Autism Grounds Plane?

This was not Juliette Beegle's first rodeo. Well-traveled, she had 22 states and 8 countries under her 15-year-old belt. But last week was the very first time an airline opted for an emergency, mid-flight landing so that they could usher her and her family off the plane. Why? Heartbreakingly, it seems it was because of her autism.

The "Unruly Passenger"

The warning signs came through loud and clear to Dr. Donna Beegle and she was determined to head them off before her daughter's inevitable meltdown.

Airplane Girl

Photo Credit: Facebook

Juliette was hungry and starting to fuss. The family—Dr. Beegle, her husband, Juliette and her brother—was heading home to Portland from a Walt Disney World vacation. But Juliette had refused a meal during their layover in Houston and, now that she was back on the plane, Mom's just-in-case snacks were also spurned.

As a result of her autism and difficulty communicating, Juliette gets intensely frustrated and, when that frustration is not abated, she can lash out—yelling, crying and scratching. Because of Juliette's preference for hot food, Beegle asked to purchase a first-class meal. The request was initially denied by flight attendants and, according to Beegle, a 25-minute debate ensued.

"I just kind of said, 'You know what? Maybe after she has a meltdown and she's crying and trying to scratch, then you'll help us,'" Beegle told the Portland's KATU-TV.

She was right. Juliette ramped up, the flight crew acquiesced and brought her a hot meal, and Juliette calmed down.

About 30 minutes later, they announced an unscheduled stop in Salt Lake City to deplane an "unruly passenger." When paramedics and police boarded the plane, they found their unruly passenger quietly engrossed in a video.

The World Weighs In on United's Decision

The responses to this highly publicized incident have come from around the globe and run the gamut. Social media has been especially vocal.

Airplane Girl

Photo Credit: Facebook

One fellow passenger sided with the airline, saying, "Really I saw it as a threat to the airline and the flight attendants to say, 'Well if we don't get this, this is what's going to happen.'"

Another passenger was appalled at the treatment of the Beegle clan, calling it the epitome of discrimination. "This was just ridiculous... she was calm, she had done nothing," said the traveler. "I've been on flights where kids have screamed for four hours and they've never diverted a flight."

In a statement, United Airlines claimed, "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."

Airplane Girl

Photo Credit: ABC News

The Beegles are seeking legal recourse, but not for money. "Landing that plane and asking us to move to a Delta flight was wrong and rooted ignorance," said Juliette's mom. "We did not go to the media or file a lawsuit for money, but rather to ask that airline staff receive training. With 1 in 68 children facing autism it is imperative to understand, be aware and for pete's sake, if you can help in a situation, have compassion and help."

According to Autism Speaks, "The incident aboard the United Airlines flight underscores the vital importance of awareness and education so that people are better equipped to recognize the signs of autism and support those with special needs."

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