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-   -   UA Pilot Diverts to Remove Autistic Child From Plane for Safety Reasons (https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/united-airlines-mileageplus/1678775-ua-pilot-diverts-remove-autistic-child-plane-safety-reasons.html)

JBord May 11, 15 10:36 am


Originally Posted by Cargojon (Post 24798365)
Parent of autistic child here:

UA was wrong to divert the flight. It was apparent that the child had calmed down, was not bothering anyone, and the crew was obviously not trained to handle someone with this kind of disability. I don't blame them personally, but more suitable training would have gone a long way.

Mom was 100% wrong to throw out the "scratching" bit. Once you cross that line, in the minds of FA, crew, etc it incorrectly gets pigeon-holed into the "this pax is a threat" mindset. It's the same reason that you never argue with a FA, TSA, etc no matter how wrong they are because you're invariably going to get the "do you want to fly today?" line. My 5 year old daughter still cannot drink well from an open cup - juice boxes are a requirement. TSA is hit and miss on getting them through security, but I always bring at least one extra for the TSA to open up and smell/examine/make me drink, etc. If I ever got a super-uptight TSA agent that simply refused them through in their entirety, it would be a problem. Thankfully, it never has. Could it? Sure. Is that reason for us to never fly? No.

I've flown with my daughter multiple times and she's never had a problem. However, despite the best planning, sometimes things happen and it's not the parents fault. I wouldn't expect anyone who doesn't parent an autistic child to understand this so I won't take personally several of the ignorant comments I've read on this thread...because I don't think it comes from a place of malice, merely ignorance.


I agree with your point about it being unfair to blame the parents for a possible meltdown. My (admittedly ignorant) understanding is there are a number of things that can trigger an outburst. But it's also unfair to blame the UA crew for not knowing how to manage the situation. How does UA, or any company with customer-facing employees, train its people to deal with every possible type of medical condition?

The parents were the most familiar with their daughter's condition and didn't seem prepared to manage it, how could a "suitably trained" crew do so? And should they feel comfortable accepting the mother's claim that hot food would fix everything? And what if 20 minutes later it happened again and there was no more food to heat up? Those are a couple of the questions I'm asking myself as a crew member, and why I'd also alert the captain to the situation.

In fact, if I were a crew member, I would want to avoid any situation where I might have to restrain a 15-year old child. When someone alerts me that it may be a possibility if I don't do as they ask, I would go into risk-mitigation mode.

There are, perhaps, missing facts in the article about how the parent's reacted. All we read is that the mother requested to purchase a meal, and warned/threatened that the child would start attacking passengers if she didn't get her meal. Did the parents speak to the flight attendant privately prior to takeoff or at any time during the flight? Did they mention that this is a common occurrence and assure the FA they could handle the situation? Did they fully and calmly explain the situation, or was the first reaction after refusal of a F meal to make a smart comment about how the FA will wish they had helped when a meltdown occurs?

All that said, I will reserve judgment on the parents at this point. But I will judge UA, and I believe UA did the right thing given the facts we have.

halls120 May 11, 15 10:51 am


Originally Posted by JBord (Post 24798576)
I agree with your point about it being unfair to blame the parents for a possible meltdown. My (admittedly ignorant) understanding is there are a number of things that can trigger an outburst. But it's also unfair to blame the UA crew for not knowing how to manage the situation. How does UA, or any company with customer-facing employees, train its people to deal with every possible type of medical condition?

Especially when the parent apparently didn't contact UA in advance of the flight as to the special needs of their child.

Had the parents reached out in advance, and the same in-flight result occurred, then I would be in their corner.

JakiChan May 11, 15 10:54 am


Originally Posted by Cargojon (Post 24798365)
UA was wrong to divert the flight. It was apparent that the child had calmed down,

Disagree because...


Originally Posted by Cargojon (Post 24798365)
Mom was 100% wrong to throw out the "scratching" bit.

This. In fact, here's her own words:


Originally Posted by Donna Beegle
"He came back again and I said, 'I have a child with special needs, I need to get her something.' And he said, 'I can't do that,'" she explained. "I said, 'How about we wait for her to have a meltdown, she'll be crying and trying to scratch in frustration. I don't want her to get to that point.'"

(From https://gma.yahoo.com/woman-claims-s...opstories.html)

The way I read it, it sounded like she threatened the FA with a "meltdown". That was where things went wrong. THAT's why the flight was diverted. Juliette wasn't the problem, her mom was if you ask me. Threaten an FA and you end up getting diverted and taken off the plane.

I can understand she was frustrated, but it still seems like very poor planning on her part. She never seems to have created a backup plan for "she won't eat the airport food". I can think of two: A special needs request to the airline (dunno how they'd handle it) and instant noodles, which just require hot water.

Can we say, with hindsight, that it was an overreaction? Maybe. But in these days of both liability sensitivity and security sensitivities I think this was inevitable - if the mom acted the way she says she acted, and said what she says she said.

JBord May 11, 15 10:56 am


Originally Posted by halls120 (Post 24798669)
Especially when the parent apparently didn't contact UA in advance of the flight as to the special needs of their child.

Had the parents reached out in advance, and the same in-flight result occurred, then I would be in their corner.

I don't think I saw that mentioned one way or the other in the article. Unless I missed it, I think we have to give the parents the benefit of the doubt on what they did in preparation for the flight.

But I'm certainly reluctant to do even that, when the mother is quoted repeating a threat to a flight attendant...she didn't even try to make it more appropriate when she knew she was being interviewed?

I would imagine it can be quite stressful for parents of autistic children. I might forgive her for that moment if, after the fact in an interview, she had put that statement in context. But it seems she didn't see anything wrong with it.

waxearwings May 11, 15 11:18 am

8 pages of comments, and the vast majority seem to prefer 'Parents make terroristic demands and threaten entire plane with violence if demands not met' to 'Parent asks FA to pay for a reasonable accommodation for disabled child and explains reason why accommodation is needed'.

There is no slippery slope here.

I don't condone the lawsuit, and don't see grounds for one either, but that does not mean a diversion was necessary, justified, or in the best interest of passengers and crew. Yes, the parents could have been better prepared, but having the crew go out of their way to compensate them without meting out some form of inconvenience-punishment will not pull the pin on the moral hazard grenade and cause all parents to abdicate rearing responsibilities to flight crews.

It would certainly be an easier world if we could just pretend that difficult issues like disabilities do not exist, and clearly it would make the already difficult job of an FA a bit easier. But in lieu of this mass delusion, perhaps it would be best if diversions were reserved for actual or threatened emergencies, not hypothetical, preventable ones.

[I would have understood the diversion more if they had explained to the parents that because a hot meal could not procured (even if it could), they would have to divert. But the sequence of events seems baffling to me.]

JBord May 11, 15 11:25 am


Originally Posted by waxearwings (Post 24798808)
8 pages of comments, and the vast majority seem to prefer 'Parents make terroristic demands and threaten entire plane with violence if demands not met' to 'Parent asks FA to pay for a reasonable accommodation for disabled child and explains reason why accommodation is needed'.

There is no slippery slope here.

I don't condone the lawsuit, and don't see grounds for one either, but that does not mean a diversion was necessary, justified, or in the best interest of passengers and crew. Yes, the parents could have been better prepared, but having the crew go out of their way to compensate them without meting out some form of inconvenience-punishment will not pull the pin on the moral hazard grenade and cause all parents to abdicate rearing responsibilities to flight crews.

It would certainly be an easier world if we could just pretend that difficult issues like disabilities do not exist, and clearly it would make the already difficult job of an FA a bit easier. But in lieu of this mass delusion, perhaps it would be best if diversions were reserved for actual or threatened emergencies, not hypothetical, preventable ones.

[I would have understood the diversion more if they had explained to the parents that because a hot meal could not procured (even if it could), they would have to divert. But the sequence of events seems baffling to me.]

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but I see very little evidence in this thread that label the parents as terrorists, or making terrorist demands. Many here are saying they made a threat, and that is very clear if you read the mother's quote...regardless of whether it was an empty threat or not.

Again, if you were the FA, would you feel comfortable that by providing the meal, there would be no other episodes for the remainder of the flight? What if the child needed another hot meal and there weren't any left? You need to answer those questions before condemning the FA, who very likely had good intentions by alerting the captain.

As for me, I'd have a reasonable concern that I may have to restrain the child before the end of the flight, in front of a mother who clearly wouldn't be ok with that situation, and risk opening myself up to a REAL lawsuit.

Perhaps the FA and the Captain actually took the most dignified approach, given what may have occurred.

JakiChan May 11, 15 11:35 am


Originally Posted by waxearwings (Post 24798808)
8 pages of comments, and the vast majority seem to prefer 'Parents make terroristic demands and threaten entire plane with violence if demands not met' to 'Parent asks FA to pay for a reasonable accommodation for disabled child and explains reason why accommodation is needed'.

Have you read the mother's own words?


Originally Posted by waxearwings (Post 24798808)
There is no slippery slope here.


I don't think most of us feel that way. And was a diversion "necessary"? Depends on your perspective. From the perspective of hindsight, and I'm sure from the perspective of parents, it wasn't. But they just threatened an FA. That NEVER goes well.


Originally Posted by waxearwings (Post 24798808)
It would certainly be an easier world if we could just pretend that difficult issues like disabilities do not exist, and clearly it would make the already difficult job of an FA a bit easier. But in lieu of this mass delusion, perhaps it would be best if diversions were reserved for actual or threatened emergencies, not hypothetical, preventable ones.

Now you're the one threatening a slippery slope. It's not like this is going to lead to grandma having to crawl up to the front of the plane because we won't let them bring wheelchairs anymore. The parents threatened an emergency. I'm sure that based on policy, once they did that the FA acted per United policy.

halls120 May 11, 15 11:58 am


Originally Posted by JBord (Post 24798695)
I don't think I saw that mentioned one way or the other in the article. Unless I missed it, I think we have to give the parents the benefit of the doubt on what they did in preparation for the flight.

I disagree. They either contacted UA in advance to discuss their situation, or they didn't. If you have special needs of any kind, the burden is on the passenger to communicate those needs in advance. That is simply common sense. I suppose one could argue that the ADA requires the airlines to be equipped for any and all situations involving the disabled, but even if that were the case, why don't the parents owe the airline the courtesy of a phone call in advance?

mduell May 11, 15 12:06 pm


Originally Posted by kmersh (Post 24797316)
I asked the FA if she could heat up the sanwhich to take off some of the chill and hopefully repair the bread (even a little) and she flatly refused saying that it was against United policy to heat food that United did not intend to be served heated, which I took to mean I am too lazy to bother with any special requests and that was in PAID First Class.

I think it's more food safety concerns than laziness here. Flight attendants are not commercial chefs, they need to follow the food handling guidelines provided for them.


Originally Posted by halls120 (Post 24798669)
Especially when the parent apparently didn't contact UA in advance of the flight as to the special needs of their child.

Had the parents reached out in advance, and the same in-flight result occurred, then I would be in their corner.

Even if they did notify UA in advance, what would UA say? I don't think there's even a standard meal code for a hot meal, and it's hard to think of how one would work on a flight with no scheduled meal service. So UA's response would be "no, we can't plan to accommodate your special request" and the pax would take the flight anyway?


Originally Posted by waxearwings (Post 24798808)
8 pages of comments, and the vast majority seem to prefer 'Parents make terroristic demands and threaten entire plane with violence if demands not met' to 'Parent asks FA to pay for a reasonable accommodation for disabled child and explains reason why accommodation is needed'.

There is no slippery slope here.

Does the airline even offer a hot meal for sale on this route? Or are you expecting the flight crew, with limited resources, to improvise to compensate for the passenger's lack of planning?

JBord May 11, 15 12:10 pm


Originally Posted by halls120 (Post 24799017)
I disagree. They either contacted UA in advance to discuss their situation, or they didn't. If you have special needs of any kind, the burden is on the passenger to communicate those needs in advance. That is simply common sense. I suppose one could argue that the ADA requires the airlines to be equipped for any and all situations involving the disabled, but even if that were the case, why don't the parents owe the airline the courtesy of a phone call in advance?

I don't think we actually disagree :).

I just stated that the article was silent on whether or not the parents contacted the airline, at least from what I had read. It could very well be that they did this. I didn't want to make assumptions, as many on both sides of the argument have in this thread. Certainly they should have contacted UA. Even if they did, I'm not sure it changes the situation.

halls120 May 11, 15 12:11 pm


Originally Posted by mduell (Post 24799068)
Even if they did notify UA in advance, what would UA say? I don't think there's even a standard meal code for a hot meal, and it's hard to think of how one would work on a flight with no scheduled meal service. So UA's response would be "no, we can't plan to accommodate your special request" and the pax would take the flight anyway?

Well, if the passenger was informed in advance that UA couldn't accommodate that need, and they chose to fly regardless, that would have made it difficult for them to now sue, wouldn't it? ;)

wrp96 May 11, 15 12:19 pm


Originally Posted by mduell (Post 24799068)
Does the airline even offer a hot meal for sale on this route? Or are you expecting the flight crew, with limited resources, to improvise to compensate for the passenger's lack of planning?

Does UA provide the opportunity to buy a hot meal in economy on any domestic flight?

If not, then this meal came from first class. And since meals are loaded exactly for the number of passengers, the meal provided to this teenager had to at best, be a leftover meal someone refused, or another passenger's meal or one of the crew member's meals.

If the explanation was that the teenager saw other people eating so needed to eat due to a routine, then there's a problem with making this the airline's responsibility. They were in coach, most likely they saw other people eating items they brought on board with them, not something provided by the airline. What would the response have been if there hadn't been any hot meals available even in first class (not unlikely depending on aircraft type)?

I have sympathy for the family, and feel reasonable accommodations should be made, but reasonable accommodations doesn't mean providing a meal when no one else in your class of service is provided one. It also doesn't mean giving into threats that include the possibility of physical violence, either to herself or others.

Diverting the flight and letting the teenager calm down and fly out on a different flight is a good move for both the airline and the family.

Tchiowa May 11, 15 12:30 pm


Originally Posted by Cargojon (Post 24798365)
Parent of autistic child here:

UA was wrong to divert the flight. It was apparent that the child had calmed down, was not bothering anyone, and the crew was obviously not trained to handle someone with this kind of disability. I don't blame them personally, but more suitable training would have gone a long way.

2 problems. First is the easiest. How she was behaving later is irrelevant. Once the pilot has made the decision to divert and informed ground control, that decision is final.

Second, the mother failed to notify the airline 48 hours in advance that there was a special needs passenger.


Originally Posted by Cargojon (Post 24798365)
I've flown with my daughter multiple times and she's never had a problem. However, despite the best planning, sometimes things happen and it's not the parents fault. I wouldn't expect anyone who doesn't parent an autistic child to understand this so I won't take personally several of the ignorant comments I've read on this thread...because I don't think it comes from a place of malice, merely ignorance.

I disagree. Again, the parents had an obligation to notify the airline ahead of time. Plus, if they knew the girl had issues with her food (later articles in some sites say that the mother said the girl would only eat "hot" food) then they could have brought on some Ramen or something similar and asked the FAs to heat it for her. With the 48 notice the FAs would have been prepared to handle it.

Since you have a special needs child you know that they often can't follow the standard rules and practices. So you prepare for that.

This mother didn't. Then she threatened the crew.

The daughter didn't get kicked off the plane. The mother did.

austin_modern May 11, 15 1:51 pm


Originally Posted by wrp96 (Post 24799137)

Diverting the flight and letting the teenager calm down and fly out on a different flight is a good move for both the airline and the family.


Horrific PR isn't good for United.

mrboom May 11, 15 2:21 pm


Originally Posted by austin_modern (Post 24799693)
Horrific PR isn't good for United.

This is great PR for United. They kept the plane and passengers safe and they did not bow down to a self entitled mother with piss poor parenting skills.

I am going to fly UA more often now.


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