Girl with autism kicked off flight with family after misunderstanding; expert says incident is ‘frustrating’

Posted at 10:26 PM, May 11, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-12 00:26:39-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- An Oregon family is furious after they said their flight was diverted to Salt Lake City and they were kicked off because of a misunderstanding with their teenage daughter who has autism.

According to the child’s mother, all the girl wanted was a hot meal.  Once she got it, her mom said she calmed down.

Court Allred with the Autism Clinic at the University of Utah said that’s not uncommon.

When Allred heard about the incident on the plane with the girl his reaction was frustrating. "Really frustrating and sad too."

"It's not a battle to be won or fought over -- it's not an opportunity to teach them a lesson. It's they need that to calm down and they don't have the skills to calm down otherwise," he said.

Cheryl Smith knows that experience firsthand.  Her 16-year-old son, Carson, has autism.  On a flight home from Disneyland, he got upset.

"Last time we flew he cried big man tears on the way back because he couldn't find his brown suitcase," Smith said.

Carson didn’t understand that his suitcase was in the cargo hold.  Smith said some people were upset to see a man sobbing on their flight.  Her daughter explained to the other passengers that Carson had autism and was struggling.  Smith said people were compassionate and understanding.

It’s a shift Allred hopes to see whenever someone sees a child with autism that is being rigid, struggling with a change they didn’t expect.

"Just like we don't expect a blind person to be able to see, we need to start understanding that a person with autism cannot do that,” Allred said.

He’s disappointed by the airlines’ decision and an opportunity he said was lost.

"It would have been a great opportunity for people on the plane to see, ‘hey, look that's autism, it's not as scary as I thought,’" Allred said.

For families who plan to fly with a child with autism, there is a chance to practice.  The Autism Council of Utah has a program called Take Flight for Autism.

To learn more go to their website