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United Airlines Kicks Off Family With Autistic Daughter

Was United Airlines Justified in Kicking Off a Family With an Autistic Daughter?

An Oregon family was kicked off their United Airlines flight in May 2015 because of issues raised with their autistic daughter — and neither side is accepting blame.

Donna Beegle, her husband, and their 15-year-old daughter, Juliette, who has been diagnosed with autism since she was a toddler, boarded a layover flight in Houston on their way home to Portland. Juliette had refused to eat dinner, and despite boarding the flight armed with snacks, Donna asked a flight attendant if she had any hot meals.

"Juliette refuses room-temp food, and I had no real way to bring hot snacks in my bag," Donna said, adding that if her daughter's blood sugar gets too low, she "gets frustrated and antsy." She had even offered to pay for a hot first-class meal, but another flight attendant refused. Meanwhile, Juliette was getting more and more upset.

"He came back again, and I said, 'I have a child with special needs, I need to get her something.' And he said, 'I can't do that,'" she explained. "I said, 'How about we wait for her to have a meltdown? She'll be crying and trying to scratch in frustration. I don't want her to get to that point.'"

Finally, the attendant complied, and according to Beegle, "she ate, and she was fine."

Problem solved? Not quite. About 25 minutes later, the plane made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City because of a passenger with "a behavior issue." Police officers boarded the plane and escorted the family off before booking them on another flight. United Airlines defends its decision saying it had to protect passengers after the situation became disruptive. Although many fellow passengers have come forward in outrage, some sided with the airline.

"She wasn't put off the plane because she had autism, she was maybe proposing some kind of threat," said one passenger in a statement. "What if she got crazy and opened an exit door at 36,000 feet?"

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