"It just seems to me that a flight attendant made a decision that was a bad one," aviation consultant Mike Boyd said. He said that the flight attendant might have had a bad day and overreacted to the situation. "They're human too? They're just like the rest of us."
Kate Hanni, founder of the Coalition for an Airline Passenger's Bill of Rights, was not so sympathetic toward the flight attendant's decision.
"It's absurd," Hanni said. "Unless there's another passenger that comes forward that can corroborate that this mother threatened the flight attendant, I cannot understand the abuse of authority that this flight attendant had."
"How aggravating can a baby be that they have to turn an entire planeload of people around?" Hanni said. "You can't stop a toddler from cooing during the security announcement."
With concern for airline security so high since Sept. 11, angst over safety likely lowered tolerance for any actions or words out of the ordinary — even if they came from a 1-year-old.
"Since 9/11 there is an extreme awareness by crew members that we still face a real threat of a terrorist attack," said David A. Castelveter, the vice president of communications for the airline lobby Air Transport Association. "There is an overabundance of precaution to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of safety."
"We've got to err on the side of caution here," Boyd said. "If the person in the cabin decides there's an unsafe condition, you've got to go with it and then sort it out later."
But Hanni was very critical of what she called a decline in respect for passenger rights since 9/11.
"Passengers have less rights than a prisoner of war," she said, adding that she believes Penland has the right to punitive damages for the way she was handled by the airline.
An ExpressJet spokeswoman confirmed that the airline had received a complaint from Penland and was investigating her claim.
Continental Airlines spokeswoman Julie King referred inquiries on the matter to ExpressJet, on the grounds ExpressJet is not owned by Continental but works as a regional partner with it and several other airlines.
When asked whether Continental had any communication with Penland, the airline declined to comment "due to pending litigation." King did not provide details about the litigation.