The Federal Aviation Administration does not have regulations on how hot it can be inside an airplane cabin, and now a Colorado mother whose infant overheated on a delayed plane has hired an attorney to push her case.
Emily France, the mother whose 4-month-old son overheated on a United Airlines flight June 22 in Denver, said she does not want other mothers and babies to endure a lengthy delay in a hot cabin after her baby had to be rushed by ambulance to an emergency room.
Her attorney, David Rapoport of Chicago, said he hopes the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board get involved, and that he would be prepared to file a lawsuit on France’s behalf if United Airlines doesn’t prove reasonable and fair in its response to France’s complaints.
“Cabin safety for infants and everyone else is part of an airline’s job,” Rapoport said in a statement to The Denver Post. “Airlines owe their passengers the highest duty of care under federal and state law. Infant safety is part of that duty, and the airline here failed everyone aboard that overheated flight.”
On Wednesday, United spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin said: “This should never have happened. We are profoundly sorry to our customer and her child for the experience they endured. We are actively looking into what happened to prevent this from occurring again.”
France and her son, Owen, were flying June 22 from Denver to El Paso, Texas, to join her husband, an astrophysicist, on a work trip. When they boarded the 1:50 p.m. flight about 30 minutes before takeoff, France noticed how hot the cabin was.
The flight was delayed because the airplane needed more fuel, and the aircrew allowed France and her son to get off the plane for a few minutes. After they got back aboard, the flight was delayed again on the tarmac because of bad weather along the route, France said last week in an interview with The Post.
As the baby became more and more hot, France began asking for a new seat toward the front of the plane, and flight attendants brought her ice in garbage bags. As the delay dragged on, France said her son’s body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head.
He began fading in and out of consciousness. She called for an ambulance, but said it took too long to get her and her son off the plane and to medical help.
“I thought my child was going to die in my arms,” she told The Post.
France and her son were taken by ambulance to Children’s Hospital in Aurora where doctors determined the baby had suffered in the heat but had no underlying medical issues, she said.
In the statement, Matthew Sims, another attorney at the Rapoport firm, said, “What United failed to acknowledge is that this was an entirely preventable situation. The flight crew was aware over the course of time that dangerous temperatures were continuing to rise on this aircraft yet they failed to take reasonable steps to avoid the danger.”
Schmerin gave The Post a timeline for the June 22 flight and how the United air crew handled France’s situation.
After boarding for the 1:50 p.m. flight, the mother and child were allowed to leave the aircraft at 2:26 p.m., Schmerin said via email. They got back aboard 16 minutes later.
At 2:54 p.m., the plane pushed back from the gate, and the captain called for paramedics at 2:56 p.m.. Schmerin said.
The airplane already was headed to the runway so it had to return to the gate, where it arrived at 3:07 p.m., and “no later than 3:12 p.m. paramedics were there,” she said.
Airline cabin temperatures have been an issue.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the union that represents American Airlines flight attendants, has raised questions about airline policies and has an online “hot cabin form” for flight attendants who believe their airlines are risking passenger and crew safety by requiring people to sit for long periods in hot temperatures.
A posting on its website says passengers should not board unless cabin temperatures are 90 degrees or less, but that the union opposes the policy, saying the temperature requirement should be lower.
Rapoport, the attorney, said it is up to individual airlines to determine what is an acceptable temperature inside a plane’s cabin. But he worries that airlines might jeopardize passenger safety in hot climates to avoid running late or wasting fuel.
Cabin safety is a fundamental part of an air crew’s requirement to keep passengers safe.
“This was bungled,” he said in an interview.