ASAN Calls For Autism Air Carrier Guidance From Department Of Transportation

A pen and paper

(Letter to Secretary Foxx, PDF)


20 May 2015

Media Contact:

Samantha Crane, Esq.
Legal Director & Director of Public Policy
Autistic Self Advocacy Network
(202) 509-0135

WASHINGTON – In the wake of a recent case of apparent discrimination against an autistic airline passenger, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), the nation’s leading advocacy organization run by and for Autistic Americans, urges the Department of Transportation to issue guidance clarifying and reinforcing the Air Carrier Access Act’s legal protections for autistic passengers.

Last week, 15-year-old Juliette Beegle, who is autistic, was forced off of a United Airlines flight after requesting an accommodation. Donna had asked a flight attendant if it would be possible to provide a hot meal to her daughter, who could not eat food served cold due to sensory issues associated with autism. Despite disclosing disability status as the basis for the request, the flight attendant initially refused. After Juliette finally received a hot meal, the pilot announced an emergency landing because of a “behavioral issue,” and Juliette and her family were removed. Juliette’s removal was based apparently on her disability, not on any actual threat she posed to passengers.

The discrimination that occurred in Juliette’s case is not unique. Autistic individuals and their families frequently face barriers to accessing air travel, either because of unfair assumptions about their ability to fly safely or because their requests for seating, pre-boarding, security screening, or other accommodations are not respected.

“When injustice happens, we cannot be silent or discrimination continues,” said Donna Beegle, Juliette’s mother. “The crew needed training and guidelines for how to accommodate special needs that may not be visible.”

ASAN has sent a letter to the Department of Transportation requesting clarification that autism qualifies as a disability under the Air Carrier Access Act, providing examples of reasonable modifications to policies and procedures that the ACAA may require air carriers to provide to autistic individuals.

“The ACAA was meant to cover all people with disabilities,” said Samantha Crane, Legal Director and Director of Public Policy at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing many situations in which airline staff either don’t understand or don’t follow the law.”

Leadership from the DOT is necessary to ensure that all carriers institute policies respecting the legally protected right to reasonable accommodations for all people with disabilities, and to prevent situations like Juliette’s from happening again. Because autistic people may have access needs that are not readily determinable, it is critical for airline employees to have a basic understanding of their legal obligations in meeting the needs of passengers with hidden or non-apparent disabilities. All passengers with disabilities must be able to receive any reasonable accommodations while flying without fear of retaliation or removal.

“Autistic Americans deserve to have their rights respected and needs accommodated when it comes to air travel,” said Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, “We call upon the Department of Transportation to issue clear guidance to address the reprehensible gap in access that infringes upon our rights to make full use of America’s airways.”

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is the leading disability rights organization led by and for autistic people. Founded in 2006, ASAN has chapters across the country and works to increase the representation of Autistic people in policymaking and public conversations around autism and developmental disability.