Sunday, September 9, 2012

In the news: A teen with Down syndrome was stopped from boarding plane

There was an incident pertaining to air-travel that caught the attention of the media and Digirati this week: A teen with Down syndrome was stopped from boarding plane. CNN also featured the incident in an extensive weekend program. Most of us were shocked to watch the CNN program and to read accounts of the incident on blogs.  

The teen, Bede Vanderhorst and his parents were asked to take another flight when the pilot decided the boy couldn’t be on his flight. Apparently they had a first-class ticket on the American Airline flight, and were re-booked on another United Airline flight.  The Vanderhorsts family was naturally upset and told the media they planned to file a discrimination lawsuit against the airline.

A few years ago, we lost our baby while on an international flight. I have tried to reflect on that incident and the stress parents traveling with children undergo. Here is my two cents on what I am reading and hearing. Most of us only have a second hand account of the incident from the media:
·         Parent’s account: 
  • "We were not allowed on the plane because this man saw my son and made a decision," Joan Vanderhorst told the media "This little boy had a seat in first class and for some reason that wasn't acceptable." The Vanderhorst family says Bede was well-behaved, and they showed video of him sitting in the gate area playing with his hat. 
  • American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said in a written statement: "The young man was agitated 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."
The fact remains, parents traveling with children undergo a lot more stress planning and preparing for a trip. To be asked to take another flight can throw spanner in the works of a well orchestrated plan, it can be excruciating to the family indeed.

The parents of Bede Vanderhorst had another reason to be upset. The father, Joan Vanderhorst, was quoted saying "I kept saying, 'Is this only because he has Down syndrome?'"  

With these few accounts alone, the media, bloggers and and digrati has proceeded to hold American Airline accountable.  I wonder if one ought to give a benefit of doubt to the airline, pilot and ground staff also?  Especially if other passengers and the ground staff had noticed something that would have alarmed them? Bottomline, in this particular situation, all the facts are not in front of us. It would be great if the media and digirati could unearth all the facts while also helping Vanderhorst family move on!

Other accounts
  • Gawker: Family Kicked Off Flight After Teen With Down Syndrome Gets Labeled ‘Flight Risk’
  • Laist: Airline Refuses to Board Teen With Down Syndrome, Labels Him 'flight risk'
  • Consumerist:  Family Booted From Flight, Claim American Airlines Didn’t Want Son With Down Syndrome In First Class

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