July 19, 2017 at 7:15 PM
A New York family says they were booted from a JetBlue Airlines flight without any explanation last month after their toddler began kicking a passenger's seat in front of them.
But the airline said the situation June 21 at Fort Lauderdale — Hollywood International Airport had turned into "a verbal altercation that included physical threats and profanities."
Tamir Raanan, his wife, Mandy Ifrah, and their three children were fastened into their seats, ready to return home to Brooklyn, when the 1-year-old, sitting in her mother's lap, started to wail and kick the seat in front of them, said David Templer, an attorney for the family.
Templer said Ifrah apologized to the passenger and then tried to focus on her toddler. He said the other passenger used a derogatory slur and said, "Why don't you tie your baby's feet down?" Templer said although his client found it offensive, she does not have any recollection of doing anything other than attempting to calm her child down.
"Then it was over — it was a nonevent," he told The Washington Post on Wednesday. "It was like getting flipped off in traffic and you just keep going."
But the pilot returned the plane to the gate, Templer said, and a JetBlue supervisor told them to gather their things.
"They were basically humiliated in front of this crowded airplane, humiliated in the gate and abandoned thousands of miles from home," Templer said.
No footage has been released of the initial event, but cellphone video, taken by Raanan, shows the couple arguing with the JetBlue supervisor, who asked them to get off the plane so "we can discuss this."
"No, discuss it here," Ifrah said in the video, which was posted online. "I have three kids — I'm not taking my kids off this plane."
"What I need you guys to do is come with me outside the plane so we can have a discussion," the airline supervisor said once again.
"I need to get to New York," Ifrah replied. "I need my kids back home." She went on to complain about the passenger who had been seated in front of them, saying the passenger told them: "You should tie your kid's feet because she's kicking my chair."
"You've got to be kidding me — you're stopping a whole plane," she added. "This is ridiculous. I never in my life heard of such a thing. This is ridiculous. I cannot believe this. I am in shock."
Outside the plane, the couple continued to press the airline for answers about their removal but the supervisor said there was "no need to give an excuse."
After several minutes, Broward County sheriff's deputies stepped in. Someone off camera could be heard trying to calm things down. "Just listen to me for a second," he said. "If you listen, I'll explain.
"They're kicking you off the plane — whether it's right, whether it's wrong, this is their plane. So they can do whatever they want to do. That doesn't mean you don't have any recourse. It doesn't mean you can't solve this in another way. You're not getting home tonight on JetBlue."
When asked again for answers, he said: "You guys have to go. You can take it up with JetBlue — make a complaint, sue them. You have all kinds of options."
The family's attorney said their baggage continued on to New York, so the parents had to buy diapers and baby clothes for the night, get a hotel room and then book a flight the next day on a different airline. When they arrived in New York, they discovered that JetBlue had returned the luggage to Fort Lauderdale — so they had to hire someone to go get it and ship it back to Brooklyn, Templer said.
For weeks, he said, the couple assumed they had been booted because the toddler was kicking a seat.
In a statement to The Washington Post, a JetBlue spokesperson said there had been an altercation that included physical threats against another customer.
"The aircraft door was reopened and our airports team politely asked the customers to step off to discuss the situation," the airline said in the statement. "The customers refused repeated requests and our crew members deplaned the entire aircraft. Law enforcement escorted them out of the gate area and we provided a refund. The customers were not removed due to the actions of their children.
"We are investigating whether the customers' behavior warrants restrictions on JetBlue travel and we thank our crew members for their professional handling of this unfortunate incident."
The family's attorney called the airline's version of events "false and defamatory" and said that although there are no immediate plans for a lawsuit, if one were filed, it would be for libel and slander, as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress and breach of contract.
Had the mother threatened another passenger, Templer said, the Transportation Security Administration would have been alerted.
A TSA spokeswoman said in an email message that "Passengers who have disputes with members of the flight crew or other passengers onboard aircraft are deemed customer-service issues and do not involve TSA."
Broward County sheriff's deputies did respond to the scene but were there only to help keep the peace. Authorities did not file an incident report in the case.
Asked about the family's claims, JetBlue spokesman Morgan Johnston said he could only confirm that the events outlined in the airline's statement were accurate.
The incident comes amid a number of onboard dust-ups that have thrust airlines into a national spotlight.
In May, a family said they were kicked off a JetBlue flight over a dispute about where to store a birthday cake. The airline said their "behavior demonstrated a risk for additional escalation in air."
Last year, JetBlue confused two unaccompanied children — and flew them home to the wrong families.