Two California parents say their 16-year-old son was stopped from getting on an American Airlines flight because he has Down syndrome. Joan and Robert Vanderhorst say their son, Bede, was set to fly with them from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles this past Labor Day weekend when the pilot told them the boy could not fly. The parents had upgraded their tickets to first class but when it came time to board, they were told they couldn’t get on the plane. The airline says the decision was made based only on safety concerns. American Airlines claims its workers did nothing wrong in this situation. One spokesperson alleged that Bede was running around the gate and appeared agitated before the flight. Because the boy wasn’t ready to fly, the family was kept off the plane.
But Bede’s parents tell a different story. They say he didn’t run at any time and was quietly behaving himself. A cell phone video taken by his mother allegedly shows him sitting quietly at the gate playing with his hat. The Vanderhorsts are planning to file suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act which extends beyond airplanes, requiring reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities.
Airlines are bound by the Air Carrier Access Act, which requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in most situations. If any person is deemed a safety threat, an airline can refuse to let that person board. But an airline cannot refuse boarding if a disabled person poses no threat. Airline employees also cannot make general assumptions about disabilities.
Bede has flown many times with his parents, and this was supposed to be his first trip in first class. But the airline said that out of concern for Bede’s safety and the safety of other passengers, it decided the family would have to take a later flight. The family was subsequently moved to another airline and flew coach to Los Angeles.
American Airlines stands by its decision that Bede was not ready to fly, but his parents are still convinced he was stopped because of his Down syndrome. If a lawsuit is filed, it will be up to the courts to decide.
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