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Passenger says JetBlue booted his family from flight over a birthday cake

By Amy B Wang

May 14, 2017 at 12:30 PM

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Cameron Burke says his family was removed from a JetBlue flight on May 3 because of a dispute involving where to store a birthday cake. Burke recorded this video of the incident. (Burke Family and National Action Network)

A family en route to a birthday celebration in Las Vegas this month said they were booted from a JetBlue flight over where to store a cake they had brought on board — even after, they said, they complied with instructions to move the cake to the floor.

The airline confirmed the incident occurred May 3 aboard JetBlue Flight 611 before takeoff from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. However, it is disputing the passengers' account, saying their removal was justified because their "behavior demonstrated a risk for additional escalation in air."

The incident was not widely reported until Saturday, after video the family took was published.

The couple, identified as Cameron and Minta Burke of New Jersey, told the New York Daily News that the trip had been arranged as a surprise for Minta's 40th birthday. The plan had been to fly with their two children to Las Vegas, where they would meet up with relatives — and they had brought with them a buttercream cake from Tonnie's Minis bakery in Harlem, according to the newspaper.

Cameron Burke told the Daily News that they first put the cake in an overhead bin, but a flight attendant "nicely" asked them to remove it. So he moved it to another one, he said.

"She then asked me to move it to underneath the seat in front of me," Cameron Burke told the newspaper. "I did."

At this point, he said, a second flight attendant intervened and began accosting the first flight attendant.

"She was pointing to her, 'Did you tell him he couldn't put anything in the overhead compartment?' " Cameron Burke told ABC7 News. "I had approached them, and I said everything was fine, and she said, 'Sir, this does not involve you.' When she told me I had been noncompliant, then I said, 'Ma'am, had you been drinking?,' because her behavior was not normal."

JetBlue said in a statement that "the customers became agitated, cursed and yelled at the crew, and made false accusations about a crewmember's fitness to fly." They also "refused to speak with a team leader about the situation," the airline said.

Shortly afterward, the Port Authority Police Department was called in and the entire aircraft made to deplane, according to the JetBlue statement.

Video recorded by Cameron Burke captured two Port Authority police officers on the plane asking questions of the family. On one side of the aisle, Minta Burke and the couple's two young children are seated together; Cameron Burke is presumably seated and recording from the seat just across the aisle from them.

In the video, the two children are visibly upset, and the son can be heard crying. Throughout the incident, a tiara on top of Minta Burke's head — declaring "It's my birthday" — continues flashing.

"Dad, I feel scared," the daughter says at one point.

"I know, I know, I know, I know," Cameron Burke reassures her.

As the police officers discuss the situation in the background, Minta Burke seems shocked and shakes her head repeatedly.

"For a cake? A cake?" Cameron Burke says. "I moved the cake. It's a birthday cake."

When one of the officers turns back around, he tells the family that it appears nothing is wrong but that he'll need to make a report because they were called on board.

"No one's in any trouble," the officer says calmly. "Unfortunately, it got reported to us. No one did anything wrong, okay? Everyone's going to be okay. Unfortunately, they're going to have to rebook everyone. … We're trying to avoid that."

The Burkes' son turns to the officer and apologizes: "Sorry."

"No, buddy, you're okay, all right?" the officer tells the child. "Don't cry. It's all right."

Related: [After United dragging incident, 3 major airlines change policies affecting bumped passengers]

A Port Authority spokeswoman confirmed to The Washington Post on Saturday that two officers responded to the incident but that no arrests were made. She referred all other questions to JetBlue.

JetBlue spokesman Doug McGraw told The Post that "the video circulating does not depict the entire incident and only starts after the objectionable behavior occurred and law enforcement were called."

McGraw said it was the captain who made the decision that the family not be allowed to fly. They were fully refunded, he said, and the remaining customers were made to go through the boarding process again.

According to the airline, "All customers are welcome to bring onboard one carry-on and one personal item, including cakes, within the size limits."

Cameron Burke told the New York Daily News that his family booked a flight to Las Vegas on United Airlines the following day — and that he wants the JetBlue flight attendant fired.

"She has no business serving the public," he told the newspaper. "I hope JetBlue will retrain their staff and recreate the culture I once loved."

The family's account is the latest in a string of high-profile airline-related incidents captured on video.

Related: [‘I’ll kill you!’ American man arrested after brawling on All Nippon Airways flight from Tokyo]

Last week, videos captured chaos at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport after Spirit Airlines canceled numerous flights.

Perhaps the most notorious came in April, when viral videos captured a passenger being forcibly removed from a United Airlines flight. The incident caused a public-relations crisis for United, which initially defended itself by stating that the passenger, David Dao, had "refused to leave the aircraft voluntarily."

Dao and United eventually reached an "amicable" settlement for an undisclosed amount, the airline said.

A few weeks later, American Airlines grounded a flight attendant after a video showed a confrontation between him and a passenger, allegedly after he removed the woman's baby stroller from the plane. Also in late April, a Delta Air Lines passenger said he was kicked off a plane for using the restroom; a few days later, a video emerged showing a Delta pilot hitting a passenger on the jetway in Atlanta. The airline said the pilot was trying to break up a fight.

Earlier this month, a Southern California father posted video showing him and his family being booted from a Delta flight after refusing to give up a seat. They had bought the seat for their teenage son and were attempting to use it for his 2-year-old sibling, The Post's Lindsey Bever reported.

The airline eventually apologized and offered a refund and "additional compensation."

Deep into this season of viral air-travel incidents, several airline executives came to Capitol Hill, where they received a brutal lashing.

As The Post's Peter Holley wrote, congressional panelists grilled United chief executive Oscar Munoz and the other executives about unpopular policies that have infuriated customers and spawned viral videos, such as overbooked flights, hidden charges and absurdly confusing contracts.

Read more:

Here's what United will do differently after the infamous dragging incident

'Come on, hit me!' American Airlines grounds flight attendant after video shows confrontation.

'Much-loved' giant rabbit found dead after United flight to O'Hare


Amy B Wang is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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