Sarah Blackwood, an Ontario-based musician and mom to 2-year-old Giorgio, was just trying to fly from San Francisco to Vancouver Wednesday. In an experience familiar to a lot of parents, Giorgio wasn't being especially cooperative, "crying really loud" as the plane started its taxi to takeoff. That loud crying, says Blackwood, caused the United Airlines pilot to turn the plane around and kick them both off the plane. Now Blackwood is demanding an apology from the airline, saying they behaved unreasonably — and her fellow passengers appear to be backing her up.
Blackwood, who's seven months pregnant with her second kid, admits that Giorgio was "crying, he was loud, he was squirming in my arms,” prior to takeoff.
According to the CBC, Giorgio "is 23 months old, and is considered an infant by the airline's standards — so he was eligible to sit on her lap free of charge."
Blackwood says that though she got Giorgio calmed down, "the pilot went back to the gate because the boy was 'a safety threat.'"
“They turned the plane around and went back to the gate and asked me to leave the plane after he was fully sleeping on me,” she says.
Skywest airlines, which operated Blackwood's flight, UA Flight 6223, disputed her account in a written statement. Via email, they said that “Despite numerous requests, the child was not seated and was repeatedly in the aisle of the aircraft before departure and during taxi. The crew made the appropriate decision to return to the gate in the interest of safety.”
Blackwood says this is bullshit, telling CBC that "her son was not in the aisle, and that she was holding him with her arms and doing what she could to keep him from moving."
"I had a window seat," Blackwood said. "There was a gentleman beside me, there's no way he could have been running around in an aisle, because it was impossible."
After Blackwood was kicked off the plane, another United rep told her that the issue was that she was supposed to put her seatbelt over her son. Here's Blackwood's conversation with the United staffer:
Blackwood's band "is touring right now so we've been flying a lot and this is the first time we've heard of this. Airlines that require seatbelt on the child always gives us an extension. From what their Rep is saying, United wanted Sarah to put her seatbelt over her son," she writes.
KTVU reports that "many passengers aboard UA Flight 6223 came to the mother's defense on United's Facebook page, saying the mother had done everything she could to soothe her child and that the stewards acted unprofessionally and unreasonably."
Passenger Paul Moore wrote on United's page that "The only person that was not empathetic to the clearly stressful situation was the flight attendant, who warned the mother three times to keep her kid quiet...Sure enough, the flight attendant followed through on her warning and had the plane return from taxiing to the airport."
We then spent the next 75 minutes while the flight crew escorted the mother and child off the plane and the cargo crew removed all the luggage off the plane in order to find her bags...Everyone on that flight was shocked at how unprofessional, unreasonable and insensitive a certain member of your staff acted!"
You might recognize Blackwood from her work as lead singer of Walk Off The Earth, a group that's gained attention for its low-fi cover versions of popular songs. Here's an example:
According to Blackwood, a United rep got her on another flight, but a look at her Facebook page shows that she's still smarting over the experience, and says that she's "Disgusted and exhausted. @United."
"It turned out to be a 12½, 13-hour travel day that should have been a five-hour travel day, and it was totally unnecessary and ridiculous," she told the CBC, saying that she'd "love compensation of some kind."