An outraged mother is preparing to sue the airline that kicked her family – including an autistic teenage daughter – off a flight because the pilot allegedly felt uncomfortable about the daughter’s behaviour, which he regarded as “disruptive”.
The incident took place aboard a United Airlines flight from Florida to Portland, Oregon, as the family were returning from a trip to Disneyworld.
Juliette wouldn’t eat the snacks the family had prepared and Beegle thought hot food might appeal to her daughter, The Oregonian newspaper reported.
A flight attendant denied the mother’s request to buy a hot meal from first class; the mother pleaded with the attendant over the matter and a 25-minute debate between mother and flight attendant ensued.
Donna Beegle says she told the attendant: “You know what? Maybe after she [Juliette] has a meltdown and she’s crying and trying to scratch, then you’ll help us.”
The flight attendant relented, Juliette got the hot meal and began to calm down, but then 30 minutes later, the flight crew told passengers to prepare for an unscheduled landing in Salt Lake City.
Police arrived to escort the family off.
A United spokeswoman said the flight crew had worked to accommodate the family, but ultimately “made the best decision for the safety and comfort of all of our customers and elected to divert to Salt Lake City after the situation became disruptive”.
The paper said witnesses differed over whether the crew was justified in diverting the flight and calling the police. One witness told local news channel KOIN 6 News the crew overreacted – but another said Juliette’s “howling” had made other passengers feel unsafe, The Oregonian reported.
The rest may be over the lawyers – but the issue raises interesting questions about the carriage of people suffering from mental or behavioural disorders. Can the rights of people suffering such disabilities clash with the rights of other passengers? Who, if not the captain of the aircraft, can draw the line?
Written by Peter Needham