View Full Version : Teen denied boarding on flight because he has Down syndrome, family says

September 5th, 2012, 04:59 PM
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., said they intend to sue American over the "humiliating" incident at Newark Airport, in which they were told their special needs son posed a "flight risk."

"It's defamation," Robert Vanderhorst told the Daily News. "It's a violation of his civil rights and its defamation."

Joan Vanderhorst pulled out her cell phone and started recording the incident on Sunday 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."

At one point, Port Authority police were even called on the confused family.

"Nothing like this has ever happened to us before. That's what's so shocking. He's usually our good luck charm. Good things usually happen when Bede is with us," Vanderhorst said.


The airline said Bede couldn’t board because he was ‘agitated’ in the waiting area, but a video the family made shows Bede, above, quietly playing with his hat. 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.

Bede and his parents had been in Jackson, N.J., visiting family and were eager to make the long return flight home. On a "lark" they had even upgraded their seats to first class, shelling out an extra $625 dollars.

"My wife said, 'oh Bede's never flown first class,' he'll be so excited."

Vanderhorst said Bede, a freshman in high school, has flown "at least 30 times" through his life and has never caused any trouble.

Nothing was different before Sunday's flight, he said. Bede was sticking close to his parents and was not acting unruly, nor was he upset.

But as the family waited to board, an American Airlines official pulled them aside and said the pilot had observed Bede and didn't feel safe allowing him on the plane.


When told they couldn't board their flight to Los Angeles, Joan Vanderhorst pulled out her cell phone and started recording the incident, but an American Airlines employee, above, warned that she was prohibited from filming ‘in a security controlled area.’

Joan Vanderhorst quickly snapped on her video camera and can be heard sobbing. "We are being singled out," she said. Robert Vanderhorst, an attorney, calmly pleads with the airline official. "He's behaving. He's demonstrating he's not a problem."

See the footage taken by Vanderhorst when her family was denied boarding

The agitated American Airlines employee instead called Port Authority police to escort the family away from the gate.

"It was horrible, humiliating. We were treated like criminals…One officer even told me to call our congressman and report the pilot," Vanderhorst said.


The Vanderhorst family claims they couldn't board their cross-country flight to Los Angeles after their son was singled out and discriminated against because he has Down syndrome.

He said the pilot's name was recorded as Jeff Hickey.

"He never came out, he never interacted with my son," Vanderhorst said.

But American Airlines stood behind its decision to remove Bede from the flight, telling the Daily News on Tuesday that boy 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 said it did not have any complaints from other passengers observing Bede's alleged "agitation."

Vanderhorst said he has spoken with his attorneys about a lawsuit, accusing the airline of violating Bede's civil rights and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

"My son cannot defend himself," he said. "I expect that American Airlines will not give their pilots the ability to discriminate against anyone; gay, black disabled," he said.

The family's trip home deteriorated even further when they were loaded into a full United Airlines flight and placed in the very back row.

"For a second time, we were discriminated against. Segregated."

For his part, Bede, took the incident in stride.

"He got on the plane and was waving hi to everyone," his father said.

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/teen-denied-boarding-american-airlines-flight-syndrome-family-article-1.1151439#ixzz25dQstEZH

*Where it says KTLA a photo would be in place of it.

But who's right the family? or the airline? Personally, I think the airline of judge things, why did they go through that trouble to rebook a flight when they already had one to begin with? Quite sad that the family was put through this.

Lyra Heartstrings
September 5th, 2012, 05:53 PM
..I came in here expecting butthurt family. But agitation? Really? The kid seemed fine in the pictures and the video. Good job America.

Mortal Coil
September 5th, 2012, 07:11 PM
If I had to describe this story in a word? Pathetic.
I can't believe this... some people are just so fucking ignorant.

September 5th, 2012, 08:12 PM
I saw about this on the news! I've worked with people with Down's Syndrome and other developmental disabilities, and frankly, what American Airlines did was discrimination and just plain pathetic and infuriating. I saw the video the mother took--Seriously, agitation? The boy was standing there quietly playing with his hat >.< I suppose we can't expect much more out of airlines nowadays, though..

September 5th, 2012, 10:48 PM
thats just fucking wrong. i dont want to live on this planet anymore.

September 5th, 2012, 11:10 PM
Aaaaaand that's why I don't fly American. (among many other reasons)

September 6th, 2012, 08:53 AM
Wow, mean.

September 6th, 2012, 03:51 PM
Humanity seems to be disappointing me a lot these days... That's just wrong.

September 6th, 2012, 04:01 PM
Yeah I really hope there was another reason behind the pilots actions but I doubt there was which is just so disappointing.

September 7th, 2012, 08:10 PM
Asswipes. I hope karma gives them a big can o' whoopass. People sicken me.

September 7th, 2012, 09:05 PM
As somebody with an Autistic brother (and common decency) this just makes me sad. I have trouble even giving the airline the benefit of the doubt. It was pure discrimination, it's disgusting.

September 8th, 2012, 04:18 AM
this is just wrong!

September 8th, 2012, 04:31 PM
Thsi si just discrimination. The only reason they were not allowed on was because the flight is long and the flight crew didn't want to be with the kid on a flight for that long, but he's well be haved and just in general, of all the intellectually delayed illnesses, Down Syndrome kids are the most well behaved. I've seen this happen on other airlines as well, but do to obesity, not illnesses.

September 8th, 2012, 06:29 PM
That's terrible; they should treat everyone equally weather you have down syndrome or not!

September 13th, 2012, 09:36 AM
Each day, I lose a little hope in the world because of random little incidents like this.

September 13th, 2012, 03:44 PM
What if that boy was their kid? I bet then they'd want the airline treating him nicer.

September 13th, 2012, 06:37 PM
This is bullshit.
This poor kid being singled out for something he probably isn't even aware he has.