I’m conflicted on this one. On the one hand, I appreciate a zero tolerance policy, but on the other hand, this wouldn’t have been an issue on Delta.
Two year old’s mask compliance causes problems
A family with a two year old daughter was supposed to fly United Airlines from Denver to Newark this past Friday. Here’s what we know about what happened, based on the family’s version of events and videos:
- The family wanted to go to New York to see friends and family, and go to Rockefeller to see the tree; “it’s a tradition [they] also wanted [their] two year old daughter to experience”
- The couple has Premier Silver status with United, so they “always” fly with the airline; they apparently flew with the daughter four times already during the pandemic, without having issues
- The two year old (who turns three in April 2021) wasn’t cooperating with wearing a mask, so they ended up asking the family to leave the flight
- The family wasn’t happy about this, and once off the plane the dad asked to be rebooked on another flight in first class (even though they weren’t in first class to begin with), and at that point they were informed that they’re banned from United
- While the mom claims they’re “banned forever,” that’s unlikely to be the case; bans over mask compliance apply for as long as a mask policy is in place
- Since bags weren’t taken off the plane, they would only have their bags returned to them a day later
Here’s the video, which starts with the mom crying over what happened, then shows what happened onboard, and then shows what happened at the gate, after they got off the plane:
Is the family or United in the right?
When you step back, it understandably seems ridiculous to kick off and ban a family because a two year old wouldn’t wear a mask. With that in mind, I have a few general thoughts:
The family flew the wrong airline
The mother makes the point that the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t recommend masks for children up to five years of age. This is true, and as it’s described by the WHO, “this is based on the safety and overall interest of the child and the capacity to appropriately use a mask with minimal assistance.”
One thing to consider is that the family flew the wrong airline. Delta’s policy explicitly says that “children under the age two and young children who cannot maintain a face covering are exempt from the mask requirement.”
Meanwhile United has no such exception, simply noting that “children younger than two years old are exempt.”
This comes down to airline policy, but the truth is that they should have known United’s policy coming in (and it’s also something you have to agree to during check-in).
Could the family have done more?
Let me fully acknowledge that getting a two year old to do something they don’t want to do is difficult. In that very moment I think the parents were doing everything they could.
However, I get the sense that they could have done more to practice and prepare. Traveling with young kids if tough enough under normal conditions, let alone when you have to force them to wear a mask for extended periods.
It seems like this is something that should be practiced extensively in advance, but I get the general vibe that maybe that wasn’t happening at this family:
- The dad can’t seem to keep his mask over his nose… why is this so hard?!
- The dad pulls the “99% of people survive coronavirus” card, in justifying his daughter not being able to wear a mask
- Let’s keep in mind that the family was violating New York’s quarantine requirement to begin with by taking this trip
Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt the daughter had spent much time practicing mask wearing, outside of airplanes.
Should United have let this slide?
While I’m generally extremely pro-mask, I can’t help but wonder if the airline should have perhaps let this situation slide. Like I said, this wouldn’t have been an issue on Delta, the child wasn’t seated next to a stranger, and the parents did seem to be trying (in this moment).
There is obviously an element of theater here when one airline considers it to be safe for a two year old to not wear a mask, and another doesn’t.
This probably didn’t need to turn into such a big deal. However:
- Big companies often lack flexibility, and have a culture of rigid rules; when we’re talking about safety, that’s probably a good thing
- If you make an exception for a two year old not wearing a mask, where do you stop making exceptions?
Airlines for the most part have done an amazing job with mask compliance (more than in any other crowded spaces), and that largely comes down to a consistently enforced zero tolerance policy. When you start to let things slide, minor as they might be, where is the line drawn?
United Airlines kicked off and then banned a family because the parents couldn’t get their two year old daughter to wear a mask.
On the one hand, this seems a step too far, when Delta has a special exception for situations like this. On the other hand, I can also appreciate that whatever policy is in place needs to be consistently enforced, because it’s a slippery slope.
What do you make of this mask situation?