Everett family puzzled by decision to boot boy off jet

EVERETT — It was already past the 3-year-old boy’s bedtime as he boarded the plane Saturday night for a six-hour red-eye from Seattle to Miami.

Flight attendants decided that little Daniel Yanchuk, of Everett, couldn’t be counted on to sit up with his safety belt around his waist. The Alaska Airlines pilot of Flight 16 turned the airplane around and headed back to the gate at Sea-Tac Airport.

Daniel and his father Mark Yanchuk, 31, were asked to get off. No reason was given except that the captain ordered it, Mark Yanchuk said.

Now he and his wife, Svetlana Yanchuk, 25, are wondering if Alaska Airlines officials ever plan to explain the company’s rules regarding fussy children.

The pilot made the decision for the safety of the boy and the comfort of the other passengers, said Alaska Airlines spokesman Paul McElroy. The Yanchuks will get their luggage delivered to their south Everett home and a full refund for the flight, McElroy said. The Yanchuks will also get a refund for their hotel in the Caribbean.

Four days after incident, the Yanchuks still can’t shake their feelings of shock, embarrassment and anger.

The Yanchuks, their sons Daniel and 1-year-old toddler Dennis and Svetlana’s mother, Vera Shteynvolf, boarded the plane early Saturday. First seated in an emergency exit row, they were asked to change seats. Mark Yanchuk and Daniel moved back to row 23 and Svetlana Yanchuk, her mother and Dennis moved forward to empty seats in first class.

While they waited for other passengers to board, Daniel began to fidget. A flight attendant brought cookies and Gummi bears to help him settle down, Mark Yanchuk said. Without Svetlana sitting with them, however, Daniel was more fussy than usual, he said.

“He wanted his mama, his pacifier and his water,” Mark Yanchuk said.

When it came time to buckle up, Daniel was loud and squirming, at one point with his feet dangling off the seat and the safety belt was around his neck, McElroy said. Flight attendants asked his mother to make her way to the back of plane to help Daniel get settled.

“He has flown many times before without any trouble,” Svetlana Yanchuk said. “We chose that flight because we planned to have him sleep the entire time. I got him calmed down quickly, but not before a lady sitting in front of him stood up and screamed at him and at Mark.”

As the plane moved toward the runway, Daniel was quiet, cooperative and occupied, Svetlana Yanchuk said.

Then came the announcement by the pilot that the plane was turning around.

At the gate, the family made their way down the long aisle and off the plane. They were told that Svetlana Yanchuk, her mother and Dennis could stay on board, but that Daniel and Mark Yanchuk had to get off. Splitting up was out of the question for the family, and by that time, the boys needed to get to some sleep.

Ultimately responsible for the flight, the captain decided he didn’t want to risk dealing with a further problem once the plane was under way, McElroy said.

“We regret the inconvenience to the family, but our flight crew used their best judgment,” McElroy said. “Turning back is not something we want to do. Our mission is to get people to their destinations on time with their bags. It costs money to turn around, so it’s not common.”

The Yanchuks said they will travel again, but probably not on Alaska Airlines.

“We think they overreacted, and we would like an apology or at least an explanation. At this point we only assume we were asked to leave because Daniel was loud,” Mark Yanchuk said. “I have emailed and called Alaska numerous times and no one has gotten back to me.”

Svetlana Yanchuk is defensive when she talks about people who have been critical of her parenting skills.

“I keep my sons close under my wings,” she said. “They are normal kids. There is no mute button for children. At home, Daniel helps wash dishes and pull weeds. He is such a good boy.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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