Breastfeeding mom kicked off of Spirit Airlines flight: 'It was humiliating to be chased off a plane'

Elise Solé

The internet is locked into a fierce debate over a cancer researcher who was kicked off a Spirit Airlines flight for breastfeeding her toddler.

On Friday, Mei Rui, a cancer researcher and concert pianist, was aboard a Spirit Airlines flight from her hometown of Houston to Newark, N.J. The trip was in relation to a clinical cancer study in New York, according to the Washington Post, and Rui’s elderly parents were along for the ride.

When the plane was delayed due to icy conditions, Rui began breastfeeding her son, in an attempt to calm him. “Every parent with a young child can [imagine], you don’t want to be that parent on the plane,” Rui told the Post. “It would be very embarrassing. I was just trying to avoid that.”

Initially, Rui was able to nurse in peace; however, a flight attendant soon informed the mom that her son would have to be buckled into his own seat.

“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 told the paper. “I said, ‘I promise I’ll finish before you close the plane’s door.’”

According to Rui, the attendant headed to the front of the plane and Rui stopped breastfeeding, securing her son in his own seat. But when he started crying, Rui says she was asked to leave the plane.

“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.”

Rui started recording the interaction on her cellphone as she and her family began packing up to leave. When they deplaned, a group of police officers was waiting for them.

“You’re not getting on the aircraft,” says the officer in the video obtained by Houston news station KHOU.

“So the reason we got kicked off is because [my son] was crying for 20 minutes strapped in his seat?” asks Rui, while her son cries in the background. “I just want to know why we were kicked off the plane?”

“Because you were not compliant,” he answered.

“Could you tell me which part of the instruction we were not compliant with?” says Rui. “I think we deserve to know that.”

According to the Post, Rui then said, “If this happened to your family…” to which the officer replied, “It wouldn’t happen to my family, I can assure you.”

Rui also said her family had to wait one hour to retrieve their luggage and once home, her father collapsed, due to possible heart problems.

Social media was locked in an impasse over whether the mother was in the right.

“It was humiliating to be chased off a plane in front of hundreds of people,” Rui told KHOU. “We had never been through anything close to this.”

A representative from Spirit Airlines sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

“To be clear, no one was removed for breastfeeding. The passenger failed to comply with crew instructions by not being safely buckled and secured for takeoff after being asked repeatedly to do so. As for the door, the reports from the crew indicate the door was closed at the time of the incident.”

The statement continues: “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. As a courtesy, we’ve issued a full refund to the customer in question.”

There’s been a ton of backlash against airlines for reportedly not allowing mothers to breastfeed. In 2014, Delta apologized to a mother from California for telling her to nurse with a cover, insisting the mom was given “misinformation” about her rights. In 2015, a Canadian mom says a United Airlines crew member “tossed” a blanket at her husband, telling him to “help her out.” And this year, two Frontier Airlines flight attendants claimed their employer wouldn’t let them use a breast pump while working, resulting in them filing a sex discrimination complaint with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

However, flying is not always such a nightmare for breastfeeding moms. In February 2016, a mother who had to pump milk for her triplets wrote an open letter to Delta, thanking the company for seating her in first class for more space and privacy, plus snacks. “I am incredibly grateful for the lengths these individuals took to make my role as momma much easier and impressed by the advocacy this company has provided for breastfeeding and pumping,” she wrote on the post with 60,000 likes.

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