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Boy with Down Syndrome Denied Travel By Airlines

Bede Vanderhorst

If you had a child with Down Syndrome, how would you feel if the airlines refused to let them board a first-class flight? A family in Southern California family are claiming discrimination.

They were waiting to board a flight from Newark, New Jersey to Bakersfield, California, when Joan and Robert Vanderhorst say they were approached by a representative for American Airlines and informed that the pilot believed their 16-year-old son Bede was a “flight risk” and therefore would not be allowed on the plane.

The Vanderhorst family has flown many times before without any problems. They claim that the only difference this time, was that rather than flying coach, they decided to splurge on first class tickets.

A spokesperson for American Airlines said the boy was not allowed to board the plane because of his behavioral issues, stating he was running around the gate area and consequently branded “not ready to fly.”

The family says they were escorted from the gate by Port Authority and transferred to a United Airlines flight where they were seated in the very back row away from the other passengers without being given a full refund on their first class upgrade.

American Airlines recently issued a statement regarding the incident:

The young man was very excitable and running around the gate area prior to boarding. Our pilot noticed and asked a Customer Service Manager to talk to the family to see if we could help him calm down and get better acclimated to the situation. That effort was ultimately unsuccessful, and we made the decision to have the family rebooked on a different flight out of concern for the young man’s safety and the safety of other passengers. The family chose not to fly American, so we helped re-accommodate them on another carrier’s flight to Los Angeles.

Asking the… family to take a different flight was a decision that was made with careful consideration and was based on the behavior of the teen. Our Newark customer service team worked with the family in an attempt to make Bede as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, the crew determined he was still agitated, and at that point the [family members] were asked to take an alternate flight…

We will be refunding the upgrade fees.”

I think it is shameful on the part of American Airlines. Regardless if those fees are refunded are not, the Vanderhorst family says it plans to sue American Airlines.

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