A recent incident in American skie
Let me couch my version of events by saying that I once saw air marshals try to remove a fellow passenger for being justifiably irked about the lateness of our flight. Mind you, she was not yelling, swearing, warning or threatening; she was just irked and said so. She was allowed to stay after another passenger and I – both strangers to this woman – were too dumb to keep our mouths shut and fly under the radar: we both remarked to the stewardess that the passenger’s removal seemed unfair; the stewardess asked the air marshals to allow the irked lady to stay; and they let her stay. They could have just as easily removed all 3 of us.
That is my understanding of the post-911 airline world: “a passenger who interferes or attempts to interfere with any member of the flight crew in carrying out its duties” can be removed at the airline’s sole discretion.
On a recent cross-country airline trip, a mother, father and their 15-year-old autistic daughter were in United Airlines’ economy class. The daughter, Juliette, has flown since she was six months old and the family has flown to 5 countries and 24 states with Juliette. Juliette will not eat cold food and needs hot food or salty food to avoid frustration causing a “melt down” and scratching. On this particular day, the parents ate prior to the flight and Juliette refused dinner. The mother brought a backpack with treats that did not include salty foods. After boarding the flight, the mother asked the economy class flight attendant if Juliette could have hot food from first class, for which the mother would gladly pay. The economy class attendant asked the first class attendant, who explained to the mother that they could not serve hot food from first class to an economy passenger. For 40 minutes, the mother tried to persuade the first class attendant to let her buy cooked rice or salty snacks from first class for her daughter; however, the flight attendant answered that hot food from first class could not be served in economy class and that they had no salty snacks. Juliette began to cry and the mother said to the attendant, “After she has a melt down and tries to scratch in frustration, will you help her then?” The attendant said he would see what he could do and did bring a hot meal from first class.
The flight made an unexpected landing in Salt Lake City, initially for another passenger; however, attention was then focused on the mother and Juliette. Paramedics warned the mother that she and her daughter might be put off the plane and two police officers did remove them from the plane. One of the officers stated, “The captain is not comfortable flying to Portland with your daughter on the plane. You have to leave the plane.” The captain, who had not seen Juliette, was evidently advised about Juliette and her mother by the flight attendant.
After the mother and Juliette were escorted from the plane, their luggage was found and they were rebooked on a later Delta flight.
The mother is planning to sue United Airlines for violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that the captain and flight crew obtain training for dealing appropriately with disabled persons.
Opinions are severely divided between advocates for the disabled and others who believe the difficulties were caused by Juliette’s mother. Disability advocates claim that the initial refusal to give hot/salty food and the removal of Juliette and her mother from the plane stem from ignorance and discrimination against the disabled. Meanwhile, others fault Juliette’s mother, claiming that anyone with that much experience in traveling with an autistic child should: ensure that hot/salty food is available; book first class tickets; avoid threatening flight crew with a possible meltdown and scratching.
I am not a fan of United Airlines; however, I would not hold United liable for this. The post-911 economy class world is miserable and other than your seat, a drink and a lavatory, you must be responsible for what you or a dependent want or need. You don’t get hot food, you don’t repeatedly request first class treatment when you’re in economy, you don’t pester the flight attendants and you certainly don’t “warn” or “threaten” the flight crew about the consequences of not getting what you want.
Nope. I don’t believe this was “failure/refusal to provide reasonable accommodation” or any other discrimination against a disabled person.
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