What started as a routine flight home from Disney World on United Airlines ended in a major airline being grounded and a family being escorted off by police. A combination of faulty preparation on the part of the parents and a complete lack of compassion on the part of the crew caused a flight to be grounded after the Beegle Family’s 15-year-old autistic daughter was deemed too disruptive to fly.
Donna Beegle posted the story on her Facebook page. In a nutshell, her autistic 15-year-old refused the food Beegle offered her before the flight. Once they took off, Beegle tried to obtain some warm food for her daughter, as she does not like to eat cold food. She explained this to the flight attendant, hoping he would understand and allow her to purchase some warm food from First Class. No luck. She explains, “He said no. For 40 minutes, I kept trying to think of something that they had that she would eat. He told me no every time.” Frustrated, Beegle asked the flight attendant, “after she has a melt down and tries to scratch in frustration, will you help her then?” The attendant finally came back with a hot meal, but did not seem happy about it, according to Beegle’s account.
A little while later, the plane’s intercom announced “We will be making an unexpected landing in Salt Lake due to a passenger in the back having issues.” The family was in the front of the plane, so they did not expect for a moment the announcement was referring to them. Here is Beegle’s account of what happened next:
The door opened and two paramedics came to the man two rows ahead of us. He said again said he was fine. The paramedics left him and came to my row and said, “Everything okay here?” Confused, I said, “yes.” The paramedic asked if Juliette was okay. I said, “she’s fine.” Did she scratch someone? Puzzled I said, “no.” The paramedic rolled his eyes, said they had real work they should be doing and they were going to leave. He warned me that we may be asked to leave the plane… Then two police officers approached our row. They said they needed us to exit the plane. I said, “Why?” The officer asked if Juliette was scratching someone. I again said, “no.” I told them asked for hot food to prevent a melt down and said we wanted to prevent her getting to the point of being upset or scratching which she sometimes does in frustration. I told the officer the flight attendant gave her hot food and she has been fine the whole trip. The officer said they we were going to still have us exit the plane.
Beegle claims the officers told her the captain was not comfortable flying to Portland with her daughter on the plane. She also claims that the entire time this was going on, her daughter was quietly watching a video. A fellow passenger caught the exit of the family on video, and onlookers look confused. One is even heard saying, “this is ridiculous.”
It’s terrible for everyone that a plane was grounded and a family was asked to get off. But it could have been avoided had the family made some preparations beforehand — like contacting the airline to let them know about their need for hot food. It certainly also could have been avoided had the airline crew acted with a small amount of compassion and just provided the food the family offered to pay for. Threatening that your kid is going to start scratching people if she doesn’t get food was probably not the brightest decision, either.
According to Beegle’s account, the police officers took 10-pages worth of statements before the family left the plane and no one claimed her daughter’s behavior was disruptive. It’s clear no one is accusing the daughter of being disruptive here — looks like all fingers are pointing to mom and dad.
If you are flying with special needs, you need to make the necessary accommodations so your flight is as smooth as possible. But at the same time, airline crew needs to be trained to recognize and handle special needs as well. There’s no reason why a 15-year-old girl who was keeping to herself should’ve been escorted off a plane and labeled “disruptive.”
This is a huge fail — on both sides.