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Baby Lost Consciousness While Plane Sat Delayed on Hot Tarmac for Hours

Photograph by Twenty20

As we reach the peak of summer, warnings not to leave kids in hot cars have become more frequent, but a Colorado mom is angry that there isn't much attention paid to similar dangers in air travel, too.

About half an hour before the scheduled takeoff, Emily France and her 4-month-old baby boarded a United Airlines flight that was expected to leave at 1:50 p.m. But baby Owen grew overheated when the plane ended up being delayed on the tarmac on a 90-degree day for more than two hours, according to France's estimates.

“They were not equipped to handle it,” France told the Denver Post. “They couldn’t evacuate us. It was chaos. I really thought my son was going to die in my arms.”

The 39-year-old and her son was flying to El Paso, Texas, to join her husband for a rocket launch. She said it was hot inside the plane when she boarded and there was hot air coming from the vents. She was assigned to a seat in the rear of the plane.

Because of bad weather, the pilot had to fly a different path that would require more fuel, so takeoff was delayed.

To cool her baby down, France put wet wipes on his neck and down his shirt, and flight attendants brought ice in garbage bags to place on Owen.

After France told the crew it was dangerously hot, they allowed the two to leave the plane for 20 minutes. They were called back for takeoff, but the plane was delayed again. The crew brought more bags of ice and allowed her to go to the front of the craft, where she held Owen in front of the open door.

“His whole body flashed red and his eyes rolled back in his head and he was screaming,” France told the Denver Post. “And then he went limp in my arms. It was the worst moment of my life.”

She and her other passengers asked for an ambulance, but France said it took about 30 minutes for the plane to return to the gate and that she and Owen reached the ambulance at around 3:45 p.m.

“If the temperature in the plane gets above a certain level, passengers should be taken off immediately,” France said.

According to Department of Transportation rules, airlines can't leave passengers waiting on the tarmac for longer than two hours on domestic flights and three hours on international flights without the chance to deplane. Airlines must also provide adequate food and drinking water for passengers, maintain operable lavatories and provide medical attention if necessary.

"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. The pilot returned to the gate as our crew called for paramedics to meet the aircraft. Medical care was provided to the child within 16 minutes of the Captain's call for paramedics," United said in a written statement.

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