New Jersey family temporarily kicked off Spirit flight after toddler eats without mask

A New Jersey family is demanding an apology from Spirit Airlines after they were ordered off a flight Monday because the family's toddler ate without a mask, according to the family and video of the confrontation that has since gone viral.

Spirit Airlines disputed the family's account, saying it was the toddler's parents who violated the federal mask order, but their violation wasn't captured on video. The family was temporarily removed from the plane but was later able to continue on the same flight from Orlando, Florida, to Atlantic City, New Jersey, after agreeing to follow the mandate, the airline said.

At an online press conference Tuesday with special education attorney Michael Inzelbuch, Avital Eisenberg, the toddler's mother, said the family had been treated disrespectfully by Spirit Airlines flight attendants even after explaining that their 7-year-old son was prone to seizures and may require special accommodations on board. 

A Spirit Airlines jet is shown on a taxiway. The airline is an ultra-low-fare carrier.

Their daughter, who had turned 2 years old in February, was sitting on her mother's lap eating yogurt at the time the family was asked to leave the plane for violating the federal mask mandate, according to Inzelbuch, who is also Lakewood's Board of Education attorney, and a video of the incident.

Avital Eisenberg, who is 7 months pregnant, said the staff showed a "lack of compassion and humanity."

"I've never, ever felt the way I did on that flight," she said.

Inzelbuch, who said he previously represented the family in a special education lawsuit involving their son, issued an ultimatum demanding Spirit Airlines apologize to the family by midnight Wednesday or face possible legal action.

"We’re not asking for boycotts. We’re not asking for marches," Inzelbuch said. "We are asking at this point for two words: 'I’m sorry.'"

"Right now, we want a commitment that this will not happen to any family, any special needs child."

A Spirit Airlines spokesperson said the family was temporarily removed from the flight because the adults weren't following the mask mandate, a claim the couple denied.

"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," the company said in a statement. "We were pleased that they eventually complied and traveled on the flight as planned."

Videos of the incident posted online show both parents wearing masks, except for a brief moment when the children's father Ari Eisenberg pulls the mask down while arguing with a flight attendant after the family had already been asked to leave the plane. 

Avital Eisenberg said the family had been confronted before boarding the plane about the children not wearing masks. She said she explained to the flight attendant that her 7-year-old son was non-verbal and suffered from seizures, and she feared that he could face health complications from wearing a mask.

The family rarely travels by airplane because of their son's condition and was already nervous about the trip, Avital Eisenberg said.

Avital Eisenberg said the flight attendant then asked again where the children's masks were and said they couldn't board the plane without them. She said she asked for masks and the flight attendant gave her two, but her son struggled to wear it.

Later, Ari Eisenberg said he told another airline staffer that his son had special needs and that his daughter had just turned 2 years old and it would be a challenge to keep both children masked throughout the flight. He said he and his wife had worn their masks throughout the encounter.

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The federal mask mandate, issued in January by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help airlines enforce mask requirements in place throughout the pandemic, give airlines government backing for mask requirements in place throughout the pandemic, requires everyone over 2 years old to wear a mask or face covering on a commercial flight, but there are exceptions for people with special needs. Spirit Airlines policy allows passengers to remove masks while eating or drinking.

Once the family took their seats, they said they were again confronted by flight attendants, this time about the volume of music coming from the iPhone their son was using. Avital Eisenberg said her son insisted on turning the volume up and couldn't use headphones because of his condition.

She said the flight attendants did not admonish others on the plane who were listening to music or watching videos on their cellphones and no passengers around them had complained about the noise.

The family was then asked to leave the plane as a flight attendant accused them of noncompliance with the mask order.

Video captured by another passenger shows a flight attendant approaching the family, telling them they need to exit the plane.

"What did we do?" Avital asks. 

"I told you, noncompliance – you'll have to get off," she says. "I didn't want to do this."

"OK, no problem. Tell me what we did," Ari Eisenberg responds.

"Noncompliance with the masks," the woman says.

"We're wearing masks," Avital says.

"She's not wearing a mask," the flight attendant says, pointing to the toddler.

A fellow passenger remarks in the video that other children on the plane were not wearing masks.

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"The pilot wants you off," the flight attendant says to the family.

All passengers disembarked and eventually returned, including the Eisenberg family.

Spirit Airlines countered the accusations, saying the information circulating about the incident was false.

"The flight was delayed due to adults who did not comply with the federal mask requirement," the company said in a statement. "We allowed the guests to continue on the flight to their destination after assurances of compliance."

The company initially deleted a Twitter post saying the family was ordered to deplane because it was the toddler's parents who were not wearing masks, according to the Lakewood Scoop, which first reported the incident and published video recorded inside the plane.

But a Spirit Airlines spokesperson told the Asbury Park Press that the company stands behind its initial statement.

"We also understand that we are looking at this through different lenses, which is why we would like to open up a direct dialogue with the family," the company said in a statement.

Avital Eisenberg said her children were shaken by the ordeal.

"As a mother, I went to bed last night; I was bawling my eyes out," she said.