Dr. Colette Vieau and her husband, Dr. Mordecai Stolk and their children on The Today Show Monday morning (NBC)
NEW YORK (NBC) -- A toddler's tantrum lasted all of five minutes, but it was enough to get a family of four removed from a JetBlue flight last month.
Dr. Colette Vieau and her husband, Dr. Mordecai Stolk, told TODAY they believe the decision by the airline was excessive. By the time their two-year-old daughter, Natalie, was belted into her seat and brought under control, Vieau said the pilot had made up his mind: The family had to leave the plane for violating Federal Aviation Administration rules.
"We thought it was a difficult experience for us, and we weren't really sure that it was fair,'' Vieau told Matt Lauer on Monday. "We did our best to comply with FAA regulations. I understand that they have a concern for safety and security of the aircraft. I had it under control so if that was the issue, why kick us off at that point? I don't quite understand why she's a risk to the safety and security of the aircraft in general.''
In a statement, JetBlue said that it "had customers that did not comply with crew member instructions for a prolonged time period. The captain elected to remove the customers involved for the safety of all customers and crew members on board.''
The family was on the way back from a vacation when they boarded the plane from Turks and Caicos to Boston on Feb. 18. It was the final flight that night, so the family had to find a place to stay and fly out the following day.
"It's very disconcerting,'' Stolk told Lauer. "It's very surreal, too. I couldn't believe this was happening.''
"We weren't belligerent, drunk, angry, screaming ... we're having a hard time struggling with our children,'' Vieau told NBC News. "A little bit of humanity in the situation was really all I was looking for and apparently that doesn't exist.''
The family was seated near the back of the plane, only a few rows in front of the flight attendants, who initially asked the parents to switch seats so that Vieau would be next to Natalie and her husband would be next to their other daughter, Cecilia. The couple does not remember any particularly vocal complaints by other passengers.
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"In terms of the people around us, I'm sure people were frustrated,'' Vieau said. "I have no idea. The only people who said anything were the people sitting right behind us, and they were actually trying to advocate for us to be able to stay on the plane.''
This was the 15th time the couple had flown with their young children, and they had not had any previous incidents. It had been a long day and Natalie had not had a nap before her five-minute meltdown. Natalie wanted Vieau to hold her instead of being strapped into a seat, which she had done on previous flights, but the toddler eventually complied and was seated, according to Vieau.
"I sort of turned to (the flight attendant) and said, 'We have her under control, we have her strapped in, can we go now?''' Vieau said. "She said, 'The decision's been made.'''
In a poll on TODAY.com last week, 71 percent of more than 60,000 voters sided with the airline in its decision. As for the couple, they learned a lesson the hard way.
"Control your child,'' Stolk said.
(The Today Show)