Mei Rui, a Grammy-nominated concert pianist and cancer researcher, has accused Spirit Airlines of forcing her off a flight for breastfeeding her 2-year-old son before the plane took off. Rui was doing what so many mothers do when they are flying with their little ones—attempting to nurse her toddler before takeoff so that he would fall asleep during the flight.
Rui, who was traveling as part of a clinical cancer study, was already feeling frazzled by the flight's delays due to weather. The Spirit Airlines plane, set to travel from her home in Houston to Newark, N.J., on Friday, had already been delayed, and the tired mother was just hoping her son would cooperate for the three-hour flight. Rui suffered a major loss this year, as she lost her house and all of her possessions in Hurricane Harvey, so she just wanted the flight to go smoothly.
“Every parent with a young child can [imagine], you don’t want to be that parent on the plane,” Rui tells The Washington Post. “It would be very embarrassing. I was just trying to avoid that.”
Rui was still nursing her son when, she says, one of the attendants instructed her to return her son to his seat immediately. Hoping her son would go to sleep and knowing he just needed a little bit more time before he drifted off, Rui begged the attendant to let her just finish nursing him. She promised that she would return him to his seat before the plane started moving. After all, she knew she had several minutes to work with because the remaining passengers were settling. Rui noticed that the plane door was still open and passengers were still coming on board, so she asked for just a few more minutes to finish feeding her son.
Instead of allowing the mother time to nurse her son, however, Rui claims that the flight attendants conferred together, then informed her that she would need to exit the plane immediately. By that point, Rui had stopped feeding her son and he was crying, as she had feared, but he was properly buckled in his own seat, as they had asked. When they asked her to leave the plane, she turned on her camera and inquired as to why she had to leave, since her son was in his seat as instructed.
Instead of answering, the crew banned cell phone use on the flight and Rui was escorted off the plane, where she was met by police officers and a Spirit Airlines representative, who further informed her that she would not be allowed back on the plane.
When she asked, once again, why they had been kicked off the plane, the representative replied that it was because “she was not compliant.” They could not, however, tell her how she had not been compliant.
Rui’s parents, who are Chinese natives, were also passengers on the flight, and they were forced to deplane as well. Rui told The Washington Post that they were terrified and traumatized by the incident, and that her father, who has a heart condition, later collapsed that day and had to be rushed to the ER.
Spirit is so far standing by its decision to remove Rui and her family from the flight. They issued the following statement to a local news station:
“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.”
And as for Rui, she maintains her story and the fact that she didn’t do anything wrong.
“They treated us like we were criminals,” she told The Post. “A baby crying is not a crime.”