An Oregon woman has plans to sue United Airlines after they mistreated her and her autistic 15-year-old daughter during a flight from Houston to Portland.
Donna Beegle explained to ABC News that while her daughter Juliette has a high IQ, she has a difficult time communicating. She will also only eat hot meals. To prevent there being an issue, Beegle tried to get Juliette to eat at a restaurant prior to the flight, but Juliette wouldn’t eat. She brought snacks on board, but she had no way to make sure that she had anything to give her that was hot.
After boarding, her mother asked a flight attendant if she had any available. She received a “hot sandwich” that wasn’t actually hot, and her daughter refused to eat it.
Beegle, who wanted to prevent her daughter from getting frustrated and antsy, asked the flight attendant to check if there was anything hot in first class that she could purchase for her child. She was refused again and again, pleading with the flight attendant saying, “I have a child with special needs, I need to get her something.”
His response? “I can’t do that.”
Starting to lose her patience, Beegle told him, “How about we wait for her to have a meltdown, she’ll be crying and trying to scratch in frustration. I don’t want her to get to that point.” Finally, Juliette was brought a hot meal and was fine. Which should have been the end of the story.
But it wasn’t.
According to Beegle, 25 minutes later an announcement was made that the plane was making an emergency landing because of a passenger with a behavioral issue. When paramedics boarded the plane they found Juliette happily watching a video.
Next, police came to their row and asked if there was an issue, to which Beegle replied that there was not. However, the captain stepped out of the cockpit and told the police “he’s not comfortable flying on to Portland with [Juliette] on the plane.”
The police and paramedics did not believe Juliette was a threat to anyone on the plane, but they still had to follow the captain’s orders. Passengers seated close by rallied around the family and tried to explain that Juliette wasn’t disrupting anyone, but the family was still escorted off the plane.
Donna Beegle, who was rightfully upset, told ABC News, “It just killed me for her to be treated that way.” While another passenger commented, “This was the epitome of discrimination. I have never in all my years of flying seen anything like this.”
For their part, United Airlines is sticking by their staff, issuing a statement to ABC News today that said:
“After working to accommodate Dr. Beegle and her daughter during the flight, the crew made the best decision for the safety and comfort of all of our customers and elected to divert to Salt Lake City after the situation became disruptive. We rebooked the customers on a different carrier and the flight continued to Portland.”
With over 8 million people flying the not-so-friendly skies every day, one would think airlines over time would learn to be more accommodating, not less; to find reasonable ways to adapt to the needs of mothers and special-needs passengers, working with them, not against them to ensure a safe and comfortable flight for all on board. But it’s stories like this that prove we are so very far away from that becoming our reality.