Family Escorted Off Flight; Pilot Thought Autistic Daughter Posed Safety Threat

By Walter Einenkel, Daily Kos

A United Airlines flight made an emergency landing last Tuesday in Salt Lake City airport and an Oregon family was then escorted off. The reason? The plane’s pilot felt that their 15-year-old autistic daughter posed a safety threat.

She (Donna Beegle) said her 15-year-old daughter, Juliette, is high functioning, but doesn’t speak. Beegle knew Juliette was getting hungry, but Juliette wouldn’t eat the snacks the family had on hand. Juliette is a picky eater, Beegle said, a common trait of children who have autism. Beegle thought hot food might appeal to her daughter. She asked a flight attendant if she could buy a hot meal from first class, but the flight attendant denied the request after a 25-minute debate with Beegle.

At this point Beegle told the flight attendant:  

‘You know what? Maybe after she has a meltdown and she’s crying and trying to scratch, then you’ll help us,’” Beegle told a TV station. According to KATU the flight attendant eventually complied, but then about 30 minutes later a member of the flight crew said the plane would be making an emergency landing because of a passenger behavior issue.

“Then the police said, ‘Well, you know, we’re going to have to ask you to leave the plane.’ And I said, ‘I don’t understand why? There’s no issue. What is the problem?’ And he said, ‘Well, the captain doesn’t feel comfortable flying to Portland with your daughter on the plane,’” Beegle told KATU.

Video of part of the incident showed up on YouTube. In the video, at one point, after an edit you can hear the person filming say “I wish I had caught that.” The publisher of the video explains:

What I should have caught was the mother asking the passengers on the plane if “they were bothered by her daughter” to which almost the entire plane said “no not at all”

Beegle is not taking this lightly at all. Action is in the works.

Beegle called the incident “a sheer case of ignorance,” adding: “Prejudice, ignorance and mistreatment are all too common toward people facing poverty,” she added. “The parallels between special needs and poverty are striking in that both are causes for judgement, misunderstanding and mistreatment.” […] Beegle said Saturday that she has filed official complaints with United and the Federal Aviation Administration and that she plans to sue the airline — not for money, “but rather to ask that airline staff receive training.”

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos


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