Thursday, June 16, 2011
Airline turns away girl because she has DS
A girl of 12 was refused a plane ticket by British Airways staff because she has Down’s syndrome.
The mother of Alice Saunders was stunned when she was told her daughter could not fly unaccompanied as it was the company’s policy not to accept passengers with Down's travelling alone.
Heather Saunders, 49, had phoned the airline to book Alice a flight from Gatwick to Glasgow.
Heather said: ‘I explained I wanted her to travel as an unaccompanied minor, she was 12 years old, she had Down’s syndrome and was very independent.
‘The woman said, “Our policy says we don’t take children with Down's syndrome”. When asked why, the BA customer service agent responded: ‘Because we’ve had problems in the past.’
Mrs Saunders added: ‘They advise you let them know of any additional needs. I said, “What if I hadn’t told you?”
‘She said they would have turned her down when she arrived because she’s got Down’s syndrome.’
Asked what the position would be if the passenger were a child on the autistic spectrum
Alice, who planned to go to Glasgow to visit her aunt, attends a mainstream school, reads as well as an average 12-year-old, and regularly goes away with church and Guide groups.
She lives with her parents and three older siblings in Littlehampton, West Sussex.
Mrs Saunders said: ‘We didn’t know Alice had Down’s syndrome before she was born.
‘Our expectation has always been she would do what her siblings have done – with extra support. Alice knows she has Down’s. She’s very proud of the fact.
‘We’ve never had any problem with discrimination before.’
She added: ‘I was very cross after speaking with British Airways and I got crosser afterwards.
‘It was discrimination against people with a disability but more worryingly people with a specific disability. BA should be better informed.
‘This is 2011. Most of the world has moved on in terms of their treatment of people with learning disabilities. People with Down’s syndrome go to mainstream school, college, they live independently, they hold down jobs but, it would seem, cannot travel independently with British Airways.’
Carole Boyes, chief executive of the Down’s Syndrome Association, said she was surprised to learn of BA’s behaviour.
She said: ‘I couldn’t understand it. It seemed very strange.’
A BA spokesman said it was not company policy to refuse solo flyers with Down’s syndrome.
She added: ‘We will carry any child over five years old as an unaccompanied minor provided they can go to the toilet unassisted, feed themselves, and behave in a socially acceptable manner.
‘This includes children who have Down’s syndrome and other additional needs.
‘We apologise unreservedly for the upset caused to Mrs Saunders and her daughter. Our customer service agent made a mistake and we will ensure this is rectified.
‘We will be happy to accept Mrs Saunders’ daughter as an unaccompanied minor.
We have offered Mrs Saunders two return flight tickets as an apology,’ she added.