United Airlines gained social media infamy in May when they dragged a male customer off an overbooked flight, but two months later, the airline outdid themselves. At the end of June, Emily France boarded a United Airlines flight from Denver to El Paso with her 4-month-old son, Owen, unaware she was about to have the scariest experience of her life.
Shortly after settling herself and baby Owen into their seat, airline workers announced that takeoff was delayed. What started as annoyance grew to worry then to full blown panic as the temperatures in the stifling cabin rose higher and higher in the summer heatwave.
Immediately when she boarded, France noticed how hot it was and tried to keep Owen cool by putting wet wipes on him. She expressed her concerns to flight attendants, who kept assuring her they would take off soon and the plane would cool off once they were in the air.
But an hour of sweltering heat passed, and the un-airconditioned plane was still on the ground.
"The heat was unbearable inside the plane, especially for an infant," France said. "Infants can't tolerate the same heat adults can.
France said they waited nearly two hours inside the stifling, delayed plane, and Owen's state of health declined. The worried mother asked flight workers why they couldn't cool down the plane before takeoff, but no one ever gave her an explanation; rather, they simply reassured her it wouldn't cool off until they were in the air.
But they didn't get in the air soon enough.
Full-blown chaos broke out
"A mother knows," France said. "And I heard a cry from him I had never heard before and I saw a skin color in him I had never seen. And then he just stopped crying and went limp in my arms."
Flight attendants tried bringing ice wrapped in trash bags and napkins, while passengers trying to help suggested sripping his clothes off.
"They were not equipped to handle it," France said. "They couldn't evacuate us. It was chaos. I really thought my son was going to die in my arms
Finally, a flight worker radioed to the tower, reporting they had an infant with shortness of breath on board and they were going to return to the gate.
Waiting for medical help
It took approximately a half an hour to evacuate the plane from the moment the panicked mom requested an ambulance for her dying baby.
"I was standing in front of the open plane door stuck on the tarmac," France said. "And I looked down at him and just thought, 'please don't go.'"
When France was finally able to evacuate the plane and get her baby into an ambulance, they were rushed to an emergency room. Owen was treated for overheating. The medical professionals treating Owen said he was suffering from the heat but has no underlying medical condition.
The Federal Aviation Administration has not set any regulation on temperature inside an airplane cabin, but after France's nightmare experience, she's fighting to change the rules. She's retained an attorney because "she does not want other mothers and babies to endure a lengthy delay in a hot cabin after her baby had to be rushed by ambulance to an emergency room."
Her attorney, David Rapoport, said he's hoping to get the FAA and National Transportation Safety Board involved, and that "he would be prepared to file a lawsuit on France's behalf if United Airlines doesn't prove reasonable and fair in its response to France's complaints."
Shortly after the incident, United spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin said: "This should never have happened. 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."