It was quiet for awhile but we knew it was bound to happen again…last week Spirit Airlines kicked the acclaimed concert pianist (and Grammy-nominated artist) and cancer researcher (a Yale graduate who holds degrees in molecular biophysics, biochemistry, and music), Mei Rui, off a flight for being “non-compliant.” Her crime? Breastfeeding.
Rui was supposed to catch a Spirit Airlines flight from her home in Houston to Newark on Friday to do some work on a clinical cancer study in New York City. The plans were made months ago and her elderly mother, father, and 2-year-old son were accompanying her.
However, the 6:30 a.m. flight was repeatedly delayed due to weather so the passengers were stranded on the jetway. Her 2-year-old was anxious and hungry though and after holding him off for as long as she could and with no idea about when they would take off, she decided to feed him, hoping it would put him to sleep for the entire plane ride.
Soon after she began to feed him, the plane started preparing to taxi and take off. However, the door was still open and according to Rui, a few flight attendants walked by without saying anything. Very quickly that mood changed when a flight attendant approached her and informed her that her baby had to be in his seat for takeoff.
“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. I said, ‘I promise I’ll finish before you close the plane’s door.’
The flight attendants conferred at the front of the plane. Rui stopped feeding her son, and as she predicted, the baby began crying. That was when the crew instructed Rui she needed to get off the plane…”1
She started recording on her cellphone camera and simply asked why she was being asked to leave if the baby was strapped in. But they decided to escalate the situation telling all the passengers that they had to get off their phones. Once the plane pulled back in, officers were waiting for Rui and her crying son. It was at that point that a Spirit Airlines rep told her she wouldn’t be allowed back on board.
According to Rui, her parents, who are Chinese natives that lived through the trauma of the country’s Cultural Revolution, were terrified. And, later that day, after waiting an hour for luggage that never returned, Rui’s father collapsed and had to be rushed to the emergency room.
Rui never made it to New York and Spirit stood by their decision to take Rui and her family off the plane, saying:
“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.”2
What do you think? Were they right or wrong? Was she really non-compliant? Do you think the real reason they kicked her off the plane was that she was breastfeeding?