A young girl on a United Airlines flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco suffered a “traumatic injury” to her left middle finger and extensor tendon when her hand became trapped in an unguarded hinge mechanism of the armrest on her Economy seat.
During the 10-hour flight from Amsterdam Schiphol Airport to California, the infant stuck her finger into the hinge of the armrest while it was extended upwards, but the armrest was suddenly moved downwards, ensnaring the girl’s hand in the mechanism.
Off-duty doctors who happened to be on the same flight rushed to assist, but the victim’s injury was so bad that she required surgery to repair her extensor tendon and ulnar collateral ligament.
The girl’s father is now suing United in a Chicago court, alleging that his daughter was severely injured due to the airline’s negligence because it was “reasonably foreseeable… that an infant’s extremities could be injured in an unguarded hinge mechanism”.
In fact, some United economy seats have special guards over the armrest hinges, which are designed to prevent exactly this type of injury, but for whatever reason, the safety feature isn’t installed across the United Airlines fleet.
The family is bringing the lawsuit under the Montreal Convention, which is an internationally recognized treaty that gives passengers specific rights in the case of an accident or injury.
Under Article 17 of the Montreal Convention, airlines are liable for most injuries sustained by passengers during an international flight, and there are only very limited exceptions that airlines can use in their defense.
Airline liability for damages under the Montreal Convention is currently capped at 1,288 Special Drawing Rights (SDR) – a made-up currency which is pegged to five real currencies.
As of January 2024, 1,288 Special Drawing Rights are worth only $1,714, but claims are designed to be easy and hard for airlines to reject. A claim for negligence could result in a much bigger compensation payout but would require much more extensive litigation.
United Airlines rarely comments on live lawsuits, but in this case, a spokesperson told us: “The safety of our customers is our highest priority. Doctors onboard assisted the family and our crew arranged for the customer to be met by medical personnel when the flight landed.”
The airline did not say how many seats in its fleet lacked armrest hinge guards or whether there were plans to retrofit safety mechanisms to unguarded armrests.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.