Let’s be honest: Air travel with young children is no one’s idea of fun. Even when the little ones are on their very best behavior, most of us are concerned about disrupting fellow passengers. But one Houston mom’s attempt to keep everyone on her plane happy ended with her ejected from the flight before lift off, she claims. The airline, on the other hand, calls it a case of non-compliance.
Last week, Mei Rui was traveling from Texas to New Jersey with her elderly parents and 2-year-old son when their 6:30 a.m. Spirit Airlines flight was repeatedly delayed at the gate. Right before it seemed they were going to get the all-clear, Rui says she decided to breastfeed her son in an attempt to keep him from crying.
“Every parent with a young child can image, you don’t want to be that parent on the plane,” Rui told the Washington Post. “It would be very embarrassing. I was just trying to avoid that.”
At the time, she says passengers were still walking about and the plane door was open, so she figured it wouldn’t be an issue. A few crew members even passed by without saying anything—until one came by and instructed Rui to buckle her son back in his seat. (She claims the plane door was still open; the airline says it was closed.)
In a post on Facebook, Rui shared her version of what happened next:
“I explained to them both that giving me a couple more minutes to finish nursing him would prevent him from crying and disturbing the other passengers. Seeing that I did not stop breastfeeding him promptly, they went back and at that point must have called the captain. I didn’t want to cause any trouble, so I immediately pulled my son off and forced-buckled him into the seat, which set off uncontrollable crying for the next 25 minutes to the great dismay and earache of everyone on the plane.”
Even though the toddler was buckled in, it was then the crew members told her to get off the plane. She recorded the following scene with her cellphone camera.
Once off the plane and surrounded by uniformed guards, she continued filming.
“I just want to know why we were kicked off the plane?” Rui said in the video. “Could you tell me which part of the instruction we were not compliant with? I think we deserve to know that.”
When she wasn’t provided with more answers, Rui said she asked the flight representative what he would do “if this happened to your family.” To that, the man curtly responded, “It wouldn’t happen to my family, I can assure you.”
Rui, her son and parents weren’t allowed back on the plane—causing them to miss their trip to New Jersey, where Rui, a Grammy-nominated pianist/molecular biologist, was scheduled to record audio to be used with a clinical cancer study. Worse still, Rui says the stress of the day led her father to collapse from a heart ailment and require treatment at the hospital.
“They treated us like we were criminals,” she told the Washington Post. “A baby crying is not a crime.”
Despite pushback from Rui and supporters who came to her defense after she uploaded the video, Spirit Airlines stood by the decision in a statement:
“Our records indicate a passenger was removed from Flight 712 after refusing to comply with crew instructions several times during taxi to runway and safety briefing. To protect the safety of our guests and crew, FAA regulations and airline policies require all passengers to stay seated and buckled during takeoff and landing. We apologize for any inconvenience to our guests. As a courtesy, we’ve issued a full refund to the passenger in question.”
Of course, there was no video from the conversations within the plane, so it’s hard to know exactly what happened. But airlines haven’t earned themselves the best of reputations when it comes to the treatment of passengers lately.
When it comes to what we can do about it, start by following the rules—but also be sure to show fellow traveling parents a little compassion.