Kicked off Spirit plane over masks, Toms River family disputes airline’s story
The Toms River family embroiled in a mask dispute with Spirit Airlines at this point only wants one thing: an apology, which so far the airline has not offered.
Ari and Avital Eisenberg were traveling from Orlando with their daughter Esther, who they said had just turned 2, and their nonverbal seizure-prone 7-year-old son Daniel were asked to leave Atlantic City Flight 38 on Monday morning.
Airlines spokesman Field Sutton told New Jersey 101.5 that the parents refused to wear masks. All passengers were told to exit the plane but after the Eisenbergs agreed to wear masks, they went back on board and made the flight home, Sutton said.
But a six-minute video taken by a passenger and posted by the news website Yeshiva World appears to contradict the airline's story. The video shows a flight attendant telling the parents, who are masked, that unless their 2-year-old daughter puts on a mask they'll have to exit the plane. Neither of the children were wearing masks.
"I told you. Non-compliance. You'll have to get off," the flight attendant says. "I don't want to do this but you have to pick up your stuff. I'm sorry, they want you off."
Avital Eisenberg, who is seven-months pregnant, is seen in the video making several attempts to put a mask on Esther but the child refuses to keep it on and continues to eat yogurt.
Avital tells the flight attendant said she thought the age for wearing a mask was 5. In fact, the TSA requires all passengers over the age of 2 to wear a mask.
The airline has said that the videos do not show entirely what happened.
The family's attorney, Lakewood-based Michael Inzelbuch, told reporters at a briefing held via Zoom on Tuesday evening that all that the family wants is an apology, not money.
Inzelbuch, who works for the Lakewood school district as their attorney and spokesman, said he has defended the family before "against a school district that initially failed to comply with the federal requirement to provide a free and appropriate education."
He explained that their developmentally disabled son cannot handle wearing a mask, although the available video only shows the flight attendant referring to his younger sister.
"What we're seeking now is to speak with someone who can say 'the buck stops here.' That this will not happen again. That's what we're seeking," Inzelbuch said. "We're looking for 'I'm sorry.'"
The apology has not yet been offered by Spirit, according to Inzelbuch, who told New Jersey 101.5 on Wednesday morning.
He said he has heard from 10 passengers on the flight who he said "witnessed the unimaginable, to wit, the harassment, intimidation, and bullying of my clients."
Sutton, in a written statement to New Jersey 101.5, stuck with the airline's original explanation that the mask issue was with the parents and not the children. He said conversations with them took place prior to other videos of the incident.
"We understand this is a difficult situation for everyone involved. Our team members were following the federal mask requirement and asked the adults in the party multiple times to comply with that requirement, which happened prior to videos that have been widely shared," Sutton wrote. "We were pleased that they eventually complied and traveled on the flight as planned. We also understand that we're looking at this through different lenses, which is why we would like to open up a direct dialogue with the family."
Inzelbuch said he has asked the airline for:
- Any and all policies and /or mandates that apply herein as to the wearing of a mask when a child is nonverbal seizure prone
- Any and all policies and/or procedures that apply herein as to the wearing of a mask by a 2 year old child while eating
- Any and all policies and/or procedures in place at Spirit as to interactions with children, with classified non verbal children, as well as cultural sensitivity to proud Americans who are of the Jewish faith as, allegedly, this is not the first time people of the Jewish faith have allegedly been singled out for special treatment
- Any and all videos, documents, indicia that could somehow substantiate the latest version of your airlines “take “ on the matter
- Any and all interactions with third parties
"We will seek a commitment to training of staff, a revision of whatever policies weren't followed or were. The last resort is monetary," Inzelbuch said during the news briefing.