Lately, it seems like there is no shortage of stories about passengers being booted from airplanes, and now we can add another one to that list. Alaska Airlines kicked an entire family off a plane because their son with Down syndrome threw up, and a woman involved is now accusing the company of disability discrimination.
Shortly after boarding Alaska Airlines Flight 779 in St. Louis on Monday with his family, the teen became ill. Meghan Hess — the teen’s sister, and a third-year law student and a staffer for the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals — said in a written statement that flight attendants quickly asked him and his parents to get off the plane. Hess was not traveling with her family at the time.
The airline booked the family of three on a flight for the next morning, but didn’t offer to pay for accommodations. Hess said that a representative told her father that the family should have been charged for the flight, but that Alaska Airlines was extending a courtesy.
Hess told NBC News that the airline left her family “stranded at the airport for nearly 11 hours knowing that [they] had nowhere to go for the night.” She added,
Hess had a Twitter direct message exchange with the airline (that she shared with NBC News) in which an Alaska Airlines representative said, “I’m truly sorry for your family’s experience. Safety of all passengers is our number one priority. I am glad to see that we re-booked them at no fee in the morning. I apologize that we cannot provide hotels in these situations.”
Ann Johnson, an Alaska Airlines spokeswoman, later said that the family had been kicked off the plane because the teen had posed a possible health threat. She said, “The family was not able to depart on their original flight because the family’s child was visibly ill. Out of an abundance of caution the agent determined that the child was not fit to fly. In the case of a medical-related situation, it is safer for guests to be treated on the ground, as our crew are not trained medical professionals.”
The family was eventually upgraded to first class for their trip home to Washington state. The airline said they would look into how the incident was handled and had reached out to the family to get a better idea of exactly what happened.
Hess, however, isn’t satisfied with the response and believes the treatment was an example of “disability discrimination.” She said, “I can’t help but think if a non-disabled child that threw up, would the airline have kicked that family off the flight.”