This weekend, a Texas family was prevented from boarding an American Airlines flight to Kansas City, after one of their two sons with autism had a meltdown right before boarding the plane. Even when the father offered to stay back with their crying son while the rest of the family took the trip, airline employees allegedly insisted on denying the rest of the family as well.
According to Heather Halkuff, the boy’s mother, the ticketing agent at Dallas Fort Worth International Airport told the family of seven that they couldn’t board because their son would upset the other passengers.
Halkuff claimed the agent told her that: “He can’t get on the flight… He’s going to bother the other passengers and then he’ll still be upset during the flight and we’ll have to turn around and escort you off the plane.”
What’s really strange about this whole case is that American Airlines is actually very sympathetic to the difficulty that some kids with autism have with flying. About four years ago, they implemented their “it’s cool to fly” program which helps prepare autistic kids for the stress of flying. In fact, the Halkuffs had gone through this very program ahead of their flight. The program isn’t just for the families benefit, it’s also about teaching airline employees how they can assist in difficult situations involving disabled children. To make matters worse, the idea that the other passers wouldn’t understand her son’s disability falls a bit flat.
“All the passengers are walking by. They’re very kind, they’re like: “You got this, mom. Don’t worry about it. Do you need any help?”‘ Heather explained to NBC5
Halkuff notes in the same report that she simply wishes they’d given her son a chance instead of just writing their whole family off.
“Don’t say, ‘Oh, look at that autistic kid crying. He’s going to ruin this whole flight. Let’s not even let him on,’” she said.
The family hasn’t pressed any kind of charges, but American Airlines has since been in contact with them. A spokesman for the airline released a statement which read:
“We are concerned to hear about this situation. Our team has reached out to the Halkuff family to gather more information about what transpired at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). The American Airlines team is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers.
When it comes to autism, American is a strong advocate for children. Our team members work closely with various nonprofit groups to alleviate the stress these children and their families may experience while flying, including offering families the opportunity to take a test fight on the ground. This process — which includes role-playing and realistic airport interactions — helps children grow accustomed to the experience of flight.”