She tried to make her toddler stop screaming so she could regain order. She just asked for some space but the flight attendant was having any of it. She turned and left without a word.
But Jodi knew it wasn’t over when she noticed that the plane was turning around. The flight attendant came back with her posse in tow, she knew she would regret what she said.
Jodi Degyansky was excited to see her family after months of complete isolation. But at least the initial flight from Naples to Florida went smoothly even with her naughty two-year-old with her.
The flight attendants seemed to understand her position carefully and turned a blind eye whenever her child began to start his nonsense. But it was the flight from Florida to Illinois that went far worse than she expected.
The plane was packed and Jodi was already an unhappy flyer at the best of times. He deposited young Hayes onto a window seat and put on her mask.
Almost immediately Hayes started kicking the seat in front of him and Jodi felt many pairs of eyes falling on her. He started looking upset as his breathing got more deliberate. She knew what was coming and it couldn’t have been at a worse time – a tantrum.
This wasn’t the first time Hayes had had a tantrum, but as the flight attendants came to see what was going on, Jodi just assumed they would tell her to keep him quiet.
Sometimes a flight attendant would try to help but they were few and far between. This flight attendant would unexpectedly press her for questions.
Mitigating The Meltdown
She felt better once the on-flight snacks started going around. She had promised her small son peanuts and that’s the only reason he had been fine up until this pount.
She pulled his mask down and gave him the peanuts, hoping they were enough to contain the meltdown. But a flight attendant was watching over her shoulder.
The plane finally shifted and started moving. Jodi told her son to put down the snacks so he could prepare for takeoff.
But Jodi didn’t know that the flight wouldn’t be that easy and that it would end in humiliation, more than she had ever experienced before. And it would be one flight attendant’s fault.
That Question Again
Yet another flight attendant approached her and asked her the same question she had been asked multiple times since they had gotten on the plane.
Feelings overloaded with trying to handle everything she looked up and politely said “Yes, he will put his mask on before takeoff, he’s just distracted by the snacks.” But a more surprising problem would rear its head soon enough.
No Easy Task
Making a toddler wear a mask is far harder than you’d think. She had practiced with her son so many times to get it right. But it wouldn’t be that easy.
The face mask was even colorful to appeal to young Hayes. She told him he looked cool. But a flight attendant would make sure all of her practicing and trying would be for nothing.
Losing Her Cool
. Yet again, a flight attendant approached her to ask the same question she had answered many times “Please give us some space,” she begged.
The flight attendant’s eyes widened as she looked at Hayes and back to Jodi, then she quietly stormed off. Suddenly, the plane came to a grinding halt, right there on the runway. What was going on?
What Was Going On?
Jodi craned her neck to see out the window. She felt the motion of the plane as it began to move again and felt a moment of relief. But, little did she know, the plane wasn’t pulling getting ready for takeoff.
Slowly, it rolled around until the plane’s nose was pointing in the opposite direction. Realizing that the plane had made a full u-turn back to the boarding gate, Jodi’s felt her heart begin to race.
Something Going On
Looking around at the other passengers, she was met with a sea of faces just as confused as she was. With her panic rising, she wondered if something had gone wrong.
Jodi couldn’t shake the feeling that something wasn’t right on this flight. Usually, planes are delayed due to bad weather conditions, but today the skies were clear. She tried to find the flight attendant to ask about the delay, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Then, Jodi spotted the cabin crew. There was a secretive flurry of activity as they all rushed to huddle in a corner of the plane. Then, she heard whispering. And they were all talking about her.
A few minutes later, the flight attendant returned — accompanied by the manager, the supervisor, the flight attendants, and the pilot… but they had no idea who they were dealing with.
The flight attendant looked at her smugly and then at Hayes, who had pulled his mask down again. Jodi had a sinking feeling that she knew what all this was about now.
“We are trying to get used to it,” Jodi stammered, looking at her child as she pulled his mask back up and into its correct position. “…but he’s two,” she pleaded.
A Personal Vendetta?
But they didn’t care that the toddler was having a hard time keeping his mask on. They were here to enforce their rules — even if they clearly had double standards.
With a glint of triumph in her eyes, the flight attendant, backed up by every staff member on the flight, coldly informed Jodi that Hayes was not allowed to fly and that he had to leave. Now.
Flight Or Fight
Jodi couldn’t believe it. She felt her face flush a deep red as the other passengers tutted around her, annoyed that their flight had been delayed due to her child’s behavior.
She had never been so shocked and humiliated in all her life. Stopping the tears of frustration and shame by the power of her will alone, she resolved to fight. They were not going to get away with this. Aware of all the eyes burning into her, she began to protest.
But the airline staff weren’t having it. They refused to listen. They ordered Jodi and Hayes to deplane, leaving the outraged mom and her young son stranded at the airport.
They said Jodi had been kicked off the flight because her son hadn’t been wearing his mask correctly, but Jodi knew that wasn’t the real reason. Luckily, the entire altercation had been recorded. Jodi began to formulate a plan.
Jodi and Hayes were now well and truly stranded. Jodi couldn’t believe the injustice of it all as she sat there, simmering. Her son had only just turned two, couldn’t the flight attendant have been a little more understanding?
Well, she was going to do something that would make her — and indeed the entire crew on that flight — regret what they had done. It was time for justice.
As it happens, Jodi had work experience as a brand manager for Porter Novelli, a large PR firm in New York, before she’d become Vice President.
According to their profile, “Porter Novelli is a company best known for its position in the areas of technology, health and wellness, food and reputation management.” So, if anyone knew how devastating bad PR would be, it was Jodi. And she was more than equipped to engineer it.
Jodi put her plan into action. She was going to take Southwest Airlines down. She called in the media for interviews and told everyone she could about how she and her baby had been treated.
And the media lapped it up. She scheduled interview after interview, and soon the story took hold. Her revenge had every ingredient for a PR nightmare.
Calling The Media
Jodi saw a dozen reporters. She spread her narrative and played her part perfectly. After all, she was only asking that the airline considered becoming more flexible with their rule that toddlers over the age of two wear masks on their flight…
What if other mothers had to go through what she went through? Of course, an apology and a refund would be nice. Meanwhile, another story was emerging that Jodi never saw coming.
Neither Jodi nor the offended flight attendant and crew of Southwest Airlines had any idea that one passenger, incredulous at what she was witnessing, whipped out her phone and began to record how Jodi and her son were being treated.
It wasn’t long before the backlash began to pour in thick and fast from every direction. Would Southwest Airlines be able to stem the tide?
Humiliated And Scrambling
“I just felt like I can’t believe it happened. I was left scrambling — how am I going to get home?’ said Jodi. “What if I didn’t have the resources to buy another $600 ticket?” Jodi told ABC News.
Jodi also told reporters that she believes that asking the flight attendant for space was what triggered a personal vendetta against her. And how was her son supposed to eat with a mask on, anyway?
“My toddler literally turned 2 two weeks ago… I know you have to draw the line but let’s be a little compassionate with everyone’s individual circumstances,” Jodi told News Press.
She was aware of CDC guidelines that state that any children aged two and up should wear a proper face mask if it’s difficult to social distance. But, what she couldn’t understand was why the rules weren’t consistent on all flights. “On the way back I was surprised the flight attendants were much stricter,” she said.
While Jodi conducted interviews, the video of her and her son being kicked off their flight began to circulate on social media. And then, netizens began to kick up a storm, with arguments on both sides.
With the story gaining so much attention now, Southwest Airlines were forced to address the issue. But how would they respond?
Comments on Jodi’s situation were mostly supportive. “I’m guessing anyone who doesn’t sympathize here is either a) not a parent or b) too old to remember what it’s like to be a parent of a toddler,” one Facebook user insisted.
The other side, however, had zero sympathy whatsoever, and made their feelings about the situation unnecessarily clear.
“It’s a law they should obey the law… what makes her and her family any better than anyone else! if you can’t control your kids, stay home until you can!”
But what about the airline? What would their official stance be? And would they bother with a refund at all? And, most importantly, what skeletons would be revealed as the story continued to unfold?
Southwest first spewed out the customary PR drivel – things like “looking into the situation.”
There were hints that she might get a refund, but no word came from the officials or numbers changing in her bank account. During the infuriating wait, Jodi pulled up one little nugget from a doctor – something that fit the situation perfectly.
Dr. Annette St. Pierre-MacKoul, a pediatrician in Fort Myers, said she agreed that children must keep their face covered, especially in a confined space like an airplane. But she said it’s a task easier said than done with young children.
The highlight was the final line – even a doctor knew it was hard to make a two-year old wear a mask like an adult. Next, was another parent who was kicked from the very same airline.
Alexis Armstrong and his two-year-old daughter we kicked from their flight because his little girl was having a tantrum during boarding.
He had calmly asked for a few minutes to help her calm down – after all, it was her first flight, and she was scared. The crew, however, had zero patience and booted them almost immediately. The third incident Jodi found was even worse.
It turned out a 3-year-old and her mom were also removed from a flight because the child wouldn’t wear her mask properly.
But there was a crucial element that the crew ignored – the girl had autism. The mother tried to explain, but yet again Southwest had zero compassion … and ignored a doctor’s note.
This was just a drop in the huge lake of airlines being too aggressive and impatient with the policies.
But the media spotlight only threw their actions into stark relief – and it was enough to make them move forward. Jodi would only get 1 out of her 2 requests.
Their Final Answer
“If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason, Southwest regrets that we are unable to transport the individual,” a spokesperson for the airline said.
“In those cases, we will issue a full refund and hope to welcome the Customer onboard in the future, if public health guidance regarding face coverings changes.”
Getting Her Money Back
It wasn’t long until she saw the refund pop into her account – but that was it.
Southwest held firm on its “we were just following the rules” stance, so there would be no apology. It wasn’t like Jodi was an anti-masker – she completely understood the precaution. But why couldn’t cooler heads prevail and understand that situations with kids can’t be fixed in an instant? And what about others?
Not everyone had PR savvy or an arsenal of social media behind them.
How many people had been treated poorly, stuck without a way home, and gone without refunds? After all, $600 (or more) wasn’t a small sum. It was a mortgage payment or a few months of groceries.
The nightmare she had gone through would eventually fade into digital space, but she had one message that she hoped would stay in everyone’s minds.
“Always research ahead of time.” See which companies have a more compassionate attitude towards children and give your money to those.