Berated for a screaming baby – do I deserve a full refund?

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Evelyn Tachau-Brown probably deserves something after her recent Delta Air Lines flight. But what?

She and her husband were flying from Nice, France, to New York with their 18-month-old daughter when they had a confrontation with a crewmember over the child.

“A flight attendant openly chastised my family for the disruptions we caused by the crying of our baby girl,” she recalls.

This wasn’t a single admonishment to keep the baby quiet. It was a pattern that, to hear her side of the story, came close to verbal abuse. Tachau-Brown wants an apology, in English, from the airline she purchased the ticket from and a full refund for her ticket.

I think she’s entitled to at least one, maybe even both. But let’s hear her story before deciding what to do with the case.

“I’m not used to complaining,” she says. But this particular flight experience, she says, rose to the level of being complaint-worthy.

During the course of the transatlantic flight, she says an attendant approached her and her husband and demanded they silence their little girl after the passenger next to them complained. Her angry words “brought me to tears,” she says.

“I have never been more humiliated, hurt, and angry in my life, because I never knew how it felt to be reprimanded for the actions of a loved one, much less a helpless baby,” she notes.

She adds,

I assure you that my husband and I did our best to comfort and calm our baby. Despite the circumstances whereby our seats were changed prior to our travel (being with an infant means you cannot register online or at a kiosk in advance), we tried to make the situation work, whilst in the midst of commotion as other passengers boarded. This compounded a complicated situation, but being talked about so harshly by one of your staff within earshot of us and all the other passengers is unacceptable.

Our own interactions with the in-flight attendant were even worse, as she explained that we shouldn’t be in a comfort zone where our fellow passengers pay more for that comfort – as though parents with small children should be limited to the back of the plane.

Ah, that makes a little more sense. Tachau-Brown’s family were sitting in Delta’s Economy “Comfort” section, which offers about the same amount of legroom as pre-deregulation coach class seats. So, many of the passengers had paid extra for their seat and had a reasonable expectation of quiet.

“I did make a complaint aboard the plane with the head steward, who took down my name as well,” she says. “I did register my complaint through the ‘Talk to us’ web page.”

The result: A form apology in French sent by Delta’s partner, Air France. That may be because Tachau-Brown has a permanent address in France.

Undeterred, she wrote to the head of customer service at Delta.

“My grievance is with Delta,” she says. “Our flights cost us 1,715.79€. Could you kindly advise me on the next steps?”

Should parents of young children stay out of “comfort” class, as this flight attendant suggests? I don’t think so. These seats are not much better than the uncomfortable regular economy class seats, and it’s not as if the attendant is peeling grapes and fanning the passengers here. The Tachau-Brown family had every right to be there if they paid for the seats.

Did they have an obligation to travel with a quiet baby? Yes, but not to the extent that the flight attendant claimed. When you travel with young kids, you take certain precautions. You bring toys, games and plenty to eat and drink. And you hope for the best. If Tachau-Brown had done all of those things, and her baby girl was still wailing at top volume, maybe the flight attendant should have been trying to help soothe the infant, not scolding the mother.

Of course, we don’t have the flight attendant’s side of the story. That’s always the inherent problem with these Monday posts: they’re completely unvetted, and our mission isn’t to find truth, but to determine if I should get involved. Based on past experience, though, I think the crewmember might have an interesting story to tell that might cast Tachau-Brown’s claims in another light.

I do believe she’s entitled to an apology in English, as opposed to a form letter in French. But a refund of her airfare seems a little much. After all, Delta got her to her destination. Did she experience that legendary Delta hospitality? Absolutely not. But the airline’s contract of carriage doesn’t promise it will treat passengers with dignity. That ended in the 1970s.

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