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Family With Autistic Daughter Kicked Off Plane

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on May 12, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

There are quite a few ways to get kicked off a plane, some as whimsical as playing a game on your phone, some as serious as having cancer. But you don't expect to get booted from a flight for being hungry.

An Oregon mom claims that's what happened after she requested a hot meal for her autistic daughter. Dr. Donna Beegle said, the next thing she knew, pilots scheduled an emergency landing and she and her family were removed from a United flight last week. Is this even legal?

Disputed Disruption

United's official stance is that its "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." After the plane landed, police officers boarded the plane and escorted the family off the flight.

Under federal law, airlines are given a great deal of discretion when controlling passenger behavior and are allowed to refuse to transport any passenger who is "inimical to safety." Airline crew members are responsible for passenger safety and courts have ruled that airlines only need to be reasonable in their actions. An airline, therefore, can take steps to ensure order on a flight, and is only liable if its conduct was arbitrary and capricious.

Commuter Complaints

Dr. Beegle admits her daughter Juliette became agitated because she was hungry during a layover, but added that she had calmed down and was quietly watching a movie when "the next thing we hear is we're doing an emergency landing in Salt Lake City."

Dr. Beegle claims her family's removal from the flight was due to "ignorance" on the part of airline staff. While she has filed an official complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and she plans to sue United, she contends will not be asking for monetary damages, "but rather to ask that airline staff receive training."

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