Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Teen With Down Syndrome Banned From Flight for 'Security Issue'

from KTLA News:
A family claims they couldn't board their cross-country flight to Los Angeles after their son was singled out and discriminated against because he has Down syndrome.

Joan and Robert Vanderhorst were flying on American Airlines from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles on Sunday with their 16-year-old son Bede.

But they say that as they waited to board the flight, they were told that they weren't allowed on the plane.

Joan pulled out her cell phone and began to videotape, documenting what she believes was a violation of her son's civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bede -- who was labeled a flight risk -- can be seen in the video sitting at the gate, quietly playing with his hat.

In the video, you can hear Joan sobbing and her husband expressing disbelief.

"He's behaving," Robert says. "He's demonstrating he's not a problem."

"Of course he's behaving. He's never not behaved," Joan adds.

"I kept saying, 'Is this only because he has Down syndrome?'" Joan said in an interview with KTLA via Skype.

The family has flown together dozens of times. The only thing different about this flight was that they had upgraded for the first time to first class.

"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 said.

American Airlines claims Bede was "excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment" and that the pilot had unsuccessfully tried to calm him down.

"For the safety of the young man and the safety of others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family," American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller told KTLA.

Robert says the family was warned their son's behavior was a concern because their first class seat was to close to the cockpit and a distraction to the pilot could cause a mid-flight emergency landing.

"My son is no different from a 4 or 5 year old as far as behavior," Robert insisted.

The Vanderhorsts claim Bede hadn't caused any troubles and instead was being discriminated against.

Eventually, airline personnel called airport police to intervene -- and the family was booked on a United Airlines flight.

The Vanderhorsts eventually got to their home near Bakersfield and say they were not refunded for their upgrade fee, which they were never able to take advantage of.

They say they plan to sue American Airlines, and hope their experience will teach the company and people in general a valuable lesson.

"Respect each person's dignity," Robert said. "Every one of us should be treated with equal dignity."


  1. patricia moore quartz hill,caSeptember 4, 2012 at 1:25 PM

    As a mother of a 28 year old daughter with autism my heart and support go out to the Vanderhorst family. My daughter and I have flown many times including overseas , often on American Airlines. Most flights included serveral crying babies , a few restless cranky children unable to sit still , and one or two ill mannered adults demanding personnel attention from the flight crew complaining about service or seating arrangements. Clearly this dicision made by the airline was made based of prejudice and ignorance . This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. You go Bede! Show them what you can do and break down some barriers for rest of us !

  2. Why did the pilot have to take the time out to come into the waiting area and attempt to calm this boy down if the boy was behaving like in the video? Why did the dad say "see he is demonstrating he can behave?" which sounds like the parents said "now sit down and show them you can be good". The parents clearly state their 16 year old son behaves like a 4-5 year old. The parents also state that they were placed in the back of the United flight with no one around them so there is obviously another side to this story. The dad juuuust so happens to be a personal injury attorney and they juuuust so happen to NOT start filming until the boy is calm. Hhhhmmmm....looks like somone is sniffing around for a payday. Just because someone is MR, they don't get a free pass for putting other people at risk. There is a tape of EXACTLY what happened from start to finish from the airport security cams and I hope they put this family exactly where they belong - begging American Airlines for forgiveness and having to pay THEM for damages to their business name. Being disabled does NOT give ANYONE the right to DEMAND anything!