American Airlines Stupidly Bars Family From Boarding Because Down Syndrome Teen Is A ‘Flight Risk’
American Airline’s slogan is “Be Yourself. Nonstop.” Apparently, that doesn’t apply to everyone though. The company is being accused of discriminating against a boy with Down Syndrome who was just trying to make his way home accompanied by his parents. The family had first class tickets, but they were denied entry to their flight because someone deemed their 16-year-old son a “flight risk.” Now, Joan and Robert Vanderhorst are threatening to sue the airline.
Now, I’m not the litigious sort, so I’m not going to get in to legal issues regarding the Americans with Disabilities Act, but I will say that it seems like this couple has every right to be angry. They were trying to fly home from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles, California, when the flight crew informed them that they would not be able to board the plane. According to the airline, “The young man was excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment.” I think it’s important to note that since the Vanderhorsts were never allowed to board the plane at all, this behavior was apparently witnessed by the flight crew while they were all in the waiting area, which has room for people to work out some nervous energy.
According to his parents, Bede Vanderhorst behaves much like a 4 or 5-year-old. I’m pretty sure I let me daughter stand up and bounce a little in the waiting area before getting on our last flight.
Even more than that, the Vanderhorsts quickly took out their camera and video-taped their son’s supposedly disruptive behavior. The young man could be seen sitting quietly playing with his baseball hat as his parents talked to airline officials. As his father noted, Bede was obviously demonstrating that he was capable of behaving when he needed to.
Really, it’s hard to argue with the Vanderhorsts claim that their son was discriminated against because of his disability. The airline contends, “The pilot attempted to calm him down and acclimate him to the surroundings. His efforts were not successful. For the safety of the young man and the safety of others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family.” The Vanderhorsts however, say that the pilot never came within 15 feet of their son.
For the record, the airline put Bede and his parents on a United flight in the very back row of the plane and wouldn’t let anyone sit in the row in front of them. They behaved as if Bede was some form of violent criminal that people needed to be protected from. Oh, and they never reimbursed for the family for the first class tickets.
Really, I don’t know if this story is a legal case, but I do believe that it’s sad. I can’t imagine how I would react if my child were treated like that. Parents are already terrified of flying because of the horrible looks and rude comments they’re subjected to by other passengers. That pressure and stress must increase exponentially when you have a child with special needs.
It would be great if this family’s struggles made airlines more considerate and supportive of families’ needs when they’re flying. However, my fear is that it will simply make parents more terrified of being treated horribly because they’ve dared to attempt traveling with their children.
[UPDATE: American Airlines has responded with a more thorough telling of their side of the story that includes the boy being “agitated” about a half hour before boarding. As some of the commenters pointed out, any other child who was “agitated” before boarding would not be bothered or even noticed by the flight crew. You can see their dismissive and thoughtless statement on their Facebook page.]