Bede Vanderhorst — who is 16 years of age and was going to be a passenger in the first class cabin for the first time in his life — and his family were denied permission to board an American Airlines flight from Newark to Los Angeles, reportedly for safety reasons.
The family from Bakersfield, California was reportedly re-booked on a United Airlines flight and forced to sit in the rear of the aircraft, and no one was allowed to sit near them. Meanwhile, American Airlines will supposedly be refunding the fees paid by the family to upgrade them on the flight. Regardless, the parents of Bede Vanderhorst are considering filing a lawsuit against American Airlines for discrimination against their son.
Here is a video of the news story by KTLA-TV news in Los Angeles:
In the video, an unidentified man who supposedly broke the news of denied boarding to the family, said that “In a security-controlled area, you cannot be recording this.” Since when is video recording not allowed in the boarding area of a gate at the airport?
In a statement by American Airlines as shown on the video in response to the incident, “The young man 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 others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family.“ However, the video shows a clip of Bede Vanderhorst calmly waiting in his seat at the gate, fidgeting with his baseball cap.
To be fair, this is not to say that Bede Vanderhorst was not running around the gate area all excited — but did he really do it in a manner that posed a threat to the safety aboard that flight? Could a teenager weighing greater than 100 pounds but whose mind has the mental capacity of a young child potentially be a danger to the flight crew and fellow passengers? Also — if safety was really a factor — why book him and his family on another flight? Was this simply an attempt to prevent the family from being passengers in the first class cabin — perhaps because they would be too close in proximity to the cockpit or potentially disturb fellow passengers in the premium cabin?
The official Internet web site of the National Down Syndrome Society explains what is Down Syndrome:
“In every cell in the human body there is a nucleus, where genetic material is stored in genes. Genes carry the codes responsible for all of our inherited traits and are grouped along rod-like structures called chromosomes. Typically, the nucleus of each cell contains 23 pairs of chromosomes, half of which are inherited from each parent. Down syndrome occurs when an individual has a full or partial extra copy of chromosome 21.
“This additional genetic material alters the course of development and causes the characteristics associated with Down syndrome. A few of the common physical traits of Down syndrome are low muscle tone, small stature, an upward slant to the eyes, and a single deep crease across the center of the palm – although each person with Down syndrome is a unique individual and may possess these characteristics to different degrees, or not at all.”
Were the civil rights of Bede Vanderhorst violated? Did American Airlines outright discriminate against him, or was flight safety a legitimate reason to prohibit him and his family from boarding the flight? Even if Bede Vanderhorst presented a potential threat to flight safety, could American Airlines have handled this incident in a better manner?