5/11 - Latest in Autism News

Teen with Autism Kicked Off Flight from Plane

An Oregon mom plans to sue after her family, including a daughter with autism, was kicked off a United Airlines flight to Portland for being "disruptive."

The mother of a a teenager with autism who was removed from a United Airlines flight over concerns she might become disruptive has said she is "shocked" by the family's treatment.

Donna Beegle, a public speaker who focuses on poverty, told KATU news her family was traveling home from Disney World on Tuesday when they were escorted off the plane after she challenged a flight attendant's refusal to let her to buy a hot meal for her daughter.

She said her 15-year-old daughter, Juliette, is high functioning but doesn't speak. Beegle knew Juliette was getting hungry, but Juliette wouldn't eat the snacks the family had on hand. Juliette is a picky eater, Beegle said, a common trait of children who have autism.

Beegle thought hot food might appeal to her daughter. She asked a flight attendant if she could buy a hot meal from first class, but the flight attendant denied the request after a 25-minute debate with Beegle.

At that point, Beegle told KATU, she told the attendant, "'You know what? Maybe after she has a meltdown and she's crying and trying to scratch, then you'll help us,'" Beegle said.

Juliette eventually got the hot meal and began to calm down, Beegle said. About 30 minutes later, the flight crew announced plans to make an emergency landing in Salt Lake City. Once the plane touched down, police came to escort the Beegle family off.

A spokeswoman for United released a statement claiming the flight crew worked to accommodate the family, but ultimately "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."

United spokeswoman Karen May said she could provide no further details about the incident.

Witnesses to the in-flight incident differed in their views on whether the crew was justified in calling the police. In interviews with KOIN 6 news, one witness said the crew overreacted, while another said Juliette's "howling" made other passengers feel unsafe.

United Airlines touts its efforts to accommodate people with autism by offering simulated flights to prepare them for their fight time flying. Beegle doesn't believe that's enough.

"They need training," she told KGW.

-- Kelly House

May 11, 2015 - Orlando Sentinel