A California family says they were kicked off a cross-country American Airlines flight because their 16-year-old son has Down syndrome.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst, of Bakersfield, Calif., were flying from Newark to Los Angeles on Sunday when they were told their son, Bede, posed a “flight risk.”
Joan Vanderhost pulled out her cell phone and started recording the incident, in which Bede is seen quietly playing with his hat and an American Airlines official warns that she was prohibited from filming “in a security controlled area.”
Vanderhost is heard sobbing on the video, telling the airline official that her family is being “singled out.”
“He’s behaving. He’s demonstrating he’s not a problem,” Robert Vanderhorst calmly said.
The family, who had upgraded their tickets to first class, were denied boarding and forced to rebook in coach seats on a later United Airlines flight.
The Vanderhorsts told KTLA they intend to sue the airline for violating Bede’s civil rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act.
But American Airlines stood behind its decision to remove Bede from the flight, telling the Daily News on Tuesday that Bede was “agitated” in the waiting area.
“Asking the family to take the next flight was a decision that was made with careful consideration and that was done based on the behavior of the teen,” the airline said.
“Our customer service team worked with the Vanderhorst family and the EWR [Newark airport] team, as well as the crew, tried to get Bede comfortable. Unfortunately, the crew determined he was still agitated.”
The airline would not confirm to the Daily News if other passengers had witnessed Bede’s “agitation.”
The Vanderhorsts said the pilot and crew never spoke with them or their son and they believe the airline didn’t want a person with Down syndrome in first class.
“We were not allowed on the plane because they saw my son and made a decision,” Joan Vanderhorst said.