Coronavirus News: Mom, 6 kids booted from flight over 2-year-old's refusal to wear a mask

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NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- A Brooklyn mother is speaking out after JetBlue Airways forced her and her six children off a plane this week when her 2-year-old daughter refused to wear a mask.

"I was shaken," Chaya Bruck said. "My kids started crying. They didn't know what was going on."

Passengers on the Orlando-to-Newark flight stood up for the family, asking those around them to bombard customer service.

The 39-year-old Bruck was heading home from a family vacation in Florida Wednesday. Everyone in her party was wearing the mandatory masks, except her young daughter.

"She never wore masks this entire few months," she said. "I would never make her wear a mask, She's a baby."

Bruck said three crew members told her she had to put a mask on her daughter, and one of them happened to be on her outbound flight and had told her the same thing. JetBlue requires masks for all passengers ages 2 and up.

"I said I could try," she said. "Like what, am I going to tie her hands and feet? How am I going to get her to? I took out a mask and tried to put in on. She pulled it off."

Related: Woman accused of hitting Phoenix airport gate agent after not wearing mask

Bruck said she was then told she had to get off the plane.

"I'm not a confrontational person," she said. "I didn't ask for this. I just wanted to get home to New York."

The family is still upset, and for that, a JetBlue executive apologized. But the company is standing by its policy, which was updated August 10 and follows CDC guidelines, stating: "All travelers 2 years and older must wear a face covering over their nose and mouth throughout their journey."

Bruck was going by a policy which said small children were exempt, but that was from May. Still, she wants crew members retrained and is considering legal action.

"My kids were traumatized," she said. "I was traumatized, and it was so unnecessary."

JetBlue gave the following statement to Eyewitness News:

During these unprecedented times, our first priority is to keep crewmembers and customers safe, and we've quickly introduced new safety policies and procedures throughout the pandemic. Specifically, our face covering policy was updated most recently on August 10 to ensure everyone is wearing a face covering - adults and children alike - to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Children age 2 and over must wear a face covering, consistent with CDC guidelines, which say "Masks should not be worn by children under the age of 2."

Customers receive an email before their flight outlining the latest safety protocols and face covering policies. Our crewmembers are ready to assist customers in the airport and onboard who might need support. We have a flexible rebooking policy for those who are unable to meet this requirement, and customers who refuse to follow these standards after requests from crewmembers will be reviewed for further travel eligibility on JetBlue.

This incident and another involving a young child who refused to wear a mask show how airlines are struggling to balance safety with compassionate treatment of all their customers during the pandemic.

Last week, a Texas woman said Southwest Airlines booted her family off a plane after one of the children, a 3-year-old with autism, refused to wear a mask. Alyssa Sadler said her son became upset because he does not like to have his face touched.

All major U.S. airlines have mask rules and have banned at least a couple hundred passengers who have refused to comply. Typically, the violators are adults who argue that there is no government requirement to wear a mask - there isn't; the Federal Aviation Administration has declined to impose one, leaving it up to the airlines.

Related: JetBlue extends empty middle seat policy through Labor Day weekend

Sadler said she had a doctor's note explaining her son's autism condition, but it didn't help.

"I think there needs to be something in place for children or even adults with disabilities who can't wear a mask," she told Houston TV station KPRC. "They should have some kind of exemption."

Southwest is among several airlines that recently tightened the mask rules by ending an exemption for people who claim a medical reason for not covering their face. Southwest's president said last month the change was made because passengers were uncomfortable seeing other people on board without masks.

Southwest spokesman Dan Landson said Thursday that the airline regrets any inconvenience to the Sadler family. He said passengers 2 and up who can't wear masks are given refunds and will be welcome on the airline "if public health guidance regarding face coverings changes."

Airlines have tweaked other pandemic-safety policies such as aircraft cleaning and leaving some seats empty to create more space between passengers.

On Thursday, Delta Air Lines announced that it will continue blocking middle seats during the holidays and through at least Jan. 6. The Christmas season normally means packed planes, but it's hard to know what flights will look like later this year. U.S. air travel during the peak summer season has been about 70% lower than a year ago.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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