The airline, however, has another version of the story.
The saga started when Robert Vanderhorst, his wife Joan and 16-year-old son Bede, who has Down’s syndrome, were refused boarding on their American Airlines flight from Newark to Los Angeles.
Vanderhorst says they upgraded to first class tickets at an airport kiosk but were prevented from boarding at the gate and told by airline personnel that their son was a “security risk” and wouldn’t be allowed on the flight.
American Airlines followed up with an explanation which it issued to USA Today and posted on its Facebook page.
The airline said: “We appreciate the outpouring of concern for the Vanderhorst family. However, prior to boarding flight 119 from Newark to Los Angeles, our customer service team observed the Vanderhorst teen yelling and running around the gate area – he seemed very agitated.
“Our team, along with the Captain of the flight, worked with the family for more than 30 minutes to try and calm the teen down. There were times when he was calm, but unfortunately, when it came time to board the flight he became agitated again. We tried to work with the family to come up with alternate solutions, which included an offer to rebook the family on the next flight in order to give the teen time to acclimate to his surroundings.
“Our customer service team, as well as flight crew, made the difficult decision that it wasn’t best for the teen to travel at that time. We wanted to make sure that the young man, as well as the other passengers onboard, were safe and comfortable during the six-hour flight.
“Ultimately, the family chose to fly another airline, and we helped to re-accommodate the Vanderhorsts.
“American’s actions and procedures are in full compliance with the Air Carrier Access Act. Asking the Vanderhorst family to take a different flight was a decision that was made with careful consideration and was based solely on the young man’s behaviour.”
The Vanderhorst family dispute that their son was agitated and running around.
The father claims the pilot “didn’t want a disabled person disturbing other passengers in first class”.
The dispute is still simmering.
Written by : Peter Needham