Airline Refuses to Board Teen With Down Syndrome, Labels Him 'flight risk'
American Airlines allegedly did not permit a teenaged boy with Down Syndrome board a flight from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles this weekend, and his parents believe it was because of discrimination.
16-year-old Bede Vanderhorst was booked with a first-class ticket on flight with his family Sunday to LAX, but the airline labeled the teen a "flight risk" at the gate, claiming his behavior was erratic, according to KTLA.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst say they've flown multiple times with their son in the past, though this was the first time they'd opted to upgrade to first class. Never permitted to enter the jetway, the were informed by an airline rep while they sat in the boarding lounge—Bede sitting quietly playing with his hat—they would not be allowed to fly.
Joan Vanderhorst pulled out her cellphone camera and recorded not only images of her son sitting calmly, playing no more vigorously than a young child might, but also the airline rep refusing to admit them on board. On the audio, you can hear Joan sobbing, as Robert tries to reason with the airline rep.
"A spokesman for American Airlines disputes the family's claim, saying the child was excitable and running around," reports UPI, adding: The airline said the pilot unsuccessfully tried to calm the boy down before telling the family he presented a risk to passenger safety."
However, the Vanderhorsts say the pilot did not come within 15 feet of their son, and did not interact with him at all.
They believe American Airlines did not want their son to fly in first class because of his disability, and say the airline not only violated their son's civil rights, but also the Americans With Disabilities Act.
"My son is no different from a 4 or 5 year old as far as behavior," said Robert Vanderhorst to KTLA. The parents, who ultimately were booked onto United and made it home to Bakersfield, say they intend to sue American Airlines.