Skip to comments.Teen denied boarding on American Airlines flight because he has Down syndrome, family says
Posted on 09/05/2012 6:09:39 PM PDT by 2ndDivisionVet
A California family says they were kicked off a cross-country American Airlines flight because their 16-year-old son has Down syndrome.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst, of Bakersfield, Calif., said they intend to sue American over the "humiliating" incident at Newark Airport, in which they were told their special needs son posed a "flight risk."
"It's defamation," Robert Vanderhorst told the Daily News. "It's a violation of his civil rights and its defamation."
Joan Vanderhorst pulled out her cell phone and started recording the incident on Sunday in which Bede is seen quietly playing with his hat and an American Airlines official warns that she was prohibited from filming "in a security-controlled area."
At one point, Port Authority police were even called on the confused family.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to us before. That's what's so shocking. He's usually our good luck charm. Good things usually happen when Bede is with us," Vanderhorst said.
Bede and his parents had been in Jackson, N.J., visiting family and were eager to make the long return flight home. On a "lark" they had even upgraded their seats to first class, shelling out an extra $625 dollars.
"My wife said, 'oh Bede's never flown first class,' he'll be so excited."
Vanderhorst said Bede, a freshman in high school, has flown "at least 30 times" through his life and has never caused any trouble.
Nothing was different before Sunday's flight, he said. Bede was sticking close to his parents and was not acting unruly, nor was he upset.
But as the family waited to board, an American Airlines official pulled them aside and said the pilot had observed Bede and didn't feel safe allowing him on the plane.
Joan Vanderhorst quickly snapped on her video camera and can be heard sobbing. "We are being singled out," she said. Robert Vanderhorst, an attorney, calmly pleads with the airline official. "He's behaving. He's demonstrating he's not a problem."
The agitated American Airlines employee instead called Port Authority police to escort the family away from the gate.
"It was horrible, humiliating. We were treated like criminals One officer even told me to call our congressman and report the pilot," Vanderhorst said.
He said the pilot's name was recorded as Jeff Hickey.
"He never came out, he never interacted with my son," Vanderhorst said.
But American Airlines stood behind its decision to remove Bede from the flight, telling the Daily News on Tuesday that boy was "agitated" in the waiting area.
"Asking the family to take the next flight was a decision that was made with careful consideration and that was done based on the behavior of the teen," the airline said.
"Our customer service team worked with the Vanderhorst family and the EWR [Newark airport] team, as well as the crew, tried to get Bede comfortable. Unfortunately, the crew determined he was still agitated."
The airline said it did not have any complaints from other passengers observing Bede's alleged "agitation."
Vanderhorst said he has spoken with his attorneys about a lawsuit, accusing the airline of violating Bede's civil rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"My son cannot defend himself," he said. "I expect that American Airlines will not give their pilots the ability to discriminate against anyone; gay, black disabled," he said.
The family's trip home deteriorated even further when they were loaded into a full United Airlines flight and placed in the very back row.
"For a second time, we were discriminated against. Segregated."
For his part, Bede, took the incident in stride.
"He got on the plane and was waving hi to everyone," his father said.
Good for the pilot. If the pilot doesn’t want someone on the plane, that’s good enough for me. He is the man responsible for delivering everyone safely, and if he feels like a passenger poses a risk, then he should be able to exclude that passenger and the rest of us can shut up about it.
After the way they treated Glenn Beck....a story that was heard by countless MILLIONS in the last 24 hours, and now this abomination....some f**king heads need to roll at this idiotic airline.
I used to fly AA exclusively. Never again....and boys and girls, I rack up a lot of miles in my work.
So if you’re wearing a Tea Party shirt or slogan or a very prominent cross and the pilot thinks you pose a risk or just doesn’t want you on the plane, then you just need to shut up and re-book?
Hmmmmmmmmm....... Yeah, I'm sure that is on the up and up. A lawyer and his wife would NEVER manufacture a lawsuit.
If a pilot has a record of excluding people at a high rate, then that pilot will come under scrutiny naturally. If he or she is acting in a discriminatory manner, then they will not last long. But if a pilot has no rnocord of discrimination and doesn’t want me on the plane, then yeah, I shouldn’t fly.
Do you want your children on a plane with someone who makes a professional pilot uncomfortable? I do not.
My neighbor, whom I really like is dating a bimbo American flight attendant union liberal rep.....I am not saying that flight attendants are bimbos but I am saying she is and if that is what American has to offer, no thanks...when he told me she was a liberal, I said “that explains a few things.”
And what would you do? Bend over and ask for another?
Well, if Southwest got their slots at DFW I would be happier. AA is discriminating people alot lately.
The pilot was a moron. I have a disable large child as well. The raving ignorance of the truly disabled is massive. I hope the family sues and wins.
My son has Down Syndrome and we have flown with him quite a few times. I wonder if the pilot’s decision has more to do with him not wanting a special needs person flying first class, wouldn’t want the high paying customers to think their flight might be disrupted.
I’m a retired AA employee.
The pilot’s union is the only hold out in the bankruptcy proceedings. All the other union and non-union groups have signed off on the agreement.
I hate to say it, but unless the other groups put more pressure on the pilots you will see AA go the way of EA because of the militant mechanics union back in the early 80’s. This is an isolated case, but that is all it takes to make the news.
Actually the late 80’s was the demise of Eastern Airlines.
I was wondering that too. It would be interesting to know exactly who was on board that first class flight. Could that have been where the complaint actually originated?
I’m guessing former Governor Sarah Palin will be all over this tomorrow.
Who flies American anymore? Buncha losers.
Not sure why you are saying that? But go ahead and enlighten me.
Gov. Sarah Palin has a Down Syndrome son who’s a toddler.
I hope not. We have to be focused on kicking out Obama.
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