Airline Denies Boarding for Boy with Down Syndrome

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on September 06, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

American Airlines stopped a boy with Down syndrome from boarding a flight on Sunday, which his family says was discrimination.

Robert and Joan Vanderhorst and their son Bede, 16, were flying from Newark, N.J., to Los Angeles over the holiday weekend. They upgraded their tickets to first class but when it came time to board, they were told they couldn't get on the plane.

The airline says the decision was made based on safety concerns. But the Vanderhorsts are planning to file suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Airlines are bound by the Air Carrier Access Act, which requires reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in most situations.

If any person is deemed a safety threat, an airline can refuse to let that person board. But an airline cannot refuse boarding if a disabled person poses no threat. Airline employees also cannot make general assumptions about disabilities.

Beyond airplanes, the Americans with Disabilities Act also requires reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities. Don't hesitate to talk to an attorney if you feel you were not given necessary accommodations for your disability.

The Vanderhorsts are planning to do just that, reports New York's WCBS-TV.

American Airlines claims its workers did nothing wrong in this situation. Bede was running around the gate and appeared agitated before the flight, an airline spokesman said. Because the boy wasn't ready to fly, the family was kept off the plane.

But Bede's parents tell a different story.

They say he didn't run at any time and was quietly behaving himself. A cell phone video taken by his mother allegedly shows him sitting quietly at the gate:

Bede has flown many times with his parents, and this was supposed to be his first trip in first class, reports USA Today. The family was moved to another airline and flew coach to Los Angeles.

American Airlines stands by its decision that Bede was not ready to fly, but his parents are still convinced he was stopped because of his Down syndrome. If a lawsuit is filed, it will be up to the courts to decide.

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