Family Alleges They Were Kicked Off American Airlines Flight Because Son has Down Syndrome

American Airlines
Something special in the air, unless you you have a special disability?

As many parents of young children already know, you can have the best-behaved kids the planet but when you board an airplane with your offspring in tow, you are guilty before even being charged simply for having the audacity to fly with children.

Imagine, however, being found guilty for having the audacity to fly with your child who has Down syndrome — just because he has Down syndrome?

The Vanderhorst family of Bakersfield, Calif., was flying from New Jersey to Los Angeles over the weekend when said they were told their 16-year-old son Bede, who has Down syndrome, posed a “flight risk,” despite the fact that they said he was “behaving” and “not demonstrating a problem,” according to the New York Daily News (via KTLA).

Joan Vanherhorst, Bede’s mom, said American Airlines officials singled out and unfairly and incorrectly labeled her son as “agitated,” while other small children were allowed to board without comment.

The family had first-class tickets and believed the airline didn’t want a boy with Down syndrome in the pricier, more exclusive area of the plane.

The family has since announced plans to sue the airline for violating Bede’s civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

For their part, American Airlines told the Daily News that Bede was, in fact, “agitated,” and that “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.”

In a statement to KTLA, American Airlines said Bede was “excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment,” and could not be calmed down by the pilot, even though the family said the pilot never came within 15 feet of their son.

Bede’s dad told KTLA the family was warned their son’s behavior was a concern because “their first class seat was too 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,” he said

A cell phone video taken by Bede’s mom (see it here) shows him sitting calmly in a chair and playing with his hat. The family were later re-booked on another flight and made to sit in the very last row, despite the fact that they were not reimbursed for their upgrade free.

UPDATE: American Airlines responded to Babble’s story earlier today via Twitter:

Flight crew made careful decision based on behavior. Family was rebooked to next avail flight.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

More from Meredith on Strollerderby:

Read (even) more from Meredith at Babble’s Toddler Times, follow her on Twitter, and check out her weekly syndicated newspaper column at

Article Posted 3 years Ago
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