A New Jersey mother of four accused United Airlines of humiliating her and her family on a recent flight from the Dominican Republic to Newark, New Jersey. Elit Kirschenbaum said a flight attendant refused to allow her 3-year-old daughter, who has special needs, to sit on her lap. Elit and her husband gave CBS News correspondent Elaine Quijano an inside look at the ordeal.
"My little baby is sitting there on my lap, not hurting a fly, she can't walk by herself, she can't sit by herself and here is this woman who just is standing behind the law without putting humanity into the situation," Kirschenbaum said. "It was really heartbreaking."
Elit Kirschenbaum sat her 3-year-old daughter Ivy on her lap for their United Airlines flight home as she's done many times before. Ivy suffered a stroke in the womb and even though a seat had been purchased for her, she couldn't sit upright in that seat on her own.
"The flight attendants were passing back and forth, they passed drinks, smiled, said hello to Ivy and my son," Elit said. "Everything seemed fine until a fourth agent approached us and told me to place Ivy in her own seat."
The flight attendant cited an FAA regulation that requires everyone over the age of 24 months to sit in his or her own seat.
"She told us that we had to make her sit. And I said to her, 'I would give my left arm to make her sit, of course I want to have her sit but she just can't do it,'" Elit said.
The pilot ended up intervening, and after an hour delay the flight took off. Ivy was strapped in, laying across the laps of her father, Jeff, and another relative for takeoff and landing.
"It took an hour of arguing, embarrassment, screaming, crying to come up with such a simple plan which didn't even seem any different than having her sit on her lap," Jeff said.
The story sparked outrage on both sides after Elit shared her ordeal online with the hashtag #UnitedWithIvy.
In a statement, United Airlines said "Flight attendants are required by law to adhere to the safety regulations. As we did in this case, we will always try to work with customers on seating arrangements in the event of any special needs."
In Ivy's case, FAA guidelines recommend an FAA approved child safety seat, something Elit was not aware of until her flight.
"We never knew the rule," Elit said. "We've put her on our laps for the past three-plus years."
Minutes before our interview, a United Airlines representative called Elit. She said the woman on the phone was incredibly compassionate and apologetic.
"Part of what we hope that comes out of this is United does a better job of explaining to people what the rules are if you have a special needs child," Jeff said.
"I try to teach my children that when they make a mistake they need to own it, they need to apologize for it, they need to learn from it and they need to move on," Elit added. "And that is all I wanted from United as well."
The Kirschenbaums said they're neither looking for a refund nor revenge. In fact, next month their whole family is flying on United Airlines to Mexico. This time, they said they'll be fully prepared with an FAA approved car seat for Ivy.