American Airlines has reportedly kicked a family with a boy who has Down syndrome off one of their flights. The family was booked in first class but was asked to leave the flight and was later rebooked and placed in coach.
"He's behaving, he's demonstrating he's not a problem," Robert Vanderhorst told KTLA, of his son Bede. Robert and his wife Joan were flying from New Jersey to California with Bede, who has Down syndrome, when they were asked to leave the plane.
"I kept saying, 'Is this only because he has Down syndrome?'" Joan told KTLA. "This little boy had a seat in the first class area, and for some reason, they didn't want that. That wasn't acceptable," she explained.
According to American Airlines, Bede was "excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment. For the safety of the young man and the safety of others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family," spokesman Matt Miller explained.
Yet the Vanderhorst family believes that it was pure discrimination and a violation of Bede's civil rights as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act. The family was placed on another flight with United Airlines and was forced to sit in the very back of the plane, with no other passengers seated within two rows of the family.
The Vanderhorsts have not received compensation from their first class upgrade fee, which they never used. They plan to sue the airline for discrimination and hope to bring about change in the airline's policy and treatment of those with disabilities.
"We have two sons who have Down syndrome," posted KTLA reader Patricia Green-Jones. "I am simply amazed by this. AA better give this family a refund and some compensation for the dehumanizing behavior displayed by the airline. We fly frequently and will definitely not fly American Airlines again."
The airline has also come under fire by media personality Glenn Beck, who has claimed he was "made to feel subhuman" by a staff member on his most recent flight. Beck has called for a boycott of the airline.