Dr Mei Rui, a cancer researcher and Grammy-winning concert pianist, says she was kicked off a Spirit Airlines flight for breastfeeding her 2-year-old son while travelling from her home in Houston to New York City on Friday. Her mother and father were travelling with her.
The flight was delayed and her son was crying, so she started breastfeeding him to try to put him to sleep, Dr Rui told The Washington Post. When a flight attendant told her the baby had to be in his seat for takeoff, she says she asked for a little more time, "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.'"
She then stopped feeding him, and he began crying, as she had expected. Then, the crew told her she had to get off the plane, she said. She started taking video of what was happening and asked why the crew was requiring her to leave when she had already put the baby in the seat.
"They treated us like we were criminals," she told The Post. "A baby crying is not a crime."
Police officers were waiting for her family outside, and a Spirit Airlines representative told her she wouldn't be allowed back on board. When she asked why her family had been kicked off, the rep said, "Because you were not compliant," but declined to provide more details.
Dr Rui's family has had an incredibly tough year as it is, she told The Post. They lost their house and possessions, including her piano, in Hurricane Harvey, and are currently living in temporary housing. After the family got home the day they were kicked off, Dr Rui's father, who suffers from heart problems, collapsed and was taken to the emergency room.
Spirit Airlines defended its decision.
"To be clear, no one was removed for breastfeeding," Spirit Airlines communications director Stephen Schuler told Refinery29. "The passenger failed to comply with crew instructions by not being safely buckled and secured for takeoff after being asked repeatedly to do so." When asked why Dr Rui was asked to leave despite promising to buckle the baby before the door closed, he said: "As for the door, the reports from the crew indicate the door was closed at the time of the incident."
In a statement, the airline said: "We were forced to remove a passenger from flight 712 after they refused to comply with crew instructions several times while the doors were closed during taxi and safety briefing. To ensure the safety of our guests and crew, FAA regulations and airline policies require all passengers stay seated and buckled during takeoff and landing. We reviewed multiple accounts from the crew and other guests sitting nearby and we apologize for any inconvenience caused by this issue."
The airline says it has issued a full refund to Dr Rui.