A Tigard mom claims a major airliner kicked her family off a Portland-bound flight because of her daughter with autism. The incident happened Tuesday after the pilot made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City.
Dr. Donna Beegle and her family, including her 15-year-old daughter with autism, Juliette, were coming back from Disney World and on a connected flight from Houston to PDX at the time of the emergency landing. Beegle, a public speaker, says Juliette has flown most of her life as she often brings her along on her speaking engagements. Until Tuesday, she says, there had never been any issues.
Before boarding, Beegle says Juliette had refused the food they bought. In an attempt to prevent a meltdown, Beegle asked a flight attendant if they had any hot food. She also would not eat the snacks they brought on board. Juliette, like many people with autism, is clinically picky about the food she eats. Juliette is high-functioning but has extreme difficulty verbally communicating.
After a 25-minute back-and-forth with a first class flight attendant, Beegle says she was told the crew could not accommodate her daughter because the family was sitting in economy.
And that was when I just kind of said, ‘You know what? Maybe after she has a meltdown and she’s crying and trying to scratch, then you’ll help us,’” Beegle said.
The flight attendant eventually complied and then about 30 minutes later, a member of the flight crew announced the plane would be making an emergency landing because of a passenger behavior issue.
“Then the police said,’ Well, you know, we’re going to have to ask you to leave the plane.’ And I said, ‘I don’t understand why? There’s no issue. What is the problem?’ And he said, ‘Well, the captain doesn’t feel comfortable flying to Portland with your daughter on the plane,’” Beegle continued.
In a statement to KATU News, a United Airlines spokesperson wrote, “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. We rebooked the customers on a different carrier and the flight continued to Portland.”
Beegle is in the process of filing a lawsuit. She says the purpose of the legal action is to encourage the carrier to better train their employees in understanding the needs of autistic children.
Notably, United Airlines has partnerships with a handful of organizations aimed at helping children with autism.
Beegle has filed claims with both United Airlines and the Federal Aviation Administration. An area FAA spokesperson, in an email, said he was checking into the incident.