The Vanderhorst family, from central California, has claimed that their teen son Bede was denied entry into the first class section on an American Airlines flight because he has down syndrome.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst state that they have flown dozens of times with their 16-year-old son Bede prior to this incident and never had any problems, but this was the first time they had ever booked first class tickets. On this occasion they decided that they would splash out and go first class as a treat for the boy, but things didn’t work out exactly as they had planned.
The Vanderhorst’s were awaiting to board the plane in Newark, New Jersey to fly back to their home in Porterville when they were pulled aside by an American Airlines representative. The representative told them that they would be denied entry into first class because the pilot believed Bede to be a “flight risk.” The couple immediately suspected that they were being discriminated against because of their son’s disability and Joan began videotaping the incident on her cell phone.
They were told that that because their seats were so close to the cockpit, the pilot believed that their son’s behavior could be disruptive. The airline has since released a statement claiming that the boy was running around in an agitated state and not suitable to fly, despite repeated attempts to calm him. The family has denied this claim, and in the video you can clearly see that Bede is far from agitated, he is sitting quietly in the background playing contentedly with his hat.
You can hear Joan sobbing as she claims that they are “being singled out.” Robert is heard attempting to remonstrate with the representative, he said: “He’s behaving. He’s demonstrating he’s not a problem.”
Robert, who is an attorney, told the New York Daily News: “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.”
Despite their protests the Vanderhorst’s were escorted from the gate by the Port Authority and transferred to the coach section of a United Airlines flight. They were not refunded their upgrade fee and were made to sit at the very back of the flight, away from any other passengers. Robert described the experience as “humiliating” and said that his family was “treated like criminals.”
The family has said that they plan to sue American Airlines over the incident.
(Via Huffington Post)