Vanderhorsts continue with airline action
Family was bumped off flight in September
The Robert Vanderhorst family has filed a creditors claim against American Airlines, but they must wait to do so until the airline is out of federal bankruptcy court.
“American Airlines is still in bankruptcy. You can’t start a legal action against someone who is enjoined in bankruptcy court,” said Robert Vanderhorst, who is an attorney in Porterville. “I hope they come out of bankruptcy so we can sue them in state court.”
In September, the family of three was not allowed to board an American Airlines flight in Newark, N.J., bound for California due to his son’s appearance, Vanderhorst said. Bede, who was 16 at the time, has Down syndrome. The family had paid for seats in first class.
They were later booked on a United Airlines flight. However, the father claims they were relegated to a separate section at the back of the plane. With a team of lawyers, the family decided to pursue legal action.
In the past fourth months, according to Vanderhorst, American Airlines has refunded the entire cost of the family’s trip. The family wants to see a change in airline policies that deal with special-needs passengers.
Vanderhorst said he received a letter the National Down Syndrome Society sent to American Airlines that said they were disappointed with the treatment of the Vanderhorst family. The Down Syndrome Society also invited American Airlines to receiving training from the entity.
“The lesson that they and all airlines need to learn is how to accommodate people with special needs,” said Vanderhorst.
Vanderhorst “filed a formal complaint” with the Department of Transportation. DOT acknowledged Vanderhorst’s complaint and said it was investigating the incident. No timetable on when the DOT probe would be completed.
After the incident, the family received national and international attention and was slated to tape a segment for the “Dr. Oz Show,” however, that did not happen.
The incident so far has not affected Bede much.
“He’s still the same loveable kid,” said Robert.
Contact Emily Shapiro at 784-5000, ext. 1050, or on Twitter @ EmilyShapirogar.