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Teen with Down syndrome barred from American Airlines flight

September 6, 2012 |  8:36 am

American Airlines barred a teen with Down syndrome from boarding their cross-country flight to Los Angeles, citing safety reasons, a Bakersfield family said.

Joan and Robert Vanderhorst said they were waiting to board their flight from Newark to Los Angeles on Sunday with their 16-year-old son Bede when they were told they wouldn't be allowed on the plane.

Joan Vanderhorst pulled out her cellphone and began to videotape, documenting what she believes was a violation of her son's civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Bede -- who was labeled a flight risk -- can be seen in the video sitting at the gate, quietly playing with his hat.

In the video, she can be heard sobbing while her husband expressed disbelief.

"He's behaving," Robert Vanderhorst says. "He's demonstrating he's not a problem."

"I kept saying, 'Is this only because he has Down syndrome?' " Joan Vanderhorst said in an interview with KTLA. "This little boy had a seat in the first-class area, and for some reason, they didn't want that. That wasn't acceptable."

American Airlines claims Bede was "excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment" and that the pilot had unsuccessfully tried to calm him down, KTLA reported.

"For the safety of the young man and the safety of others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family," American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said.

The family was warned their son's behavior was a concern because their first-class seat was too close to the cockpit and a distraction to the pilot could cause a mid-flight emergency landing, Robert Vanderhorst said.

Eventually, airline personnel called airport police to intervene -- and the family was booked on a United Airlines flight.

The family said it plans to file a discrimination lawsuit against the airline.


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-- KTLA News