A Texas mom and her family members were kicked off a Spirit Airlines flight at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston when she asked for a few more minutes to breastfeed her toddler while the crew got ready for takeoff, KHOU reported.
Mei Rui was traveling to New York with her son and elderly parents; she described her father as having a severe heart condition. Rui is a cancer researcher and a concert pianist, who was nominated for a Grammy in 2015.
According to Facebook posts that Rui has since made private, their early morning flight was delayed three hours because the crew needed to thaw ice on the plane. Passengers were told to get off the plane and then re-board. Rui said that she and her toddler were up since 3 that morning, and her son was exhausted.
After they boarded the plane for the second time, she nursed her son so that he would sleep during the trip. A flight attendant asked her to stop breastfeeding and for Rui to buckle him into his seat.
She told The Washington Post:
“Every parent with a young child can imagine, you don’t want to be that parent on the plane. It would be very embarrassing. I was just trying to avoid that.”
She observed that when she was asked to stop breastfeeding, the plane was not yet fully boarded and the plane doors were still open. She asked for a few more minutes to feed her child and didn’t promptly stop.
In several Facebook posts that Rui has since made private, she wrote:
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.
According to the Post, it was at that point that the “flight attendants conferred at the front of the plane.” One of them returned to Rui’s seat and asked her and her parents to get off the plane. Rui said they called the police. Rui recorded the incident on her phone. In her video, her son is crying in the background and her strained voice reveals her distress.
Rui wrote on Facebook (also since made private):
I am terribly sorry for the trouble and inconvenience this has caused to all other passengers on the plane. We tried everything I could to stop my poor baby from crying and disturbing the other passengers, but he was jolted awake a 5th time because of the 3 hour delay that resulted in unboarding/reboardjng, lots of loud announcements. He completely lost it, but crying is not a criminal offense, especially since if you let me do my job as his mother, nobody on the airplane would have even noticed his presence! (As another passenger said, he was completely quiet for the first 2 hours of the delay.)
When she asked why they were kicking her off despite putting him in his seat, officials refused to give her a straight answer.
Rui told the Post:
“It’s not like I was resistant, I put him in the seat. If they had shown a little compassion, it wouldn’t have happened, they didn’t have to let it escalate.”
After Rui and her family left the plane, they waited for more than an hour for their luggage, which never arrived, and her father collapsed after almost suffering a heart attack.
Spirit Airlines released the following statement to KHOU:
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.
Rui posted a response to Spirit on her Facebook account, which read:
Shame on you Spirit Airlines for fabricating more lies! The whole plane of passengers can testify that the plane’s door was still open, was stationary at the gate, NOT in taxi mode as your statement says. We are so grateful for the outpouring of support and compassion. It has not been the greatest year for my family, but being bombarded with kindness from both friends and strangers alike kept us hopeful. It was difficult and painful at times to have to relive and discuss details of the events to a reporter, but ultimately I wish that with more exposure of incidents like these, no family will ever have to go through a traumatic ordeal like this in the near future.
My son has flown over 30 times both internationally and domestically, including long flights of my taking him solo without any problems. If we could all show each other a little more empathy and respect in unfortunate situations like this (in this situation, if they had just given me 2 more minutes to finish nursing him as they were finishing the reboarding process—plane door was still open), they could have spared us the trauma, a trip to the emergency room, having to unboard the whole plane, public humiliation, and loss of a very important work assignment for a cancer clinical study at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
The family had previously experienced hardship when their homes were flooded after Hurricane Harvey struck Houston, according to the Post. Rui wrote that the plane incident was even more traumatic than when Hurricane Harvey hit.
Rui wrote on Facebook:
This was an even more traumatic morning for us than when Harvey destroyed our homes… We just got kicked off a Spirit flight… My dad almost had a heart attack and collapsed on the floor. I had never imagined something like this could happen to our family. I am heartbroken that I could not protect my old parents and Lukas from this cruelty!
Those of you who know me and my family, the last thing we would want to do is to cause trouble. I still can’t stop trembling. 3 hours later and am in shock… This recording session for music to be used our clinical study involving 400 cancer patients and a film crew had been scheduled months in advance, and I missed it because they threatened me that the ‘FBI would get involved if we insisted on boarding the plane.’ The most devastating part is how traumatized and scared Lukas and my parents were during this brutal ordeal.
She told the Post:
“We’re not lawbreakers or trouble seekers/ We’re the elderly, a baby and his mother, why did they have to treat us this way?”
You can watch the original KHOU report below.