A California family claims that they were not allowed to board an American Airlines flight because their 16-year-old son has Down Syndrome.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst of Bakersfield, Calif., were supposed to fly on an American Airlines from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles on Sunday with their son Bede, however they were never allowed on the flight because they were told that Bede, who has Down Syndrome, was a flight risk.
After being told that they wouldn't be able to board the flight because of Bede's behavior, Joan Vanderhorst took out her cell phone and started recording the incident, claiming that they airline was violating her son's civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In the video, an airline official tells Vanderhorst to turn off the camera. She can be heard sobbing as she questions why her son was being singled out. In the video, Bede can be seen sitting quietly at the gate, playing with his hat.
"He's behaving," Robert says in the video. "He's demonstrating he's not a problem."
"Of course he's behaving. He's never not behaved," Joan says.
The Vanderhorst's believe their son was singled out because of his condition.
The family has flown on dozens of other flights, but they have never had a problem. The only difference was that the family had upgraded the tickets to first class. The airline reportedly told the family that Bede's behavior would be a concern in first class because it was close to the cockpit and they wanted to prevent didn't want the pilot to have distractions.
"My son is no different from a 4 or 5 year old as far as behavior," Robert told KTLA.
After police intervened, the family was booked in coach on a United Airlines flight instead. The family claims they were forced to sit in a back row with no other passengers nearby.
American Airlines claims that Bede was "excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment," according to KTLA. They said that multiple crew members, including the pilot, tried to get him to calm down, but they failed.
"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 told the New York Daily News.
"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" American Airlines continued.
However the Vanderhorst's claim this isn't true. They said that the pilot and the crew never spoke to them before the flight as they never made it on the plane. They believe the officials made a judgment just based on Bede's condition.
The Vanderhorsts were able to return home in coach on the United Airlines flight. They were never refunded for the upgrade fee that they paid American Airlines for first class.
The family plans to sue American Airlines and they hope that a similar incident will not occur in the future.
"Respect each person's dignity," Robert said to KTLA. "Every one of us should be treated with equal dignity."