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Bakersfield teen with Down syndrome, parents kicked off American Airlines flight

September 4, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A Bakersfield couple says they were kicked off an American Airlines flight because their son has Down syndrome.

It was a cross-country flight from Newark, N.J. to Los Angeles that the family was scheduled to fly on. They even paid extra to upgrade to first class. But just as Robert and Joan Vanderhorst and their 16-year-old son, Bede, were about to board, they said they were told they'd have to take another flight because the pilot said their son was "excitable" and posed a "flight risk."

At that point, the mother pulled out her cellphone and began recording the confrontation with security because she said she believed her son's civil rights were being violated.

"My question is, why are you singling me out?" the mother can be heard saying to a security officer.

To that, a security officer said, "You are in a security-controlled area. You cannot be recording this."

Port Authority police were even called on the family. All the while, Bede can be seen on video sitting quietly at the gate playing with his baseball cap.

"My son doesn't jump people, he's not a terrorist, he's not going to crash through the security door in to the cockpit," said Robert Vanderhorst.

The family said they have flown together dozens of times without any problem. Robert Vanderhorst said he believes the only difference is this time they upgraded to first class.

"I think the pilot was concerned that my son was going to be in first class, and I think the pilot felt that my type of son, my disabled Down syndrome son, shouldn't be in first class," he said.

American Airlines released a statement saying, "Our Newark customer service team, as well as the crew, worked with the family in an attempt to get Bede comfortable. Unfortunately the crew determined he was still agitated, and at that point the Vanderhorsts were asked to take an alternate flight."

The Vanderhorsts said their son was being discriminated against and at no time was he running around and disturbing other passengers waiting to board. The Vanderhorsts say at no time did the pilot come out and interact with their son.

"It was not because of me, it was not because of my wife, it was because of my disabled son and his down syndrome," Vanderhorst said.

The family said they're considering a lawsuit against American Airlines. While there were no passenger complaints about their son, they were still forced to take another flight home - it was a United Airlines flight and the family was placed in the very back row.


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