United Airlines wouldn’t let a mother and her infant disembark a plane waiting on the tarmac for two hours
A Colorado mother had a terrifying experience on a United flight bound for Texas that was delayed on a Denver tarmac for nearly two hours. Emily France’s 4-month-old son Owen had to be hospitalized after overheating while temperatures in the cabin spiked.
France told the Denver Post that her child became overheated when the temperature in the cabin became unbearable. She said it was already hot when they boarded the plane, and the temperature spiked as they waited. “I really thought my son was going to die in my arms,” she told the Denver Post. “They were not equipped to handle it,” France said. “They couldn’t evacuate us. It was chaos.”
France boarded United Airlines flight 4644 around 1:20 p.m. on Thursday, expecting to take off thirty minutes later, NBC News reports. The temperature in Denver that day was 90 degrees. “There was just hot air coming from the vents,” France said.
The flight was delayed to refuel due to a rerouting for bad weather. France and other passengers were allowed to exit the plane for 20 minutes, but were told to return because the plane was pushing away from the gate. France used wet wipes to try to keep him cool, and flight attendants brought her ice in garbage bags to try to help.
“His whole body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head and he was screaming,” France told the Denver Post. “And then he went limp in my arms. It was the worst moment of my life.” While France and other passengers begged for an ambulance, the flight crew allegedly argued about the best way to handle the situation — pushing back to the gate or requesting rolling stairs. They let France stand by the open door at the front of the plane where she sobbed, holding her baby in her arms. She said her son was drifting in and out of consciousness, and she estimates it took the plane 30 minutes to return to the gate. United told ABC News it took 16 minutes from the time the pilots called the ambulance for it to arrive. She finally disembarked with her son at about 3:45 pm. Owen was treated and released from the hospital the next day.
In an emailed statement to The Denver Post, United said: “Yesterday, a child onboard flight 4644 at Denver International Airport experienced a medical issue while the aircraft was taxiing prior to takeoff. The pilot returned to the gate as our crew called for paramedics to meet the aircraft. Our thoughts are with the child and family, and we have been in contact to offer travel assistance.”
“This should never have happened,” United Airlines said in a statement to NBC News. “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.”
“They seemed completely unprepared for a medical emergency,” France said.
Current regulations aren’t very comforting for passengers who experience this type of delay. At two hours they must provide bathroom breaks, drinks, and food. At three hours passengers can finally exit the aircraft. France thinks there should be some protocol for overheating. There should certainly be protocol for a child in medical distress.
“I’m sharing Owen’s story in the hopes that this never happens to anyone ever again,” France said.