Saturday, May 23, 2015

"Are You Serious?" Awards - Volume LII: The "Flying Ignorance" Edition

Imagine you are a hard-working parent in need of some refreshment along with those you love.  Imagine you have the opportunity to get away with your family, and you choose to travel to Walt Disney World in Florida for a lovely vacation.  Sounds like a really special time, doesn't it?

Now imagine you are traveling on this vacation with your teenage child who just happens to be on the autism spectrum.  Without a doubt, extra measures need to be taken, but you are undaunted because your child has been flying on airplanes for at least 14 years.  Besides that, our TSA has help for travelers with disabilities and medical needs.

Everything will be fine, right?  WRONG!

In case you hadn't already heard of this weeks-old story, an Oregon family with a 15 year old daughter on the autism spectrum was recently kicked off of a United Airlines flight returning from their family Disney vacation.

Are you SERIOUS?!

According to the mother, her daughter was becoming agitated because she was hungry during their flight's layover in Houston.  The agitation hadn't reached the point of full meltdown, but the wise mother knew that there would be one if her daughter's needs were not met.  Once the mother convinced the flight attendant to get her daughter some hot food, the agitation ceased, and the girl sat quietly watching a video.  Even so, the flight crew made the decision to divert the flight for emergency landing in Salt Lake City, having the family removed by police as a behavior problem.
From Video taken by passenger Chris Hall made available at
Given the prevalence of autism today, you might think people are well-informed.  In fact, an individual on the flight who took video of the incidence even recognized that the move was ridiculous and that there would be a lawsuit over this treatment of the family.

Nevertheless, one only need read this article, ‘She wasn’t put off plane because of autism,’ to see how rampant ignorance about autism remains.  While the passenger taking the video said that this girl was no louder than a baby crying on a flight, another passenger lamented her howling, seeing her as an imminent threat.  The irritated, second passenger's fears were irrational to the point of thinking that this teen with autism would open up an exit door with the plane in flight, killing them all.  One wonders if this unfounded line of thought was running through the heads of an inadequately trained flight crew as well.

So, where do we in the special needs community go from here?

To its credit, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has called for the Department of Transportation to offer assistance with clarifying and reinforcing the Air Carrier Access Act’s legal protections for passengers on the autism spectrum.  Issuing a press release on May 20, 2015, ASAN specifically cites the incident mentioned earlier and the fact that the rights of individuals with autism must be accommodated under the ACAA law.  The letter goes on to emphasize the need for appropriate training of airline staff, including informing of their legal obligation under the law.

I am sure each of you will be closely watching how the Department of Transportation responds to ASAN's demand for improvements.  If the rights of this family could be violated, then it could happen to each of us as well.  

Meanwhile, it is critical for each of us to remember to be praying for God's intervention on behalf of our traveling children and to be continually educating those around us.  We have made enormous strides, but that doesn't mean building awareness and inclusion can ever be discontinued, as this story so clearly displays.

~ Barb Dittrich

Source: Family Kicked Off Flight After Daughter With Autism Deemed 'Disruptive'

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