Mei Rui, an acclaimed concert pianist and cancer researcher who lives in Houston, Texas, was on her way to Newark for work when her travel day turned into a complete nightmare. Rui was heading to New York City for a recording connected with a clinical cancer study and traveling with her elderly mom and dad, as well as her 2-year-old son. The 6:30 a.m. Spirit Airlines flight had already been delayed due to weather, so passengers had been stuck in the cabin for some time. Once it seemed like takeoff was imminent, Rui decided to breastfeed her son with hopes it would help him rest through the flight.
“Every parent with a young child can image, you don’t want to be that parent on the plane,” Rui told The Washington Post. “It would be very embarrassing. I was just trying to avoid that.”
People were still up and about on the plane, as the plane door had yet to be closed, but a flight attendant approached Rui and told her that her child had to be in his seat for takeoff. She responded by asking for "just a couple more minutes to finish, because if he woke up at that point he would make a lot of noise." She promised to finish before the plane door closed. The Post reports that following that interaction, Rui stopped feeding her son and got him into his seat, but, just as she had guessed, he began to cry. That's when she was asked to leave the plane.
“It’s not like I was resistant, I put him in the seat,” she told the newspaper. “If they had shown a little compassion, it wouldn’t have happened, they didn’t have to let it escalate.”
Rui captured footage with her cellphone of how the incident escalated. After she and her family were forced to deplane, she interacted with a Spirit Airlines representative who wouldn't explain to her why they wouldn't be allowed back on. The best response she could get was, "You were not compliant."
As if that wasn't bad enough, Rui explained that she and her family waited an hour for their luggage which was never returned, and once they returned from the airport, Rui's father, who suffers from heart ailments, collapsed and had to be rushed to the ER. So, so awful.
Local Houston news station KHOU reached out to Spirit, and the company stands by their decision. In response, they offered the following statement: “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.”
The bottomline for Rui? “They treated us like we were criminals,” she told The Post. “A baby crying is not a crime.” Neither is trying to care for and feed your L.O. or simply do your best as a mother in a high-stress situation, which could easily describe just about every moment associated with air travel. Here's hoping no mother ever has to endure what Rui went through. At the same time, her aggravating story should serve as a heads-up on Spirit Airlines' practices for other parents.