Teen with Down Syndrome Deemed Flight Risk. Parents Fight Back
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst were planning to fly home to California with their 16-year-old son on Sunday. But before they could board their American Airlines flight from Newark airport bound for Los Angeles, they were stopped at the gate.
"We were not allowed on the plane because they saw my son and made a decision," Joan Vanderhorst told KTLA local news.
Her son, Bede, has Down Syndrome. Because of it, the airline deemed him flight risk, the Vanderhorsts claim.
The family had traveled on dozens of flights in the past and insist their son was behaving calmly when the airline made its decision. A smartphone video of Bede, taken by his mom during the incident, shows the boy quietly playing with a baseball cap.
But American Airlines' reps painted a very different picture of the child's actions before boarding, describing him as "excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment."
Had their tickets been for economy seats, the Vanderhorsts believe they wouldn't have had a problem.
"This little boy had a seat in the first class area, and for some reason, they didn't want that. That wasn't acceptable," Joan told the news station.
"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," an American Airlines representative said in a statement to Yahoo! Shine. "Our EWR customer service team, as well as the crew, worked with the Vanderhorst family to try and get Bede comfortable. Unfortunately, the crew determined he was still agitated, and at that point the Vanderhorsts were asked to take an alternate flight."
The family was soon transferred to another flight on United Airlines. This time, their first class upgrade wasn't applied. Now the family plans to sue the airline for discrimination and violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was expanded to include airline regulations in 2009.
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