Down syndrome discrimination in the skies

I’ve concluded that I’m not really much of the litigious sort. When I fell down and broke my foot on the DMV sidewalk, I didn’t immediately figure out some way I could sue the state. Whenever I get the little postcards or emails about class action lawsuits involving some company or other I have patronized, I don’t just jump on the bandwagon to “get mine.” Most of the time, those suits seem pretty petty, and I haven’t had any problems with those businesses.

But once in a while, my “sue-’em-for-all-they’ve-got” side gets incited. Yesterday, my husband told me about a story that got me fired up. And it even involves a family in a town near us. The short story is that a teenage boy with Down syndrome was refused access on one airplane and on another wasn’t allowed in first class (which his father had upgraded to), instead being forced to “the back of the plane.” The airline even kept other passengers away from the family, keeping two empty rows between the teen and his parents on the back row and the rest of the passengers.


Yep, my girl is a great traveler.

As some of you may know from reading my blog, I have a 14-year-old daughter with Down syndrome. I wrote a post about her on World Down Syndrome Day. I’ve also, incidentally, written about traveling with kids and how airlines have been making it more and more difficult. I am quite sure airlines would be very happy to only allow business travelers to fly with them. They’d make more money and have no delicate issues to deal with. But they still do allow everyone to travel, so for now they’re stuck with families and people with disabilities. SORRY, poor little airline businesses. Boo-hoo. So I know what it’s like to be a parent and have to fly with a posse of little ones. It can be tiring and annoying on the best of days and absolutely crazy-making on the worst. I have flown a number of times over the years with all my children, including my child with Down syndrome.

I have also been able to get to know lots of great families with children with Down’s over the years, and I know that parenting a child with DS can sometimes pose some extra challenges. But I have not found the kids I know with DS to generally have lots more behavioral issues than other kids. I know that mine doesn’t. She is extremely eager to help and listen to instructions, sometimes more so than her siblings, and is really well behaved. I’ve been blessed over these years of travel to have other passengers on airplanes gush over how well-behaved she and all my kids were (at the end of a flight).

So it just rankles me to hear that an airline and pilot had the nerve to discriminate against this young man. If people with Down’s really had a known history of having behavior problems, and if this young man had truly been extremely disruptive in the gate area, then maybe I could see their concern. But I know the first isn’t true, and it doesn’t sound as if the second is true.

Yep, if it were my daughter in this situation, I’d be out at my lawyer’s office at dawn the day we were back in town, chomping at the bit.

I hope this family does pursue the case, not to make money, but to raise awareness. I’m all about raising awareness about all kinds of things, and it’s just the principle of the thing. Someone who has a disability (and in this case, what I consider to be a fairly “minor” one) is and should always be protected under the law against this kind of knee-jerk reaction. From this mama bear to another, go out there and show ’em how great our DS kids can be!

Author: Cathy Carmode Lim

I'm a copy editor, writer, and book reviewer with three decades of experience. My book review website is I'm a mom of four and grandma of three.

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