United Airlines has been receiving some damaging press lately following an incident involving the removal of an non-verbal autistic girl and her family from an Oregon-bound flight.

 

When Donna Beegle’s autistic daughter, Juliette, felt hungry aboard the aircraft, Beegle asked flight attendants for a hot meal, knowing that it would be the only thing her daughter would eat. After nearly an hour of informing various flight attendants about the potential meltdown her daughter could have from hunger (like scratching herself or others), Beegle was given a hot meal for her daughter.

 

Not long after taking off, the flight landed unexpectedly in Salt Lake City, and Beegle and her family were asked to leave the flight for being disruptive. Consequently, Beegle filed official complaints against the airline and announced her plans to sue. These decisions on her part have elicited a range of varied responses, some in support of the frustrated mother and others in defense of the airline.

 

 

There are certainly a number of points that can be made which identify faults in Beegle’s handling of the situation. In regards to Juliette’s hot meal, one can wonder how Beegle did not anticipate this situation with her daughter’s condition and adequately prepare. But United Airlines isn’t automatically the ‘good guy’ because of this.

 

The airline’s decision to stop the flight and force Beegle and her family to disembark, came after the Beegle’s requests were met. At this point, Juliette and her entire family were perfectly calm and in no way disruptive. The crisis had been averted, and United Airlines could have easily left the situation at that. Instead, United Airlines escalated matters by going through with their decision to eject the family from the fight. Other passengers even stepped forward to say there seemed to be no threat to passengers or the airline in the first place.

 

At the end of the day, United Airlines is a company. As such, it is important that each and every decision made by the company be made with attention to both profit, as well as image and reputation. In an instance like this, it’s undeniable that the airline’s response to the situation would be hard to separate from the question of disability rights and that the airline’s actions would significantly shape its image in this regard. Such a decision can come off as discriminatory towards the autistic and disabled.

 

Even if United claims the decision was in the best interest of the other passengers, the actions taken in regards to the Beegle family might damage the airline’s image as a responsible and concerned company.

 

Do you think United Airlines made mistakes throughout this situation that could be considered violations of the rights of disabled individuals? Share your thoughts below or tweet me @tamarahoumi.