A Central California family decided to splurge on first-class plane tickets for the first time but were denied entry onto the plane because their son has Down Syndrome, they claim.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst had flown without issue with their 16-year-old son Bede, who has Down Syndrome, at least 30 times, Robert told the New York Daily News.
This time, on a "lark," they decided to spend an extra $625 to fly first class. "My wife said, 'Oh Bede's never flown first class. He'll be so excited,'" Robert recounted.
And yet, while the family was waiting to board from Newark, New Jersey back home to their Porterville home, near Bakersfield on Sunday, an American Airlines representative pulled them aside and said the pilot thought Bede was a "flight risk."
Joan quickly began to videotape the incident on her cell phone. "We are being singled out," she said, sobbing, in the video above. Meanwhile, Bede can be seen sitting at the gate, quietly playing with his hat.
"He's behaving. He's demonstrating he's not a problem," Robert, who is an attorney, calmly pleaded with the airline official.
"Nothing like this has ever happened to us before. That's what's so shocking. He's usually our good luck charm. Good things usually happen when Bede is with us," Robert told the Daily News.
Robert said he and his wife were told that their son's behavior could disrupt the pilot, since their first class seats were close to the cockpit, KTLA reports. But Robert insisted, "My son is no different from a 4 or 5 year old as far as behavior."
An American Airlines spokesman said the boy was agitated and running around the gate area and thus deemed "not ready to fly," the Associated Press reports. But Robert said his son did not run, make any loud noises or cause any other distractions.
The family was escorted from the gate by Port Authority and transferred--to the coach section--of an United Airlines flight. They were not refunded for their upgrade fee, according to KTLA.
"It was horrible, humiliating. We were treated like criminals," he said to the Daily News.
What's worse, they were placed in the very back row of the United Airlines flight. "For a second time, we were discriminated against. Segregated," said Robert, who plans to sue American Airlines. Meanwhile, Bede wasn't roused by the incident and "was waving hi to everyone" on the plane, his father said.
That's a lot more pleasant than other kids who have been forced off planes, such as the 2-year-old kicked off a JetBlue plane after throwing a tantrum and the 3-year-old kicked off an Alaska Airlines flight for refusing to wear his seat belt.
And then there's the family, with a 3-year-old, two 20-month-old twins and an 8-month-old, that was kicked off a US Airways flight for traveling with too many small children. Perhaps as shocking as Bede's bad trip, a Muslim 18-month-old baby was kicked off a JetBlue flight because she was on the no-fly list. Bede's ticket, however, was the only one out of these examples that was booked for first class.
Earlier on HuffPost:
Billie Joe Armstrong
The Green Day frontman was asked to leave a Southwest flight in September 2011 for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/02/billie-joe-armstrong-gree_n_947397.html" target="_hplink">having pants that hung too low</a>. MIGUEL GUTIERREZ/AFP/Getty Images
Country star John Rich, of Lonestar and Big & Rich, got into hot water with Southwest in December 2011. The <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/06/john-rich-country-star-booted-from-southwest-flight_n_1131615.html" target="_hplink">inebriated singer was asked to leave the flight</a>, and gracefully made his exit. Beth Gwinn/Getty Images
Southwest also gave the boot to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/27/leisha-hailey-kicked-off-_n_983614.html" target="_hplink">"The L Word" actress Leisha Hailey</a>, apparently for kissing a woman in September 2011. Vince Bucci/Getty Images
While she wasn't technically kicked off a flight, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/10/13/whitney-houston-almost-ki_n_1008958.html" target="_hplink">Whitney Houston was almost kicked off a Delta flight</a> in October 2011 for not buckling her seatbelt. Larry Busacca/Getty Images For The Recording Academy
Southwest also <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/02/14/director-kevin-smith-too_n_461803.html" target="_hplink">struck a huge blow to director Kevin Smith</a>, asking him to leave a flight in April 2010 because he was "too wide for the sky." Donna Ward/Getty Images
Actor <a href="http://www.tmz.com/2010/12/03/josh-duhamel-airpane-tsa-us-airways-charlotte-north-carolina-lexington-kentucky/#.Tt-RmbIk6dA" target="_hplink">Josh Duhamel was kicked off a US Airways plane</a> in December 2010 for refusing to turn off his BlackBerry before a flight. John Shearer/Getty Images
<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/06/alec-baldwin-kicked-off-a_n_1132645.html?ref=travel" target="_hplink">Alec Baldwin was taken off an American Airlines plane</a> in December 2011, also for not turning off his mobile device. Jemal Countess/Getty Images for Reeve Foundation <em>Correction: A previous version of this slide said that Baldwin was kicked off a Southwest flight. We regret the error.</em>
In May 2012, reality TV star Kim Kardashian took to twitter to call out British Airways for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/28/kim-kardashian-twitter-ce_n_1550281.html?ref=travel" target="_hplink">allegedly stealing from her luggage</a>. Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Alec Baldwin's Response to Getting Kicked Off Flight