An autistic teenager and her family were reportedly kicked off a United Airlines flight because the captain was not “comfortable” flying the plane with her on board.
Donna Beegle, the mother of autistic 15-year-old Juliette Forbes, spoke to KOIN 6 about her family’s ordeal on the flight from Orlando, Florida, with a connecting flight in Houston, Texas, to Portland, Oregon.
“She started getting a little upset and I started thinking, ‘You know what? She didn’t eat her dinner,” Beegle said. “I know her, when she gets overhungry or overthirsty, she really struggles because she can’t tell us and she gets really frustrated.”
Beegle tried to give her daughter some snacks she had packed for the flight but Forbes, being a picky eater, would not take them. That is when Beegle asked a male flight staff member if there was a hot meal she could purchase for her daughter.
She was told no, even after she explained her daughter’s needs.
“He said, ‘No, I can’t make an exception,’” Beegle said.
Beegle went on to explain that if her daughter did not get a meal, she could reach the “meltdown point” and may scratch someone. Shortly after, Forbes received a first-class meal.
Soon after, the captain made an announcement that the plane would be making an emergency landing in Salt Lake City, Utah, due to a passenger “in the back of the plane who has behavior issues.”
At this time, Forbes was sitting calmly in her seat watching a video.
The plane landed and paramedics came on board, but Beegle assured them that everything was fine.
“They could see Juliette was sitting there watching her show,” Beegle said.
Still, paramedics told the family they may be asked to exit the plane. When police arrived, they were, in fact, asked to leave.
“It was completely bizarre,” Beegle said.
According to police, the captain was uncomfortable flying the plane to Portland with Forbes on board.
When the family was asked to leave, Beegle reportedly stood up and asked other passengers if they felt threatened by having her daughter on the plane.
“The people were, like, ‘No, leave her alone,’” Beegle said.
Beegle believes they were asked to leave the plane because of “fear of autism.” She asked police to take statements from other passengers to prove they did not have an issue with Forbes being on the plane.
Beegle finds the entire incident sad and humiliating, reports KGW News.
"As a mom it ripped my heart out," she said. "I was shaking."
A video of the incident was recorded by a passenger seated a few rows behind and is embedded below. Although the audio is unclear, the video shows Beegle and her daughter leave their seats and exit the plane after speaking with paramedics and police.
The family was then booked on an alternate flight with Delta Airlines from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Portland, Oregon.
United Airlines issued the following statement, defending its decision to make an emergency landing.
"After working to accommodate Dr. Beegle and her daughter during the flight, the crew made the best decision for the safety and comfort of all of our customers and elected to divert to Salt Lake City after the situation became disruptive," said United spokesperson Karen May. "We rebooked the customers on a different carrier and the flight continued to Portland."
Beegle has filed a complaint with United Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration, and has hired an attorney with plans to file a lawsuit. Her goal is for training to occur to properly handle passengers with special needs.
“I get the ignorance,” Beegle said. “But it has to change.”
Photo Credit: KOIN 6