Some have said that American Airlines was going to hell in a hand-basket. Little did they know that they may have been half-right.
According to KTLA, the financially-troubled airline is now making news for allegedly discriminating against the disabled. Bede Vanderhorst is a 16-year-old with Down Syndrome. Bede and his parents, Joan and Robert Vanderhorst were waiting to board a cross-country flight from Newark to Los Angeles when they were informed that they could not board the flight.
The airline cited their pilot's assertion that the child's behavior presented a safety risk. Bede's mother took a video of Bede while they were being told that he couldn't board the flight - he was sitting quietly and playing with his hat.
So what's the real story? Only the airline, family, and the fellow passengers know. The Vanderhorsts are convinced that the airline didn't want a child with Down Syndrome in the first-class area. They upgraded as a treat to their son, who has flown over 30 times without incident but never experienced first-class.
The airline, meanwhile, maintains that the child's behavior was disruptive and that he presented a safety risk. They also claim that he was "excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment" and that the pilot had tried to calm him down. The parents say that the pilot never approached them at all and that Bede is no different than a 4 or 5-year-old as far as behavior.
The family is considering a lawsuit under the Americans with Disabilities Act and for a violation of Bede's constitutional rights. They might also want to look into the Air Carrier Access Act. The ADA doesn't apply to airplanes. It does apply to airports.
For disabled access to flights, the ACAA prescribes a special set of rules. Most are irrelevant to Bede, such as wheelchair stowage rules. The one relevant provision is that the disabled cannot be denied a spot on the plane unless their behavior, involuntary or not, presents a safety risk to others.
Whether or not Bede was behaving is disputed by the parties. Note, however, that the family later boarded a coach flight on United Airlines without incident. In fact, his mother stated that Bede happily waved to the other passengers as he boarded the plane.
If you feel that you have been unfairly treated by an airline due to your disability, one of the first steps is to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Transportation. Lawsuits in federal court are also an option.
Aviation Consumer Protection Division
U.S. Department of Transportation
400 Seventh Street, S.W.
Room 4107, C-75
Washington, D.C. 20590
(202) 366-2220 (voice)
(202) 366-0511 (TTY)
(800) 778-4838 (voice)
(800) 455-9880 (TTY)
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