By Ryan Craggs. Photos: Getty.
In a time of heightened attention to passenger-booting controversies—see recent dragging and derailed wedding stories—airlines are all-too-aware of the optics of kicking people off planes. The latest incident involves an entire family's exit over an otherwise sweet pivot point: namely, a mom's birthday cake.
Cameron Burke told the New York Daily News that he, his wife, and their two kids were headed to Las Vegas from New York's JFK Airport on May 3 to celebrate his wife's 40th birthday. Before JetBlue Flight 611 got in the air, however, Burke claims he got into a kerfuffle with the plane's crew over where he kept a birthday cake he'd brought on board from Tonnie's Minis, a popular bakery in New York's Harlem neighborhood. Eventually, things escalated to the point where the family got kicked off the plane.
Despite being dangerously sweet, nothing about a birthday cake prevents it from coming aboard a plane. As the Transportation Security Administration laid out in a blog post in 2012, "you can bring cakes, pies, and cupcakes through the security checkpoint, but you should expect that they might get some additional screening." That wasn't the issue for Burke—rather, flight attendants told Burke he couldn't stow his cake in the overhead bin. Burke's story and JetBlue's differ here—Burke leaves out the detail of what compartment the cake was in, and says he complied peacefully. The airline says the cake was in a compartment reserved for emergency equipment, and that Burke yelled and cursed at the crew.
“A flight attendant nicely asked me to remove the cake from that compartment, so I moved it to another one,” Burke told the NYDN. “She then asked me to move it to underneath the seat in front of me, I did.”
Burke says at that point, another flight attendant "berated" the first flight attendant, then him. Burke then questioned if that flight attendant had been drinking. At that point, another airline employee asked Burke and his family to leave the plane, but Burke refused and began recording the incident with his cell phone, including his 7-year-old son crying.
Eventually, Port Authority police boarded the plane and questioned Burke. Airline crew subsequently escorted his family off the plane, and their tickets were refunded in full. When reached for comment on the incident, a JetBlue spokesman told Condé Nast Traveler:
"During boarding, the customers stowed their cake and other items in an overhead bin reserved for safety and emergency equipment, and refused multiple requests from the crew to remove the items. Federal regulations require that the emergency equipment remain unobstructed during the flight. The customers became agitated, cursed and yelled at the crew, and made false accusations about a crewmember’s fitness to fly. After the customers refused to speak with a team leader about the situation, the Port Authority Police Department was called and the entire aircraft deplaned. The Captain determined the customers’ behavior demonstrated a risk for additional escalation in air and would not be allowed to fly. A full refund was given. The remaining customers re-boarded and the flight departed without further interruption.
All customers are welcome to bring onboard one carry on and one personal item, including cakes, within the size limits.
The video circulating does not depict the entire incident and only starts after the objectionable behavior occurred and law enforcement was called."
The Burkes were able to take a flight from Newark to Las Vegas the following day, but Cameron Burke claims he did nothing wrong and plans to sue JetBlue with the help of National Action Network, a not-for-profit civil rights organization.
“I want the flight attendant fired, she has no business serving the public,” Burke said. “I hope JetBlue will retrain their staff and recreate the culture I once loved.”
To that point, JetBlue ranked as America's number two airline in Traveler's Reader's Choice Awards in 2016, and the airline's normally lauded for its service. Burke's appears to be a case of he-said, airline-said, though public opinion has recently sided with passengers, and talk will continue to focus on an airline kicking a family off over a cake. No matter who's at fault in this case, though, one real question lingers: What happened to the cake?
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveler.
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