United Airlines is facing criticism after leaving passengers on the tarmac for more than two hours June 22 at Denver International Airport, causing a 4-month-old baby to overheat. The mother claims that the airline crew seemed "completely unprepared for a medical emergency."
According to The Denver Post, the child's mother, 39-year-old Emily France, had planned to attend a rocket launch with her husband, an astrophysicist. She boarded UA flight 4644 from Denver, Colorado, to El Paso, Texas, at 1:20 p.m. The flight was scheduled to take off at 1:50 p.m.
The National Weather Service reports that the temperature in Denver had soared to 90 degrees by the time France boarded the plane.
"There was just hot air coming from the vents," said France.
Airline crew soon notified passengers that the flight would be delayed due to "bad weather". The flight path would need to be rerouted, which would require more fuel.
France attempted to cool her baby down by applying wet wipes to his head and placing him near garbage bags full of ice provided by the airline crew.
Eventually, France hit her call button and warned the airline crew that it was becoming "dangerously hot." The crew allowed her and her baby to leave the plane for 20 minutes, and then called her back to take off. The flight was delayed once more upon returning to her seat.
France claims that another woman was also attempting to cool down her child by holding a bag of ice against the child's bare chest. Meanwhile, her own child's body was beginning to give out.
"His whole body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head and he was screaming," said France. "And then he went limp in my arms. It was the worst moment of my life."
France and other passengers started begging for an ambulance. She claims the flight and ground crew appeared to disagree over whether the plane should be brought back to the terminal or if stairs should be brought to the plane.
The mother estimated that the plane then returned to the gate after about 30 minutes. During that time, her baby was drifting in and out of consciousness as she stood with him near the open door of the aircraft.
Heath Montgomery, a spokesman for the airport, later confirmed that a medical call had been made at 2:59 p.m. regarding an infant experiencing shortness of breath on a United flight.
France got in an ambulance around 3:45 p.m., more than two hours after boarding the plane. The baby was immediately taken to a children's hospital and spent the next day recovering at home.
The incident happened in the midst of a massive heat wave caused by a high-pressure system in the Southwest. The Weather Channel reports that more than 40 flights were grounded in Phoenix, Arizona, due to the heat. Many others were delayed all over the country.
Airline protocols require that passengers be offered food, a bathroom break and refreshment after two hours on the tarmac, and that they must be allowed to disembark after three hours. There are currently no protocols relating to passengers being able to leave when the cabin becomes too hot.
France believes that airlines should set a heat limit for keeping riders on the tarmac.
"If the temperature in the plane gets above a certain level, passengers should be taken off immediately," she said.
UA has already been under public scrutiny since a video in April showed airline crew violently removing a man from his paid flight seat. On June 23, they released the following statement to The Denver Post:
"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."
United did not reach out to the family until Tuesday. The Daily Mail reports that the airline had apologized to France, adding that '[their] thoughts are with the child."
"This situation is very concerning to us and we are actively looking into what happened," UA stated.