Southwest Apologizes, Denied Terminally Ill Boy Use of Protective Seat

A New Hampshire newspaper is reporting the story of a local family that was returning from Orlando just before Christmas only to be stopped by a Southwest Airline flight attendant from using a special protective seat for their terminally ill son

Ill Child Denied Non-FAA Approved Seat

8 year old Nicholas Dainiak has Batten disease, a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disorder that has caused him to lose the ability to “walk, talk, eat and maintain muscle control over his body.”

To keep the child’s body in the proper position while traveling, the Dainiak family uses a specially padded handicapped car seat which the boy in fact used during the flight to Florida. However, on the return trip, the family said a flight attendant noted the seat was not FAA-approved and the family said they were given two choices: either Nicholas was not to use his car seat, or he would not be allowed to fly. The family chose to stay on the plane and the boy’s parents spent the three hour flight holding up their son’s head and body.

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Southwest Says, Sorry

The problem: there don’t seem to be any FAA-approved seats for a child in Nicholas’ situation. The parents were understandably upset that they were able to use his special car seat on other flights (including with Southwest), but perhaps it went unnoticed on previous flights and the flight attendant may have simply been following regulations as he or she understood them.

Southwest has since apologized to the family and at last report said it was continuing to research the incident. There was talk about issuing a refund, but it’s not clear for how many flights. We have contacted Southwest on this matter and will share the airline’s response. UPDATE: A Southwest spokesman told us by email that, “We certainly will take away any potential learnings from this experience in our constant evaluation of how to provide the best possible customer service, which is second only to the safety of every passenger.”

Meanwhile, on the Dainiak family website, which is devoted to their son’s struggle with Batten disease, a moving post about the trip was added on Christmas Eve:

“As you may know, we had an unfortunate incident on Southwest airlines on the way back. We feel terrible for what Nicholas had to go through, but we also understand that other Batten families likely struggle with similar situations. We hope that by being open with these events, it will shed some light on what some people with disabilities encounter. No day is easy, but we try to make the best with what we are given.” -from ourpromisetonicholas.com

 

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Published: December 27, 2011