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Family of Special Needs Child Humiliated on Flight

The Short of It

Mother, Elit Kirschbaum, and her 3-year-old special needs daughter, Ivy, were humiliated by the way a United Airlines flight attendant treated them on a flight from Punta Cana, Dominican Republic to Newark, N.J., on Dec. 30. Kirschbaum is letting the world know about the way that she and her special needs child were treated through social media.

The Lowdown

Kirschbaum and her husband are from New Jersey and have three children besides Ivy, who is a stroke survivor and has Spastic Quadriplegic Cerebral Palsy. They had purchased a seat in economy class for Ivy because they're aware of the federal safety regulations requiring everyone older than 2 to purchase their own seat. But Ivy is only the size of a 1-year-old and unable to sit up on her own. Ivy has traveled with her parents several times since she turned 2 and has always flown on one of her parents' laps.

Kirschenbaum said she was seated in business class with Ivy on her lap. She was passed by three flight attendants who acknowledged the family but didn't comment on Ivy sitting on her lap. Then a fourth attendant told them that the child had to be in her own seat.

The Kirschbaums and the three other attendants begged and pleaded for an hour with the fourth attendant. They even pulled out the flight attendant's handbook and cited the section that allowed for an exception if passengers couldn't sit by themselves. But the fourth attendant wouldn't budge. In the end, Ivy's father approached the pilot, who offered a concession.

"The pilot's compromise was that my daughter Ivy was placed in a seat and buckled in for take-off and landing. She had to lay across my husband's lap for this duration as she is unable to sit up. She was permitted to return to my lap for the other portion of the flight," Elit Kirschbaum says. "My family was humiliated in front of a full flight of passengers. The flight ended up taking off almost an hour late."

The Upshot

The Kirschbaum family says it doesn't want free flights and isn't interested in contacting a lawyer. They just want an apology from United Airlines for the treatment they endured on the plane, and they're asking the public to use the hashtag #UnitedWithIvy to help them get it.

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