An Oregon mom says her family was booted off a United Airlines flight because of her teenage daughter with autism and the plane crew’s “fear of autism.”
The Beegle family was returning from a Disney World vacation in Florida when their pilot ordered an emergency landing to remove 15-year-old Juliette from the flight, her mom Donna Beegle told KOIN.
The teenager, who has a high IQ but sometimes has hard time communicating, grew frustrated during the flight because she was hungry, Beegle said — but Juliette was calm after she ate and was happily watching a movie when the Portland-bound plane diverted to Salt Lake City.
Juliette has previously traveled with her family to Europe and 22 states, her mom said.
“It was completely bizarre,” Beegle said. “I get the ignorance, but it has to change.”
Beegle said she was flying from Orlando to Portland last week after a vacation at Disney. During a layover in Houston, the family had dinner, but Juliette refused to eat.
Then, on the second leg of the trip, Juliette started to get antsy and upset, Beegle said.
“And I started thinking, ‘You know what? She didn’t eat her dinner,” she told the TV station. “I know her, when she gets overhungry or overthirsty, she really struggles because she can’t tell us and she gets really frustrated.”
Juliette is a picky eater and refused the room-temperature snacks mom offered up from her purse. That’s when Beegle asked a flight attendant if she could buy her daughter a hot meal from first class.
The flight attendant originally refused to offer up a first-class meal to the family flying coach.
“I said, ‘How about we wait for her to have a meltdown, she’ll be crying and trying to scratch in frustration. I don’t want her to get to that point,’” the mom told ABC News.
The flight attendant finally brought a plate of jambalaya.
Juliette ate, and started watching a movie quietly, Beegle said.
About 25 minutes later, the pilot announced the plane would make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City so a passenger with a “behavior issue” could get off.
On the tarmac in Utah, the paramedics originally refused to force Juliette off the plane because she wasn’t an issue, Beegle said. But as they tried to leave without the family in tow, the pilot stepped out of the cockpit to talk to them.
“The paramedic said this was an over-reactive flight attendant and started shaking his head, and said, ‘We have real work to do,’ and left,” Beegle told ABC. “We were still baffled.”
When the paramedics came back — this time with police — to escort the family off the jet, other passengers stood up for the teen, adamantly claiming she was no threat.
One traveler recorded the removal and uploaded the video to YouTube. People sitting next to the family can be heard saying, “It’s ridiculous” and “That’s going to be a lawsuit.”
“This was just ridiculous … she was calm, she had done nothing,” passenger Jodi Smith told ABC News. “I’ve been on flights where kids have screamed for four hours and they’ve never diverted a flight.
The Beegle family was rebooked on another flight to Portland on a different airline, United said.
Inside the Salt Lake City airport, police told the mom the pilot requested they leave because he was not comfortable flying with Juliette on the plane, Beegle said.
The Beegle family was rebooked on another flight to Portland on a different airline.
Beegle said she planned to file a lawsuit. She said it was a “fear of autism” that caused the incident.
In a statement, a United Airlines spokeswoman said the crew “made the best decision for the safety and comfort of all of our customers” when they decided to divert the flight.
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