An Oregon family was returning home from a trip to Disney last week with their 15-year old autistic daughter. During the flight, the mother noticed that her daughter was approaching a melt-down as she became hungry. So, the mom inquired with the flight staff if she could purchase a first class hot meal for her daughter since that would help keep her calm. Her daughter is opposed to room temp food. Her request was first denied, wasting more time. Once she finally convinced a flight attendant to provide a meal, her daughter calmed down and ate while watching a movie, sitting in a window seat.
The mother says that the captain never checked back after her daughter received the food to see if the situation had changed and all was well. Unfortunately, the flight staff still proceeded with an emergency landing to escort the family off the plane. The autistic child was completely calm as the family was escorted off the plane by police.
Other passengers even said they did not feel threatened by the girl’s behavior. Before leaving the plane, Beegle said she made police take statements from the other passengers. She said one officer told her, “You have a lot of people on your side saying this was not an issue.”
However, there was concern from another passenger who states, “She wasn’t put off the plane because she had autism, she was put off the plane because she was maybe proposing some kind of a threat, to (about) 170 other people at 36,000 feet, which doesn’t make anyone feel safe,” Hedlund said. “What if she got crazy and got up and opened an exit door at 36,000 feet?”
We have some wonderful friends in our neighborhood who also have a child with autism that periodically has outbursts. She is 11 years old, and although challenging at times, she is far from harmful. I agree with the mom that the airlines need to be educated. Some people fear what they don’t know, and in this case they mistook this child as someone who would have the ability to cause harm. It was apparent that the adults had the situation under control, and the majority of the passengers were understanding.
The airline has created so many “wrongs” by their actions. They humiliated a family, they called out someone’s disability and made it center stage, they inconvenienced its passengers with a flight delay, and they erroneously tapped into emergency staff, procedures and protocol with a non-emergency situation. And, most of all, they were cruel rather than understanding.
Don’t these families have enough challenges to deal with? We should be there as a community to help them and to be understanding of their situation. This was just downright ignorant.
The mother of the autistic child has filed official complaints against United Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration, and plans to sue the airline…not for money, but in hopes that staff receives training and education.