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Judging a Book by its Cover – Special Needs Teen is Grounded

The pilot of an American Airlines flight said he observed a young man running around the gate area prior to boarding and asked a customer service manager to talk to the family to see if they could help him calm down and get him acclimated.

According to a spokesman, the attempt was unsuccessful and the pilot refused to allow him and his parents to fly.

In this day and age of “heightened security” this sounds legitimate, right? Well, the young man, 16 year old, Bede Vanderhorst, has Down syndrome and according to his parents was being well-behaved and they have the video to prove it. This family has flown many times only this time, Bede’s parents decided to upgrade to First Class and they believe this is the only reason the pilot said anything.

According to an article by Aaron Cooper of titled, Teen with Down Syndrome Stopped from Boarding Plane, the airline told Mr. and Mrs. Vanderhorst that “out of concern for Bede and the safety of other passengers, the family would have to take a later flight.”

Pinch me, please! A later flight? Why not just say, “Not in my backyard!” Bede’s parents are convinced this happened because their son has Down syndrome. Perhaps if his affliction was something not so “uncomfortable” to look at, his first-class ticket would have been honored.

Perhaps airline professionals need to “check” their moral compass along with their extra carry-on bags.

The fact that the industry needs to be required rather than voluntarily accommodate people with disabilities (Federal Air Carrier Access Act) and then have the latitude to decided whom looks like they would pose a threat (because clearly someone who does not look like the rest of us probably would) is absolutely absurd.

What the Act also states is that the industry is not allowed to make generalizations about disabilities or prevent someone from flying simply because of a disability – maybe this pilot chose to ignore this part of this Federal Act.

Sadly, this situation is not uncommon.

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