KLM Values Passenger Comfort Over Infant Safety?

KLM, flying with baby, car seat on plane

Adorable Baby H. On Flight Out…

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.”

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27 Responses to KLM Values Passenger Comfort Over Infant Safety?

  1. Aurelia at 14:37 #

    OMG, so ridiculous. Reclining seats are actually supposed to be locked and upright whenever the seatbelt light comes on, because of crash danger. No one has a “right” to recline.

    This is about budgets and squeezing as many seats as possible into a space. They can’t reduce width any narrower so they are trying to reduce depth now. And baby seats, like tall people, interfere with that plan. Jackasses.

    This happened on an AirCanada flight with us recently and we just wedged the seat in, and I asked the person in front of us to not recline. Offered to buy them a drink, before I noticed she was 5 years old. Ooops.:)

    But AirCanada had no problems with it, no issues at all. The flight attendants were really nice, helped us get it in and out. They explained that they’d just bought this plane, and it was configured “tighter” with an extra row. And that’s why it was wedged. They were going to shift the seats to the standard AC config soon, just hadn’t yet.

    Good for Lauren for standing up for herself and her baby! Bravo!

    • Corinne at 14:42 #

      Crazy, right?!

  2. guidemd at 16:30 #

    My experience with paying for my daughter to have her own seat/taking her car seat on board to use during flight has been mixed, but never had any issues like this one, wow! We’ve just encountered that many flight attendants and gate agents seem to have no clue about their own airline’s policies on the issue. Never mind the general public…
    Some examples:
    1) the passenger in front of us on our first flight, whom when my daughter was crying while we waited to take off and I said something aloud such as “I’ll nurse her once we take off and then she’ll be quiet”, had to tell everyone around us that she was a nurse and that I was essentially a bad mom to not nurse my baby during takeoff (sorry lady, but the reason I bought her a seat was for her to be in her car seat during takeoff as it’s much safer than in my arms nursing).
    2) the gate agent who when we checked in our baggage kept insisting “but you know that during takeoff and landing you have to hold her in your arms, she can’t be in the carseat then”. Umm, the point of the carseat is to be *in* it during takeoff and landing (and at other times) for safety? We tried arguing, then finally just said “sure whatever you say” – he didn’t seem to believe we agreed with him so had to throw in “the flight attendants will tell you this too”. Which of course they didn’t :-)
    3) the flight attendant who asked if we had a special tag for our car seat (not for our daughter, for our seat). The way she was asking was as if she was looking for a baggage tag like they do for gate-checking, which we didn’t have. She was getting ready to actually remove our carseat and insist we check it when we said “but we bought a ticket for our daughter for this plane seat and she has a boarding pass” – at which point she asked why we hadn’t said so initially (because that’s not what you asked us!) It made me wonder if they get a number of people who just bring their carseat and strap it in to the seat next to them without purchasing the seat and without actually checking with the airline/making sure it really is an empty seat!

    The one time we flew with our daughter as a lap child was from Edmonton to London (UK) and back, when she was 19 mos, and those were probably the most miserable flights I’ve ever had and we really wished we’d purchased her a seat then too. Now she’s over 2 so no choice anymore.

    • guidemd at 16:34 #

      We’ve used a CARES harness once too as well. The flight attendant seemed a bit concerned initially that our rather young-looking daughter (just over the weight limit for it at that point) was sitting by herself in a seat. When we said that she was in a CARES harness and pointed it out, she made a point of “checking” that it was done up correctly – it actually seemed to us that she was checking it out to see what a CARES harness actually looked like!

      luckily never had anyone upset about not being able to recline (actually, the nurse mentioned in #1 above really tried to recline but I wasn’t particularly concerned about it as she had been quite rude to us earlier, she didn’t say anything about the reclining ;-) ), but with so few people seemingly knowing about carseats on planes unfortunately it’s not surprising that there can be issues like with KLM.

  3. RIDICULOUS! I’m SO glad she stood her ground! Heck, those bulk head seats they’re “reserving” for people don’t recline at all! And a bouquet of FLOWERS? Seriously? And 10,000 miles? They give out MUCH larger amounts than that all the time. If anything, it’s insulting! Thank you for calling attention to this. Maybe the airlines wouldn’t need to shove so many of us in, if they treated us all a little better! Do they not realize that the passengers in those car seats will grow up to be adults who love to travel?

  4. Corinne at 20:47 #

    Agreed.
    I’m still so baffled about the flowers! Tulips, since they’re Dutch? ;)

  5. KinderJet at 20:57 #

    It surprises me that airlines and other flyers complain so much and treat so badly parents flying with children, and yet every time I get on a plane, it is at least half full of families flying. Do the airlines really want to lose all that business? Maybe an airline should be invented that caters specifically to families.

  6. We booked an extra seat once for our son while he was still rear-facing in his car seat. The seat didn’t fit (even without the recline), so we weren’t allowed to use it.

    Another time, we booked an extra seat while he was forward facing. We had booked the bulkhead seats (and paid extra), but were told that we could not use his seat in that row, so they told us we could either hold him on our lap or move to the row behind the bulkhead. We reluctantly moved a row back, but didn’t get refunded the extra that we had paid.

    The third time we took his seat on board, it didn’t fit between the two armrests, so we again were not allowed to use it.

    With our daughter, we never bothered. She was a lap baby until she turned two. We never took a car seat on board for her.

    • Corinne at 23:13 #

      Crazy! I was under the impression that an infant was not allowed in their own seat unless they were in a car seat.

      I guess you learn something new every day, and it’s not always good.

      • Mom at 05:03 #

        How would anyone keep a toddler in a regular seat without some kind of restraint? In my limited experience, a toddler without a car seat (or Cares harness) is going to end up on a lap (or under or over the seat in front)…

  7. Axel at 20:37 #

    I’m glad there are others who have experienced the fact that airline staff don’t seem to have consistent knowledge of their own policies. We flew BA Toronto to London with our car seat (facing forward, I think it wouldn’t fit rear facing). On the flight from London to Frankfurt, the attendant told me the seat needed to be verified to be installed properly or it would have to be checked. I showed her how I had threaded the seat belt properly and offered her the instruction manual to verify and re-assured her that the seat was approved for flight by transportation authorities. She said the authorities didn’t have the final say, the airline did – even though the same airline hadn’t given us any grief on the first leg. I invited her to check the seat belt herself (not wanting to argue and get tossed for ‘air-rage’ or whatever) and she was stumped and had to ask a colleague if it was done properly (of course it was). It was pretty clear that she just wanted to bully me into checking it.

    Sometimes I wonder why we (as a society) put up with air travel at all…

  8. Corinne at 20:42 #

    It seems the issue is mainly Europe (or in your case, Axel, British) based. I had both WestJet and Air Canada confirm to me that if an infant under 2 is in their own seat, they MUST be in an approved car seat or restraint. This is due to Canada’s very strict safety regulations.

    • Axel at 20:53 #

      As long as the staff toes that line, everything should be OK. It’s the lack of knowledge (and the willingness of the airline to grab your money without accountability) that bugs me.

  9. Jen at 17:48 #

    I’m pretty infuriated by this lack of decent customer service. It’s difficult to travel anywhere anymore without facing these problems; there just aren’t a lot of choices out there between locations, modes of transport, and above all, cost. I’m thankful for the power we have to voice our concerns in blogs, Twitter, etc., but why does it have to come to that?

    Besides, what do airline attendants really need to know besides safety policies? If they want to be treated better than glorified waitstaff (which is how a lot of people view them – I’m not trying to make that characterization myself), then doing their jobs well should be a priority.

  10. I’ve had some pretty ridiculous flights when the steward was a total jerk (this is a nice word for him) to me and my son. He was supposed to be helpful but was soo horrible that the girl next to me said she’s going to complain because she never saw someone treat a mom and a very quiet baby, I am add!

    So flying for me is really stressful, I’m waiting til my son is 3 to breath easier :) But it’s not stopping my traveling – NEVER.

  11. Reneld at 12:38 #

    Thanks for the heads-up. I’m booking flights for my family (including infant) and read your article. After reading the letter from KLM’s President, I have booked with a different carrier. The issue of infant safety does not appear to be a priority for KLM and the President’s request for you to “graciously” accept 10,000 fly points is ridiculous. My colleague was offered the same for something far less than infant safety. KLM – fix your practice and stop trying to sweep things under the rug with useless fly points and flowers.

  12. We have taken notice of Laurel’s story. Of course we value our passengers’ comfort, but flight safety always is our first priority. We are currently investigating the events that took place and will get in touch with Laurel personally.

  13. Corinne at 09:02 #

    Hi KLM,
    Delighted to hear it! Would be nice if you could be a front-runner in bumping up European airlines’ safety standards.

  14. That is HORRIBLE!! I mean, in my eyes, if anything SHE and HER BABY had to get PRIORITY, as that baby PAID just like any other passenger did on that flight, no?! I am just in shock, can’t believe this!! Stumbled this hoping other people will find this article and then make KLM act switfly to fix it!

    • Corinne at 17:54 #

      Agree with you on all counts, Maria. Let’s hope the KLM reply is not just lip service!

  15. Lisa at 10:27 #

    Excellent piece Corrine! I’m astounded that KLM trated a customer this way. Infant safety NEEDS to be made a priority on many airlines. This is a topic that is near to my heart after recently having a very poor experience with BA on a solo trip with my 5 month old and 2 year old. BA thought it accepatable to sit my 2 year old in a separate row to me. Needless to say I have my own letter sitting with BA, and I’ll post about it once I receive their response.

  16. Corinne at 12:52 #

    That’s not the first time I’ve heard of an issue with BA, sadly. I’ll be interested in reading your post once it’s up, Lisa.

  17. Cornelius Aesop at 15:25 #

    I would be very upset if this happened to me, especially at the cost. You asked if they would have refunded the money if she did remove H. from his seat and have him sit on his mother’s lap…. I think she has a better chance at her current quest than a refund for removing the seat. Either way, good luck to her and good for her for standing up for what she paid for and was due.

  18. Corinne at 09:21 #

    A new update! KLM has been in touch with Laurel and says they “will carry out an investigation
    into the circumstances surrounding the problems you describe.” Again, let’s hope that’s not just lip service, but it is progress, I think.

  19. Rondreis kinderen at 04:21 #

    Indeed this is crazy. We had a similar thing with a Maxi Cosy.

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