Family of Autistic Girl Kicked Off United Flight After Demanding Food From First Class

A United flight diverted to Salt Lake City in order to kick an autistic girl off the plane when the pilot of the Houston – Portland flight became uncomfortable with her onboard.

KOIN reports that Donna Beegle, her husband, and their son and daughter were headed back to Portland on Tuesday after spending a few days at Disney World in Orlando. Beegle says her 15-year-old daughter, Juliette, has high-functioning autism and was on the brink of a meltdown during the flight. Therefore, Mrs. Beegle politely asked the flight attendant if she could purchase a hot meal from first-class to calm the girl as she was not eating any of the food the family packed or that was available in economy class.

Eventually the girl was given a meal from first class.

The family is suing.

A United spokesperson explains,

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.

The family appeared quite calm while being removed from the aircraft.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Man you’re not going to win any PR battles fighting against an autistic girl and her family

  2. Don’t have much to say other than thank you to the camera person for holding your phone horizontal — way too many idiots out there that still hold their phones vertically and make videos unwatchable.

  3. C’mon Gary

    How do we go from a headline of “Demanding Food From First” to “politely asked the flight attendant if she could purchase a hot meal from first-class”?

  4. Agreed, the headline does not seem to mesh with the story.

    As a U.S./AA platinum and the father of a highly functioning autistic boy that travels regularly, I will be watching this story closely.

    Interesting to note that at one point United had trumpeted it’s Accessible Travel Advisory Board and their support for the autism community. Not sure if that still exists.

  5. so this mother clearly failed… how can she not know what to pack for her daughter to eat? or even the fact that she’d subject her to long traumatic flights while she knew the girl may not be able to handle them?
    what a terrible parent.

  6. This is really disturbing for both parties. I do not have kids myself, but have a good friend that have an autistic child. Many people misunderstand how the child feels. I’m not here to make people more aware and tolerant – though I think they should be, but I know things are very unpredictable with autism and at any point they may have a tantrum, causing this situation.

    I don’t think the airline should be sued, but I do not know all of the details. The fact is, nobody wins here. The parents are seeking damages from United? That will not look good for autism awareness. United kicking a family off the flight for their child having a disorder that cannot be controlled easily? That will not look good for United. This whole thing is a disaster. The National Autism Association and/or Society needs to get involved and make this right. QUICKLY.

  7. I don’t think UA did anything wrong that kid should not be flying and that mother needs an attitude adjustment.

  8. Looks like from where they were seated you could see into first class. Maybe the child got fixated on what she could see through the curtain.

    I’m sure the rest of the passengers, first included, would have preferred that the child was severed rather than diverting the plane and adding time to everyone’s trip.

  9. There appears to be more and more disruptive flights. A week ago, my husband and I flew Jet Blue from Tampa to JFK. Passengers seated behind us had a dachshund on a lease that proceeded to poop on the floor just as the flight landed. The smell was horrendous and the owners were apologizing to no avail. A couple of other passengers gagged. When I filed a complaint to JetBlue, they apologized for my inconvenience, explained that they allow up to 4 small dogs and cats on their flights, gave us $25 discounts on future flights. I had also asked what the JetBlue policy was for disruptive animals. (I assume if I been seated beside them w/my cat, there would have been considerable disruption). They responded that they expect their passengers to behave responsibly and they do not allow passengers w/animals to sit in the emergency exits.

  10. Agreed it’s a brutal title. I have no idea why Gary continues to publish these stories. I guess anything is content.

  11. If you want a quiet ride buy your own plane. People with disabilities have a right to public travel.

  12. I’m curious/surprised that there is no video of the kid being disruptive. Not sure how suing United will solve anything.

  13. How is United supposed to handle this? Cater extra first class meals in the rare event that someone autistic or with another disability needs it? Sure, if they did have an extra meal, it would be going above and beyond to give it to the passenger. They already have food for purchase on this route. Although I feel horrible for the family – and I’m sure they were embarrassed through all of this.

  14. There are multiple versions of the story of the mother’s demands versus requests, and the mother in other media has explained that she told the flight attendant if the food wasn’t provided her daughter was going to become disruptive, scratch uncontrollably, etc. The way I’ve heard this reported ‘demanded’ is a fair characterization. As a result, the title seemed a fair summary based on the reports I’ve seen. Of course as with any such situation there’s more than one side to everything. If I were a passenger on the flight I would have preferred to continue on to the destination rather than diverting. So very unfortunate.

  15. Lantean – your comment only magnifies your total and complete lack of knowledge of those with disabilities.

  16. @Garyst16
    @Jee

    so you guys think it’s OK to torture an autistic child by subjecting her to a long flight in coach that is terribly uncomfortable to even those who are not autistic?
    wow… just wow…

  17. Lantean – At 1st I was appalled by your ignorance. Now I just feel sorry for you. I’m sure you know a lot about bad parents. I can’t imagine going through life knowing that you disappoint your parents. No matter what they say, you know deep down you are a disappointment. Enjoy your shallow life.

  18. I won’t comment on the story.

    But Lantean’s comment is, in fact, correct: the first thing new parents learn about travelling with children is how important it is to carry extra food, extra drink and extra diapers. And extra toys & entertainment. How do I know all this? Think about it for a minute, and you can make a pretty good guess . . . .

  19. It’s funny there are accommodations for people with physical disabilities but not mental disabilities if this is not discrimination nothing is! Sue the wings off them momma make sure your child is well off as an adult!

  20. Jimminy Christmas, folks. Lantean has a pretty good point, the girl’s parents are responsible for making sure her needs are met. This may mean booking a higher class of service if they think she cannot tolerate coach. Or maybe it means Amtrak or the family car. Or Disneyland instead of Disneyworld.

    I find it hard to believe that a pilot would divert over a calm request for first class food.

  21. http://koin.com/2015/05/09/she-wasnt-put-off-plane-because-of-autism/

    This should stop NOW. Other passengers felt threatened, and said it was a disturbance. This is NOT discrimination. This is a threat made on a plane, and asking the captain to come out of the cockpit to address a threat on a plane is NOT something that is going to be done past 9/11, as much as we think that ‘nothing has changed’. The statements in the article I posted should put to bed ANY ability to sue.

  22. @Lantean

    I will claim no expertise here, but I do know a child who is on the autism spectrum who travels TATL in coach with some regularity. And I am certain that his parents would not make him endure “torture”. The fact is, they seldom know just what to expect.

    I’d say this parent knows better than anyone who will read this post just what her child is up for, even if there are unanticipated meltdowns at times.

  23. @Gary – one article you linked quotes passengers who were next to them as characterizing it quite differently. Neither article portrays a “demand”.

    In any case, the meal “request” wasn’t the issue that made the Captain decide to divert, it was the potential for a perhaps violent incident (whether or not one agrees with his assessment and interpretation of the passengers’ statements). A simple headline such as we’ve seen on FT and in the news would have been fair, more accurate, and non-sensationalist on your part.

    Which, the video shows and quoted passengers also confirm, that after the meal was provided the girl was calm, so I do think the Capt over-reacted – which seems common these days.

  24. My freaking goodness, that quote in the article from Marilyn Hedlund is just ridiculous. How on earth is a 15 year old girl going to open the emergency door at 35000 feet?!?!?

    I’m not going to defend or criticize the parents’ parenting, because we don’t have all the facts as to why they didn’t have a hot meal ready for their daughter.

    On the other hand, I think United is entirely or mostly at fault. The girl was probably disruptive at some point during the flight, but she seemed very calm by the time the video was taken, certainly a lot calmer than I would have been in the same situation. There are disruptions all the time, but it is hard to believe that it was so bad that the pilot should make an emergency landing and inconvenience all the other passengers along the way.

    By the way, the title of the KOIN news story is equally pathetic. Just because someone said it, doesn’t make it true.

  25. @Justin,

    No doubt -I think most of the people who hold their phones vertically are iPhone users – they aren’t real technical to begin with, and you certainly can’t expect them to know how to properly orient a camera phone… 😉

  26. For those of you who think the parent should have been better prepared or controlled their child, or whatever it is you think they should have done, I am *guessing* you have had little to no exposure to children with disabilities. Suffice it to say that if you think raising a child without disabilities is a lot of work and can be unpredictable, just magnify that a few hundred times for a child with disabilities. I have no idea what happened on the plane and who said what, so i don’t know who is right or wrong in this case. I do feel that several comments on this thread are very ill-informed and sad.

  27. Linda Higgins said:

    Sue the wings off them momma make sure your child is well off as an adult!

    Sue the pants off of United so that your child is well off as an adult? For what? It’s not up to United to support people with mental disabilities. i wasn’t there, so I can’t say for certain, but given when i have read about the situation and the mothers behavior and demands (and tantrum) in particular, I am guessing I would have preferred the diversion.

    Just like there is a taxi cab riders bill of rights, airline passengers deserve the same. And that means that everybody on the airplane should not be inconvenienced, feel threatened or otherwise imposed upon by another passenger, regardless of the circumstances.

    Why should United ensure that this person is financially stable in her adulthood? Maybe you were joking!

  28. Linda Higgins said:

    Sue the wings off them momma make sure your child is well off as an adult!

    Sue the pants off of United so that your child is well off as an adult? For what? It’s not up to United to FINANCIALLY support people with mental disabilities. i wasn’t there, so I can’t say for certain, but given when i have read about the situation and the mothers behavior and demands (and tantrum) in particular, I am guessing I would have preferred the diversion.

    Just like there is a taxi cab riders bill of rights, airline passengers deserve the same. And that means that everybody on the airplane should not be inconvenienced, feel threatened or otherwise imposed upon by another passenger, regardless of the circumstances.

    Why should United ensure that this person is financially stable in her adulthood? Maybe you were joking!

  29. Christina says: “If you want a quiet ride buy your own plane. People with disabilities have a right to public travel.”

    Yes, they absolutely do, but they are expected to conform to the same standards of behaviour as the rest of us. We don’t let intoxicated alcoholics or acutely psychotic schizophrenics fly either.

    Jee says: “Lantean – You have no clue. Time for you to go hide in the closet again.”

    Was that intended to be homophobic?

    Obviously there are a lot of different sides/versions to this story, but at the end of the day at least some of the passengers/crew felt threatened by the girl’s behaviour. Based on his assessment of the situation, the pilot decided the safest course of action was to divert the plane. I’m not sure how the airline is at fault here. The actions taken seem reasonable and prudent.

    I would also point out that the girl’s behaviour at the time of landing and while being escorted off the plane isn’t really relevant. What matters is her behaviour at altitude and whether the crew felt that posed a real or perceived threat to the safety of others.

  30. Arcanum…..I agree, on all points. Observation: There are some particularly vicious people on this blog, and I think that the person on the top sets the tone. He actually wrote a special blog post about me and my first comment on this blog, which was surprising to me. I enjoy the blog but in my opinion, there is a lot of unprofessional and cruel sniping (like comments above about closet, Gary’s weight, etc)

  31. The mother should be thanking the airline for diverting for the safety and health of her daughter. The daughter needed a quieter and calmer environment in which to recover. As a physician I have been asked to assist with medical emergencies in the air on three occasions. On one flight we diverted to Goose Bay, Canada to offload a passenger in an emergency. He would have survived until the destination but was not responding to treatment on board. I personally applaud United for caring about the girl’s condition and taking proper action at not to mention a great expense to the airline.

  32. Are you a developmental pediatrician, or do you just play one in front of your keyboard? No one gave a rats ass about this girl, let’s not pretend this was about her well being.

  33. Eddy, if you choose to align yourself with the ignorance being spewed at FT, that’s on you.

    I’m SURE this has nothing to do with an overly sensitive, poorly trained, or incompetent FA. Couldn’t be. None of us have EVER come across one of those. EVER.

  34. @Dave FT has taught me literally everything I know about UA so I will gladly align myself with their ignorance, thank you very much!

  35. I’m a father of a high-functioning autistic pre-teen child who loves to travel. I’m also a past board member of a national association representing a disorder that is the leading genetic cause of autism. In this role I’ve interacted with hundreds of autistic children and their families. With that intro, I have a plea:

    Please have some compassion for what these families go through. You can’t possibly know what their lives are like on a daily basis. This mother knows her child and packed food. If I had to guess, having lived this life, she had probably been up most of the night, had to worry about proper medical dosing in an unfamiliar environment, had to figure out what foods to pack for traveling (knowing the airlines won’t heat the food for you), had to struggle with getting special liquids through security, etc., etc.

    Who are we to deny this child what could be her lifetime dream to go to Disneyworld? Many, many children make such treks as their Make a Wish dream come true.

    Instead of second-guessing the mother, maybe offer to help? Kids on the autism spectrum are inherently prone to emotional outbursts. They can’t help it. Neither can their harried parents. But let’s not deny them a happy trip.

    Thanks for reading and caring.

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