UPDATE: American Airlines has issued a full statement to Consumerist on this story. It has been added to the end of the post.
American Airlines says the reason it refused to allow boarding to a 16-year-old with Down syndrome and his parents is that the teen was behaving erratically. The parents say that’s completely untrue and that the airline simply didn’t want their son in first class.
The incident occurred in Newark, where the family was attempting to board a flight to Los Angeles.
The airline tells KTLA-TV that the son was “excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment. The pilot attempted to calm him down and acclimate him to the surroundings. His efforts were not successful. For the safety of the young man and the safety of other, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family.”
But the family says that the captain never made any attempt to speak to their son and never came within 15 feet of the young man.
And in the video clips shown on KTLA, the teen appears to be sitting calmly while his mother and father debate the topic with an American staffer.
It should be pointed out that this staffer repeatedly tells the mother it’s illegal to videotape inside of the airport, which is simply not true.
The parents say they have flown with their son dozens of times without incident until this latest trip, which also happened to be the first time they upgraded to first class seats.
“This little boy had a seat in the first class area, and for some reason, they didn’t want that,” says the mom. “That wasn’t acceptable.”
The dad tells KTLA they were told his son’s proximity to the cockpit was a cause for concern to the pilot.
“My son is no different from a 4 or 5 year old as far as behavior,” says the dad.
The family eventually rebooked on a United flight, but lost the fee they had paid for the upgrade to first class. They tell KTLA they are planning to sue American, as they believe this incident is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
STATEMENT FROM AMERICAN TO CONSUMERIST
The young man was very excitable and running around the gate area prior to boarding. Our pilot noticed and asked a Customer Service Manager to talk to the family to see if we could help him calm down and get better acclimated to the situation. That effort was ultimately unsuccessful, and we made the decision to have the family rebooked on a different flight out of concern for the young man’s safety and the safety of other passengers. The family chose not to fly American, so we helped re-accommodate them on another carrier’s flight to Los Angeles.
Asking the… family to take a different flight was a decision that was made with careful consideration and was based on the behavior of the teen. Our Newark customer service team worked with the family in an attempt to make Bede as comfortable as possible. Unfortunately, the crew determined he was still agitated, and at that point the [family members] were asked to take an alternate flight…
[W]e will be refunding the upgrade fees.