A few weeks ago, referring to the now infamous United Airlines incident, I wrote about how the erosion of fairness is becoming all too common in many aspects of our daily lives.  I wrote “it is almost impossible for me to imagine that a passenger—a paying customer—who refused to voluntarily give up his assigned seat so some United employees needing to be repositioned could be flown his place, would find himself forcefully (some have characterized it as violently) removed from the flight by several very large, very menacing airport or airline security agents. Never in my wildest imagination would I have expected a family with babies to be unfairly targeted by another major corporation, another airline no less, but it has happened.

Hey Delta—were you not paying attention to what happened over at United and how much damage that incident did to United’s reputation?  Did you not use United’s mess to train your employees about what not to do?  I guess you failed on both accounts.

A Southern California family says they were kicked off an overbooked Delta airplane because they refused to yield a seat occupied by their toddler, in a car seat. The situation was, not surprisingly, videotaped and posted on You Tube.

The family says they were flying from Hawaii to Los Angeles when airline staff asked them to give up the seat occupied by their 2-year-old son and carry him on their laps for the duration of the flight. They tried to refuse and argued with airline staff, and say they were threatened with being sent to jail. Their refusal, according to the video, was not unjustified.  They had paid for the seat in which their child would sit in his car seat, after paying to fly an older child of theirs home on another flight, to create an open seat on the ill-fated flight so his younger brother could fly with Mom and Dad.

On the video, a Delta employee can be heard saying “You have to give up the seat or you’re going to jail, your wife is going to jail and they’ll take your kids from you.” Despite feeling they were in the right, that threat was terrifying, said the mother, who reported “As a mother, you have a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old – it doesn’t matter whether that’s true or false. It put fear in me,” she said.

In challenging the unfair actions of the Delta staff, the father is heard saying “You’re saying you’re gonna give that away to someone else when I paid for that seat– that’s not right.”  This prompted one airline employee to tell him that under FAA regulations, 2-year-old children are not supposed to have their own seats at all and are supposed to sit in parents’ laps for the duration of the flight. She can be heard saying “With him being two, he cannot sit in the car seat, he has to sit in your arms the whole time.” When the father challenged that statement, reminding the employee that Delta had let the family onto the plane with their car seats, and that the child had flown to Hawaii in the same car seat, the Delta employee became agitated and frustrated by the reply, apparently recognizing how ridiculous her statement was.  Or maybe she knew that Delta posts on  its website “We want you and your children to have the safest, most comfortable flight possible,” and advises parents “For kids under the age of two, we recommend you purchase a seat on the aircraft and use an approved child safety seat.” Delta’s website

The father is heard telling the Delta employee “You need to do what’s right I bought the seat and you need to just leave us alone” which seemingly prompted the employees to do just the opposite.  First, they scrambled to find some published documentation to support their untenable decision to force the child into his parents’ lap and the forfeiture of the seat the family had paid for. When that seemingly failed, the employees effectively bullied him into believing that his family was going to delay departure of the flight indefinitely, and suffer the wrath of fellow passengers.  Ultimately, the father capitulated and agreed to hold his son on his lap for the flight – but it was too late. The airline said the whole family had to leave the plane. That was around midnight, and the couple and their two toddlers were left having to scramble for a hotel room and pay $2,000 for another flight the next day, on United.

Delta released the following statement: “We’re sorry for what this family experienced. Our team has reached out and will be talking with them to better understand what happened and come to a resolution.” But the airline also said the family was not kicked off the plane because the flight was overbooked although it did not elaborate or offer any other details as to why the family was booted from the flight.

One thing for sure, is that Delta, like United, needs to be taught the meaning of fairness and to be held accountable for its lack of awareness of what fairness means.  As a crisis manager, and legal counselor who protects people’s basic rights to fairness whenever possible, I certainly hope that this family takes legal action against Delta.  If they do not, a message will be sent that it is ok for companies, especially those who employ people having a little bit of power they are willing to abuse, to treat customers unfairly.  I for one, do not want to see fairness erode any further.