LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — A mom tries to calm her infant daughter, and passengers hug one another during an emergency at 36,000 feet.
“I love you.” “I love you, too,” a couple reassures each other.
Cellphone video captured Johanna Dubyak and her husband Nick Berkuta on United Airlines Flight 1296 during an emergency landing in which smoke filled the cabin.
They were traveling with their daughter Alva, who was a day shy of her first birthday.
The Costa Mesa couple was sitting in Row 30 last May when their flight from Los Angeles International Airport to Kona, Hawaii, had to be turned around.
They say their oxygen masks initially didn’t deploy.
Then they were asked to put on their life vests.
“I flagged down a flight attendant and asked the flight attendant for an infant life vest. She stated that there were no infant life vests on board,” Berkuta said.
“The fact that it wasn’t stocked with infant life vests is mind-blowing,” Dubyak said.
The couple was told to strap an adult life vest on Alva, but her parents say it was simply too big. They feel they’re qualified to make such a judgment because Berkuta is a battalion chief for a Southern California fire department and Dubyak is an obstetrician.
“The straps themselves, I felt, were dangerous. They were loose. They were all over her. There was no way they could be cinched down,” Dubyak said.
The plane made it safely to back to LAX with an escort, which can be heard in an announcement aboard the plane.
The couple had to board another plane to continue their trip to Kona.
And before their return flight, they made numerous attempts to reach United to see if an infant life vest would be available.
They say they never got a straight answer. However, a booking agent did offer some advice.
“He then went on to say if it were me, I would go out and buy an infant life vest for my family member to take on board, and by the way, you can take it on as carry-on luggage,” Berkuta said.
So, they bought a vest.
As it turned out, the return flight didn’t have a vest for Alva.
United says: “Each of our aircraft that travel over water are equipped with all required flotation devices.”
But as CBS2’s Jeff Nguyen learned, the FAA doesn’t have specific requirements for children’s life vests.
Peter Greenberg is the travel editor for CBS News.
“The bottom line here is this: are they enough floatation devices for every passenger on the plane? Yes,” Greenberg said. “Will they be effective if they don’t fit? Maybe not.”
CBS2 checked with other big Airlines flying to Hawaii out of LAX. Hawaiian, American, Alaska and Delta airlines provide infant life vests. Allegiant does not.
Dubyak acknowledges water landings are rare, and that’s why she didn’t think about how Alva would survive one until a smoke detector sounded.
“I think parents need to be proactive and ask questions,” Dubyak said. “And the questions might seem like they’d be obvious that they would have that. But that proactiveness may save somebody’s life.”
Nearly a month after CBS2 first contacted United Airlines for this report, the company says it plans to equip all aircraft with infant life vests as it updates its fleet.