September 5, 2012
American Airlines has been accused of discrimination after one family claims they were not allowed to board a flight due to their son’s medical condition.
On Sunday, the Vanderhorst family arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey where they tried to board an American Airlines flight to Los Angeles. Their trip was brought to an abrupt halt after the pilot declared their son a “security threat.”
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst’s 16-year-old son Bede has Down’s Syndrome, a disease categorized by a severe degree of intellectual disability. According to American Airlines, the boy posed a “safety” risk to himself and others because he was “excitable and running around.”
A statement released by AA claims, “The young man was excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment. The pilot attempted to calm him down and acclimate him to the surroundings. His efforts were not successful.”
This was Bede’s first time flying first class and his mother believes they were singled out in an effort to maintain that “environment”: “This little boy had a seat in the first class area, and for some reason, they didn’t want that. That wasn’t acceptable.”
In a video shot by Joan, one of the security agents tries to tell her, “You are in a security controlled area. You cannot be recording this,” despite the fact that they were in a public airport, illustrating the paranoid control freak mentality dominating modern airports.
Later in the video Joan can be heard sobbing regarding the airline’s discrimination of her son.
American Airlines spokesperson Matt Miller says the airline attempted to quell the family’s frustration with a counteroffer, stating, “For the safety of the young man and the safety of others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family.”
Bede’s mother, however, told KTLA  she believes the airline is unfairly discriminating against her son because of his condition: “I kept saying, ‘Is this only because he has Down syndrome?” She also told the AP , “The problem is this pilot thought my son might not be like most people. He didn’t want a disabled person disturbing other passengers in first class.”
Although the family’s flight was re-booked (on a different airline), they lost their first-class seating and faced further segregation as no one was allowed to sit within two rows of them.
The Vanderhorsts plan to sue AA in an effort to teach the airline a lesson, hoping that no one will ever have to re-live the profiling their son experienced.
Robert Vanderhorst blames the pilot’s own insecurity for the ridiculousness of the claim: “It was the pilot’s insecurity. I paid for those seats and there was nothing that should have prevented us from taking that flight.”
Demonstrating the sad neurotic state of airport security, a “safety risk” can be declared by a pilot anytime he feels motivated to do so, citing the pretext of the manufactured terror events of 9/11. The reality is Bede wouldn’t have caused trouble for anyone, but by simply labeling someone a “security risk” a new line can be drawn for anyone, including people or children with mental disabilities.