Demand American Airlines Compensate Family for Down Syndrome Discrimination

Target: American Airlines

Goal: Demand that the Vanderhorst family be properly compensated for being barred from an American Airlines flight because their son had Down Syndrome

Robert and Joan Vanderhorst were to board a Newark American Airlines flight to Los Angeles when they were stopped at the gate and told they were not allowed to board. Their 16-year-old son, Bede, has Down Syndrome and the family is sure that this, along with the fact that they would have been seated in first class, is the reason they were barred from entry.

The airline claims that the child was “excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment”, deeming him a flight risk. Video taken by Bede’s mother at the time says otherwise, showing the child sitting quietly and calmly. The family eventually accepted their transfer to a flight with United Airlines — but their first class ticket status was not included on the transfer.

The decision is questionable on several fronts. To what degree could a child, excitable or not, actually put a flight in danger? The Vanderhorsts plan to sue for violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is necessary that American Airlines show accountability for its discriminatory decision. The company needs to offer the Vanderhorst family a full apology and admittance of fault along with a future complimentary first class upgrade. If it fails to do so, it is only appropriate that it face the full consequences of a lawsuit.

Dear American Airlines,

You recently barred the Vanderhorst family from boarding one of your flights from Newark to Los Angeles. Your representatives claim that it was on the grounds of a “flight risk” attributed to the family’s 16-year-old son, Bede. He was allegedly acting in an unruly manner which American Airlines claims to have attempted to alleviate and failed to do so. Video evidence provided by his mother suggests otherwise, as he is shown to be acting quite calmly at the time of the decision to keep them at the gate.

The fact of most importance is that this child had Down Syndrome. Even in the event of his behavior having actually been excitable, the following must be considered: The family has flown before and always without incident. The child’s condition also calls for a certain level of understanding which would decree that his behavior would be that of a 4 or 5-year-old under normal conditions regardless. Finally, the family had first class tickets which is suggested as further reasoning for discrimination. Many flight disturbances go unattended to constantly — it is unfair for this family to have suffer because of their child’s condition.

When the Vanderhorst family accepted their transfer to a United Airlines flight, their first class upgrades did not carry over. They should not accept this. As a respectable company, it is necessary that American Airlines offer the Vanderhorst family a full apology and admittance of wrongdoing, along with a future flight with complimentary first class upgrades. Do not allow American Airlines to stand as a figure for discrimination.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: ReneS via Flickr

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