Family removed from flight after 2-year-old wouldn’t wear a mask — here’s how to avoid that happening to you

Dec 13, 2020

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A health coach recently posted on social media about her experience being removed from a United Airlines flight from Denver to Newark because her two-year-old daughter wouldn’t wear a mask. From where the video posted to Instagram starts, you can see attempts the parents make to have the little one put a mask on to no avail. A United agent then asks the family to gather their things and exit the flight. The family stated they were traveling to New York to spend time with friends and family for the weekend.

There’s a lot to unpack here, from properly following pandemic protocol to the official policy of United Airlines. As a father of two little ones myself, I also have a lot of thoughts on what occurred as well as a lot of empathy for all parents for the times your little ones just won’t cooperate. Let’s review what happened and how you can avoid a similar situation.

Know the airline’s mask policy before you board (or book)

Whether you agree or disagree with the official United Airlines mask policy, it is clear in its language that all travelers over the age of 2 are required to wear a mask on board. (Also, the day you turn 2, you’re over 2.) There are three FAQs on the United website that again make it clear all travelers over the age of 2 are required to wear face coverings during the entire flight. With the policy clear and reiterated multiple times during the booking and check-in process, parents have adequate knowledge about whether or not a child will have to wear a mask.

If you think mask compliance for your child might be an issue, choose one of the other airlines with more lenient policies for flying little ones.

On Delta, which flies from Denver nonstop to Laguardia, children under the age of 2 and young children who cannot maintain a face covering are exempt from the mask requirement.

Image courtesy Richard Kerr/The Points Guy.

Normalize wearing a mask with your child before the flight

As a parent, you know whether your kid is likely to be capable of wearing a mask for a lengthy flight even before you book the flight. To help your chances, there should be a lot of conversation and practice even before heading to the airport.

It also helps to pick out a fun series of masks. From the video, it looks like the mask the parents are attempting to use is an adult surgical mask provided by United. Your kid’s favorite cartoon, superhero or storybook character is probably on a mask at this point. (Check out recs from TPG’s Summer Hull here.)

Then, practice practice practice. Wear a mask yourself at home so your child sees it is normal and let them wear it while doing their favorite activities at home. Start short for a few minutes and work your way up then reward them for success.

I’m not a child development pro, but we’ve done these with my 3 and 5-year-old and had good luck this year when they have been on a flight or in a place where a mask is required for a long time.

Prepare to be flexible

Accept that some days the little ones just aren’t going to play ball and roll with the punches. Fly Delta when possible if you know you’re at risk of having a little one that doesn’t like masks.

And finally: Always follow state-issued quarantine requirements

Whether or not to travel right now is a personal decision. But whether or not to comply with mandatory quarantine requirements is not.

New York state requires a minimum of a three-day quarantine from noncontiguous states if the travelers received a negative COVID test within three days of departure. In the video in question, this parent says this is a weekend trip, which would not allow enough time to follow the state-mandated quarantine guidelines. If we ever want to beat this thing for good and get back to travel as we knew it, we must travel responsibly and follow the proper guidelines.

Bottom line

Life is tough right now and the smallest stressors can quickly boil over. Do your homework to avoid any surprises and if you don’t like the policy of a particular company (airline) then choose to do business with another one.

It can certainly be tough when your little ones don’t want to cooperate, but you have to plan for how to counteract those times and plan to be in a position where it’s ok if today is Meltdown Day. I don’t fault United for enforcing its written policy. Taking the aforementioned precautions into consideration might have helps these parents lessen the chance of setting themselves up for failure.

Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

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