LOS ANGELES (KTLA) -- A family claims they couldn't board their
cross-country flight to Los Angeles after their son was singled out and
discriminated against because he has Down syndrome.
Joan and Robert Vanderhorst were flying on American Airlines from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles on Sunday with their 16-year-old son Bede.
But they say that as they waited
to board the flight, they were told that they weren't allowed on the
Joan pulled out her cell phone and began to videotape, documenting what she believes was a violation of her son's civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Bede -- who was labeled a flight risk -- can be seen in the video sitting at the gate, quietly playing with his hat.
In the video, you can hear Joan sobbing and her husband expressing disbelief.
"He's behaving," Robert says. "He's demonstrating he's not a problem."
"Of course he's behaving. He's never not behaved," Joan adds.
"I kept saying, 'Is this only because he has Down syndrome?'" Joan said in an interview with KTLA via Skype.
The family has flown together dozens of times. The only thing different about this flight was that they had upgraded for the first time to first class.
"This little boy had a seat in the first class area, and for some reason, they didn't want that. That wasn't acceptable," Joan said.
American Airlines claims Bede was "excitable, running around, and not acclimated to the environment" and that the pilot had unsuccessfully tried to calm him down.
"For the safety of the young man and the safety of others, American Airlines offered to book another flight for the family," American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller told KTLA.
Robert says the family was warned their son's behavior was a concern because their first class seat was to close too the cockpit and a distraction to the pilot could cause a mid-flight emergency landing.
"My son is no different from a 4 or 5 year old as far as behavior," Robert insisted.
The Vanderhorsts claim Bede hadn't caused any troubles and instead was being discriminated against.
Eventually, airline personnel called airport police to intervene -- and the family was booked on a United Airlines flight.
The Vanderhorsts eventually got to their home near Bakersfield and say they were not refunded for their upgrade fee, which they were never able to take advantage of.
They say they plan to sue American Airlines, and hope their experience will teach the company and people in general a valuable lesson.
"Respect each person's dignity," Robert said. "Every one of us should be treated with equal dignity."