April was Autism Awareness Month, but that did not make one United Airlines pilot aware of the needs and abilities of autistic children last Tuesday. On a flight from Houston, Texas to Portland, Oregon, the United Airlines pilot chose to make an emergency landing in Utah. This was in order to remove the autistic child and her family, with the assistance of local police authorities. The mother of the autistic child plans to file a discrimination law suit against united Airlines for the family’s treatment on the flight
Juliette Beegle, 15, and her mother, Dr. Donna Beegle have flown many times together without incident before this United Airlines flight, according to Dr. Beegle. They were returning home from a trip to Disney World in Orlando, Florida and had boarded a connecting flight in Houston. The family had eaten a dinner in Houston, but Juliette refused to eat, so her parents knew she would have to eat something on the flight to Portland.
If her meal is not heated, she will not eat it, and may throw a tantrum of frustration, according to Dr. Beegle. The Beegles asked for a hot meal for Juliette, and a hot sandwich was offered, but it came to the seat cold and was refused. Mrs. Beegle asked for something from the first-class menu to avoid a potential problem and was initially rebuffed. After some conversation, a hot plate of rice and jambalaya was served. Juliette ate the meal and began to watch an in-flight movie. Shortly after that, the Captain made an announcement that the plane would be making an emergency landing to deal with a passenger with “a behavior issue”. The United Airlines flight landed in Salt Lake City, Utah within the hour.
The United Airlines plane lands in Utah and paramedics board the plane. They are directed to Juliette, who is watching a video and shows no signs of distress or medical need, so the paramedics leave. Police enter the plane and also check to see if there is an issue, but find none. As they prepare to leave, the plane’s Captain appears and asks them to escort the family off the plane because he is not comfortable flying with the autistic child. The family was removed from the United Airlines flight and rebooked on another flight to Portland, with another airline carrier. For what they see as discrimination against their autistic daughter by United Airlines, the Beegles are preparing a lawsuit.
“It just killed me for her to be treated that way,” Dr. Beegle said. The other passengers said they were not being disturbed by Juliette and the police apologized, according to Beegle. Juliette is a veteran when it comes to flying. She has already been to London, Paris and over 20 states throughout the U.S.
United Airlines flight passenger Jodi Smith called it discrimination by United Airlines. He states that he had seen children cry and disturb passengers for hours without a plane being diverted. Beegle has already filed an official complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration and United Airlines and does plan an autism discrimination lawsuit against United Airlines. Her goal is to get autism training for the airline staff to avoid future over-reaction situations like this, and for better understanding of how to handle autistic passengers. United Airlines and the FAA say they will investigate the matter further.
By Evander Smart