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Pilot Kicks Family off Flight Because Child with Autism 'Was a Threat'

Juliette Beegle/Facebook

The Short of It

An Oregon family was asked to leave a United Airlines flight after the plane made an emergency landing because of a perceived threat from their autistic teenage daughter.

The Lowdown

While flying home to Portland, Ore., on United Airlines, Donna Beegle and her husband, son and daughter were asked to leave the plane after it made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City. During the flight, Beegle had tried to get a hot meal for her 15-year-old daughter Juliette, who has autism and refuses to eat room-temperature food. Beegle said Juliette refused to eat before they boarded the flight, and she can have meltdowns when she's hungry.

After flight attendants repeatedly did not accommodate her request for a hot meal, Beegle explained again that her child had special needs and might have a meltdown without one. The attendant finally brought Juliette rice and jambalaya, which the teen ate and was fine, according to her mom and passengers seated around the family.

About 25 minutes later, however, a loudspeaker announcement said the plane was making an emergency landing because of a passenger with "a behavior issue." When the plane landed in Salt Lake City, paramedics boarded to find Juliette happily watching a video, so they left. Police then came to their row.

"They see this little teenager sitting there watching a video," Beegle told ABC News, "and they asked if there was an issue, and I said, 'No.'"

Before the officers left, however, the captain stepped out of the cockpit and spoke to them, Beegle said. The police came back to the family and told them that the captain wanted the family to step off the plane because he felt Juliette was a threat and wasn't comfortable flying with her on the plane.

The family had no choice but to leave the plane, and they were rebooked on a different flight to their destination.

The Upshot

Beegle said they have never experienced anything like this while traveling before, and Juliette has traveled often, going to London, Paris and 22 U.S. states. The mom filed complaints with the Federal Aviation Administration and United Airlines, who are both investigating the incident. She is also planning to file a lawsuit against United.

Beegle said her goal is to encourage autism training for airline workers. "If they had autism training, when I explained to [the flight attendant] when I needed something hot, we could have found a workable solution together," she said. "But his whole view was, 'I'm trained to give a first class meal.' He didn't understand at all. He was disrespectful; he was rude."

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