europe. At 6’7″, whoever sits in front of him on a plane can’t recline their seat either, as his knees are jammed into it. When a woman repeatedly slammed her seat into his legs, then complained to the flight attendant that her “constitutional right to a reclining seat” was being denied, my husband was then moved to the emergency aisle, which apparently KLM charges extra for.
If I were the passenger who paid extra for a seat with extra recline, and it couldn’t recline at all due to an infant’s seat, I’d be peeved. And I’d expect to either move or have the infant seat moved – which ultimately happened. The couple in front of Laurel and her family were finally whisked away to Business Class. But to suggest that that baby H. not ride safely in his paid-for seat at all is ludicrous.
I wonder if Laurel had complied and taken baby H. out of his seat, that KLM would have refunded his fare? Because then he would have been a lap infant – a non-rev (non revenue generating) passenger.
**UPDATE – September 3, 2011**
KLM has been in touch with Laurel, and says they “will carry out an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the problems you describe.” As with their comment below, let’s hope it’s not just lip service…
**UPDATE – January 2012**
Received a quick note from Laurel back in January: “Dutch regulatory authority finally decided that KLM had done nothing wrong, but in the meantime KLM gave me a voucher equivalent to baby H’s one-way flight. I thought that was fair. It doesn’t solve the problem for future flights (especially since on a recent flight with Thomson we weren’t even allowed to use a CARES harness…..but at least it compensates for the abusive treatment on that one KLM plane.”