Airline Kicked Family Off Flight Because Their 3 Year Old Spit Up

A few years ago while onboard Cathay Pacific I overheard a business class passenger complaining to a flight attendant during boarding that her skin was having a bad reaction to one of the items in her amenity kit. The woman was removed from the aircraft and not allowed to fly. The last thing Cathay Pacific wanted was a medical emergency inflight causing a diversion.

Airlines often do things out of an abundance of caution, although nearly every time you hear that phrase it’s a cover for stupidity. I’m paranoid about getting sick and wish that sick passengers wouldn’t fly. Or at least if you have a cold or flu that you won’t sit next to me.

Over the weekend a family flying from Maui to Los Angeles on Virgin America was kicked off — because their 3 year old spit up. The mom took her son to the bathroom, they were ‘running up the aisle’ but the boy got sick on the way to the lavatory. She took him inside, finished up, and opened the lavatory door to give the child to her husband so she could clean herself up.

That’s when her husband said, “come on. We have to go. They’re kicking us off the plane.”

Kohan said her youngest, Holden, was car-sick from the ride to the Maui airport and a flight attendant could have cared less.

“She was very rude. No compassion. No empathy,” said Kohan. “I was trying to clean him up and she was rolling her eyes and wondering why I let him get sick on the floor as if that was purposeful.”

The airline staff let the Kohans know that they had to leave the plane because their son was sick. They were stunned.

“How does someone throwing up automatically mean they get off the plane,” said Kohan. “What if I was pregnant and I was having morning sickness and I threw up. Would you kick me off the flight? They said yes by the way. And I asked them if a small child had been feeding on a bottle and reflux and if they threw up. Would they kick them off? And they said yes they would. I don’t believe that” said Kohan.

Airlines don’t want passengers onboard who will spread disease or cause a diversion. Flight crew aren’t always best-positioned to judge this, but they’re in a position where they have to. A child throwing up before they even leave the ground is a pretty good indication that the flight might be miserable for everyone else but he’s already thrown up in the aisle, that isn’t undone by removing him. They don’t want it to happen again on a flight blocked at over 5 hours.

It was clearly a mistake, though, for crew to engage in hypotheticals about kicking off a pregnant woman and a baby with reflux from feeding.

The airline insisted on a medical letter than the boy was fit to fly before re-accommodating them. So they went to the nearest hospital and got one.

Virgin America refunded their tickets and offered $800 in compensation (which the family refused, and they purchased new tickets home on United).

According to Virgin,

Per standard process in the event of a guest medical event, the flight crew on Virgin America Flight 1122 contacted Medlink and they determined that the child needed to be symptom free for two hours before flying. The family was not able to depart on their original flight but were able rebook when their child was feeling better and was symptom free. We take the safety of our guests very seriously and acted out of an abundance of caution.”

The $800 compensation offer is indication that something went wrong on the airline’s end here. The claim that crew reasonably “acted out of an abundance of caution” is further proof that they acted unreasonably under the circumstances.

(HT: Khalil D.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. They should really put sensors on the air sickness bags, so the pilots know to divert as soon as someone removes one. 🙂

  2. My kids on occasion not quick reaching for a barf bag. FA’s coudn’t care, beyond pointing us to where wipes/towels are.

    How often do passengers throw up on a plane? A lot more than you’d think. If you’re quesy about sitting on a seat which may have recently gotten a quick mop/wipedown between pax loads, don’t get on a plane!

  3. in fairness, from Maui to LA, there isn’t exactly a reasonable diversion airport. So the crew has to make a call.

    If they did call MedLink, then they have to follow their guidance. While silly, once they decided to call it in, no one can easily stop it “JUST IN CASE” something happens — everyone defaults to most conservative action plan

  4. I recently flew business class on BA. Someone had vomited in the seat next to mine on the previous flight. They had done their best to clean up, but the person assigned to the seat had to move because the floor was still wet, and the area was slightly smelly. I kept the barrier up, and it was OK. I’m surprised airlines don’t have the same cleaning liquid I use for my dog, Nature’s Miracle. It’s great!

  5. I smell payout a lot higher than 800 bucks of comp. A NDA will prob be signed so this will be the last we hear about this.

  6. Didn’t we have outbreaks of Ebola that made the news 3 or 4 years ago? I am sure those airplanes were decontaminated after the passengers left… oh wait, they didn’t know they had Ebola for like 1 or 2 days afterward. No special clean up between flights. No diverted flight. No Ebola outbreak, like we would have expected from a highly contagious disease especially considering the passengers had active symptoms: fever, sinus issues, etc.
    I can see the airlines point, but I don’t think a medical letter is needed for nausea. Reasonable passengers will take the two or three hour delay to satisfy everyone’s concerns. They probably could have extended their stay by a day or two due to the ill child. I mean, you’re in Hawaii, not Iowa.
    At least the family didn’t throw a temper tantrum and ruin the flight for everyone coming off of vacation. That behavior alone should get them an award.

  7. I agree with the commenter above. If this was a LAX-JFK flight I could see this being a bit unreasonable but OGG-LAX is an awfully long flight without diversions and “an abundance of caution” seems truthful in this case.

  8. @Danny — agree. Standard call.

    @Gary Leff — also agree that this standard call is very stupid. But, as it’s standard, I cannot fault the FAs for this.

    I can, and will, vehemently fault the FA for the eyerolling and lack of compassion for the kicked-off parents. That’s termination-worthy heartlessness.

  9. Last time I had a sick passenger on a flight was in April – they started to dry vomit when we were taxing for takeoff. Flight crew made the right call to abort takeoff and get him the medical care right away. No telling how things would have developed once in the air.

    It sounds like the flight crew could have been a bit nicer, but I agree that booting them was the right call. I do like how the lady lists off different people who throw up for various reasons – to me trying to make it sound like a routine thing to vomit – “everyone throws up, no biggie” 🙂

  10. My 18 month old son also threw up on the car ride from kanapali to maui airport (its not a straight road obviously), especially when they are rear-facing in a car seat. He wasn’t feeling right on the airplane either so this incident doesn’t surprise me. Hard for a flight attendant to know, but seems super aggressive to kick them off. I mean, they offer barf bags for each passenger in every seat for airline sickness, which is the same as motion sickness from a car.

  11. @WorldTraveler There’s a big difference between an adult who vomits and a child. There are many reasons, most pertinent the fact that children are far more likely to get motion sick (inner ear — same reason kids have a harder time with the pressure change on flights). Not sure if you have kids, but it really isn’t that unusual for them to vomit.

    The phone medical assistance lines are a joke. I’ve never heard of a case where they didn’t say “send them to the ER.” Any actual medical professional/parent would check for a fever. No fever = not sick from a pathogen. By their logic, any flight where turbulence causes motion sickness should be diverted so any sick passengers can go to the nearest hospital for evaluation and medical notes.

    Just another example where procedure trumps common sense.

  12. @Andy – but how are the FAs supposed to know if this is just a slight case of motion sickness or is a more serious issue which will be escalated once the airplane is in flight? As another poster commented, vomiting before takeoff is usually a no-go, no matter what your age.

  13. Returning from Havana to London on Virgin Atlantic in Jan 2017 in economy , our daughter aged 24 years , felt unwell with some sort of food poisoning after take off . She had to use bathroom to be sick but crew were very understanding and even said ”lots of illness like this coming out of Cuba ”
    The crew were excellent and very sympathetic, even brought her some clean Virgin pyjamas from first class as she had messed her T shirt .
    Cuba is quite dirty , although my wife and I were not affected and we all ate the same breakfast at the Havana casa.
    Well done Virgin .

  14. continued ………..And Virgin called ahead to Heathrow to ask for a wheelchair as she was by then feeling very unwell. She went to a doctor on arrival in London and indeed , severe food poisoning diagnosed that only kicked in about 3 hours into a 10 hour flight. Well done Virgin crew.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *