ABOVE: Jennifer Tryon reports on Walk Off The Earth singer Sarah Blackwood’s experience with United Airlines.
TORONTO — Singer Sarah Blackwood of Canadian group Walk Off The Earth says she was forced to walk off a United Airlines flight Wednesday because her son was crying.
“I was embarrassed. I was in tears,” Blackwood said. “I couldn’t believe what was happening.”
Contacted in Vancouver, where Walk Off The Earth is scheduled to perform Friday night, Blackwood said she was sitting on United Airlines flight 6223 in San Francisco bound for Vancouver with her 23-month-old son Giorgio and his nanny.
“He was crying and squirming,” recalled Blackwood, who is seven months pregnant. “I was holding him down on my lap.”
(According to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, the safest place for a child on an airplane is in “a government-approved child safety restraint system or device, not on your lap.”)
BELOW: Watch Walk Off The Earth singer Sarah Blackwood talk about being asked to get off a United Airline flight with her son.
The musician told Global News a flight attendant came over and told her to “control” her child.
“My eyes were welling up. I was apologetic.”
Blackwood said other passengers seemed sympathetic.
After several minutes of taxiing, the plane turned around the returned to the gate. Blackwood said at this point her son was asleep.
The United flight attendant told Blackwood she would have to get off the plane.
“I felt apologetic at the time even though the only reason they were kicking me off was my son was crying on an airplane,” she said. “It was absolutely absurd.
“I couldn’t believe it. Apparently my child was some kind of threat to the airplane.”
According to another passenger, the flight was held up for more than an hour while the crew removed Blackwood’s luggage.
BELOW: Watch a United Airlines employee offer support to Sarah Blackwood after the singer was kicked off a flight.
Blackwood said an airline supervisor told her the flight attendant reported that Blackwood had refused to put a seat belt on her son. She posted audio of the exchange.
Blackwood was put on another flight and arrived in Vancouver around midnight.
Her plight quickly went viral, with dozens of people taking to social media to call the airline out.
“What kind of flight attendants and pilot would do such a thing?,” asked Rick Collin in a Facebook post. “Babies cry. Definitely not a health or security risk to anyone on the plane.”
Shane Findlay, who was on the flight, said he was in disbelief. “Had I known what was transpiring behind me on the plane I would have defended her completely,” he wrote on Facebook. “Absolutely unacceptable.”
Summer Brooke wondered: “How can a crying baby be a legitimate reason to get booted from a flight?”
“I can’t believe that they would treat somebody this way. I was traveling with my child,” she said. “I’ve been on planes before with babies that have screamed the entire way and I felt compassion for the mothers and the children.”
United Airlines has not yet responded on social media or contacted Blackwood directly.
SkyWest, which operated the United flight, said in a statement Blackwood and her son were removed from the plane “based solely on safety concerns.”
“Despite numerous requests, the child was not seated, as required by federal regulation to ensure passenger safety, and was repeatedly in the aisle of the aircraft before departure and during taxi,” the statement read. “The crew made the appropriate decision to return to the gate in the interest of safety.”
According to United Airlines, children under two years of age can travel on the adult’s lap. “Children who are not held by an adult and are unable to sit upright with the seat belt fastened must be carried in an FAA-approved infant seat. United does not provide infant seats,” its website reads.
Blackwood said her son is not quite two years old and therefore unable to have his own seat. She said on previous flights she has been instructed to hold him during take-offs and landing.
Walk Off The Earth, based in Ontario, has been nominated for five Juno Awards and last year won four Canadian Radio Music Awards. The group’s new album Sing It All Away, is due out June 16.