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Police Escort Teen With Autism and Her Family Off a Plane

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On May 5, Donna Beegle and her husband, son and daughter were on a flight home. They were returning to Tigard, Oregon, after a vacation at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The family had flown from Orlando to Houston, Texas, where they caught a United Airlines connecting flight into Portland, Oregon, KOIN reported.

About an hour into their second flight, Beegle noticed her 15-year-old daughter, Juliette, seemed uncomfortable. Juliette has nonverbal autism and Beegle said she could quickly tell Juliette’s frustration meant she was hungry. When she asked a flight attendant if she could purchase her daughter a hot meal from first class, she was told she could not. She explained her daughter’s needs and said Juliette could have a meltdown if she couldn’t eat something. At that point, Juliette received a meal and quickly relaxed again.

Half an hour later, Juliette was watching a video in her window seat when an overhead announcement told the passengers they were making an emergency landing in Salt Lake City due to a passenger with “behavior issues,” ABC News reported. Paramedics boarded the plane and asked Beegle if everything was OK. Quickly thereafter, police officers came onboard and told the family they had to exit the plane.

Police officers escort Juliette and her family off the plan in the video below, taken by a passenger:

The officers told Beegle the captain had said he was uncomfortable continuing the flight with Juliette onboard, ABC reported. Beegle then stood up and asked if anyone on the plane felt threatened by her daughter, and no one indicated that they did. Jodi Smith, another passenger on the plane who was sitting three rows behind Beegle and her family, says she thought the situation did not merit an emergency landing.

“That was just ridiculous… she was calm, she had done nothing,” Smith told ABC News. “That was the epitome of discrimination. I have never in all my years of flying seen anything like this.”

When KOIN reached out to United Airlines for comment, a spokesperson issued the following statement:

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 told KOIN she believes her family was asked to leave the plane because of “a fear of autism.” She contacted a lawyer and intends to file a lawsuit.

“I get the ignorance,” she told KOIN in the video below, “but it has to change.”

Learn more about the family’s story in the video below.

Originally published: May 11, 2015
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