As much as we all hate hearing babies screaming on aircraft, you’ve got to cut the parents some slack. Do you think they want their kid to be crying in a cramped airplane for the next few hours? Of course not. You do everything you can to try and keep your little angel quiet so as not to make the people next to you glare across at your bawling bub and let out long, audible sighs.
For Mei Rui, a concert pianist and cancer researcher, she was feeling exactly that pressure as she boarded a Spirit Airlines flight from Houston, Texas, to Newark, New Jersey on Friday with her 2-year-old son. Knowing she had a 3-hour flight in front of her, the mother took the opportunity to feed her baby while people were still filing into the cabin. She hoped it would help him sleep for the duration of the flight, and was trying to keep him quiet and not bawling loudly across the plane.
“Every parent with a young child can imagine, you don’t want to be that parent on the plane,” she told the Washington Post. “It would be very embarrassing. I was just trying to avoid that.”
But little did she know that breastfeeding her child would get them kicked off the flight for good. Rui said that while she was breastfeeding a flight attendant had come over and told her that her baby needed to be in his seat for takeoff. Looking around, she saw that passengers were still moving down the cabin and that the plane door was still wide open.
“I asked for just a couple more minutes to finish because if he woke up at that point he would have made a lot of noise,” Rui said. “I said, ‘I promise I’ll finish before you close the plane’s door.’”
The flight attendants discussed her request at the front of the plane, worrying Rui and leading her to stop feeding her son. As predicted, her son started crying immediately.
Next thing she knew, the crew told Rui she needed to get off the plane. Now filming the whole thing with her phone camera, Rui asked in a reasonable manner why she was being asked to leave if her baby was already strapped into his seat as they’d asked.
“It’s not like I was resistant, I put him in the seat,” she said. “If they had shown a little compassion, it wouldn’t have happened, they didn’t have to let it escalate.”
Leaving the aircraft with her son, as well as her husband and elderly parents they were travelling with, the other passengers were told to put their phones down. Once back in the airport, police officers were waiting at the boarding gate to speak with Rui, who was carrying her still-crying son.
Things didn’t get better from there.
— Nicholas Navin (@nicholas_navin) 9 December 2017
A representative from Spirit Airlines standing with a group of uniformed officers told her she and her family would not be allowed back on board.
“I just want to know why we were kicked off the plane?” Rui asked, still shocked at everything that had happened.
“Because you were not compliant,” the man said.
“Could you tell me which part of the instruction we were not compliant with? I think we deserve to know that.”
Rui was denied any further explanation from the man, despite her repeated questions about why exactly they had been “chased” off the plane.
“If this happened to your family,” Rui started, before being cut off by the representative who said shortly: “It wouldn’t happen to my family, I can assure you.”
Spirit Airlines released a statement to Houston’s KHOU, standing by their decision to remove the woman. They did not apologize for the confusion and humiliation they caused Rui and her family, again just stating they were “refusing to comply with crew instructions”. They did, however, refund Rui her ticket, “as a courtesy”.