Disabled 16-year-old Bede Vanderhorst and his parents were thrown off an American Airlines flight on allegations that the boy posed a flight risk.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst, originally from California, are planning to sue American Airlines after they were denied boarding a flight from Newark to Los Angeles on Sunday.
The couple was traveling with their son Bede. The 16-year-old boy from California has Down syndrome. Bede is a veteran flyer, and never had or caused a problem to others in over 30 flights.
As the family was ready to board the cross country flight, they were stopped by an American Airline officer who informed them they were not allowed on board since the flight’s captain had deemed the boy to be a flight risk.
``He was not ready to fly, that was our perspective,'' A spokesperson for American Airlines said. ``We rebooked the family out of concern for the young man's safety and that of other passengers as well.''
American Airlines alleges the captain observed the boy and made the call based on his behavior.
The Vanderhorst family disputes AA account of events. "The pilot never came out, he never interacted with my son," Vanderhorst said.
After being denied boarding, Bede’s mother took out her mobile phone and took a video of her son. In the footage Bede is seen very calm and sitting quietly.
As Mrs Vanderhorst began shooting the video, an agitated American Airlines official is seen warning her that filming in that location is prohibited. The same American Airlines employee later called Port Authority police to have the family removed from the gate.
American Airlines confirmed it did not receive a single complaint about Bede’s behavior from other passengers waiting to board the disabled boy’s flight.
The family was rebooked on the next available flight. “For a second time, we were discriminated against, segregated. We sat in the last row and no passengers were allowed to sit within two rows of us”, Mr Vanderhorst said.
"My son cannot defend himself," the angry father added. "I expect that American Airlines will not give their pilots the ability to discriminate against anyone; gay, black or disabled."