Girl With Autism Kicked Off United Airlines Flight For Acting "Disruptive"

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On May 5, a United Airlines flight traveling from Houston to Portland made an emergency landing to remove a 15-year-old girl with autism from the plane, along with her family. United alleged that the girl had been acting "disruptive." The girl's family and several passengers protested that the girl had not posed a threat to anyone on the plane, but the airline and police officers insisted that she and her family disembark in Salt Lake City and then board another aircraft.

In a Facebook post on May 7, the girl's mother, Donna Beegle, explained that she had requested to buy a hot meal for her daughter, Juliette. Initially, the flight attendant refused, informing Beegle that hot meals were for first-class passengers only. But, the attendant grudgingly relented when Beegle explained that Juliette would only eat hot food and might have a "meltdown and try to scratch in frustration" if she went hungry.

Juliette ate her food and was apparently watching a movie calmly when the plane was grounded and the family was instructed to leave the aircraft. A police officer reportedly informed Beegle, "You know, we have some really violent cases where the plane should land. This is not one of those. You have a lot of people supporting your claim that nothing happened and your daughter should stay on the plane."

One passenger viewed the situation differently: Marilyn Hedlund told KOIN 6 News that Juliette had made "howling" noises prior to her removal, and that "she was maybe proposing some kind of a threat, to (about) 170 other people at 36,000 feet... What if she got crazy and got up and opened an exit door at 36,000 feet?"

Let's pause here to consider that it is not humanly possible to open the door of a commercial jet mid-flight, and then let's consider that airlines do not ground flights to eject screaming babies and their families; there's no basis for treating noise-making due to being young and noise-making due to a mental condition differently. Beegle says that her family is now planning to sue United, but she stated that it's not about the money; it's about the training that people need in order to understand and respond appropriately to individuals with autism.
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