Disabled Calif. boy not allowed to board airplane

Associated Press Modified: September 5, 2012 at 2:46 am •  Published: September 5, 2012
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FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A California family that was not allowed to board a cross-country flight says they believe they were discriminated against because their son has Down syndrome.

Robert Vanderhorst, his wife Joan and 16-year-old son Bede, who is disabled, were booked to fly on an American Airlines flight from Newark to Los Angeles on Sunday when the boy and his parents were not allowed on the plane.

The family from Porterville had upgraded to first class tickets at an airport kiosk, and asked the airline to seat the boy and one of his parents together — a request the airline granted — Vanderhorst said Tuesday.

When the family was ready to board, they were stopped by airline personnel, told their son was a "security risk" and would not be allowed on the flight, he said. The parents protested, and later were rebooked to fly coach with another airline.

American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller said the disabled boy was agitated and running around the gate area prior to boarding, which his parents dispute. The airplane's pilot observed the boy, Miller said, and made the call based on his behavior.

"He was not ready to fly, that was our perspective," Miller said. "We rebooked the family out of concern for the young man's safety and that of other passengers as well."

But Vanderhorst said his son did not run at any time, did not make any loud noises and didn't display any other offensive behaviors. The boy walked around with him or sat quietly in the gate area, Vanderhorst said.



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