United Airlines crew allegedly decided with one look that George Mason LIFE grad and Eagle Scout, Sean Cross, was not able to sit in an exit row seat on a recent flight. That’s because the 25-year-old has Down syndrome.
Instead of presuming competence, or at least asking Cross if he was willing to assist in an evacuation, the flight attendant refused to talk or even look at the paying passenger.
As relayed by Sean’s mother, Brenda Cross, a flight attendant demanded that the Cross family give up their seats immediately, without explanation. When Sean’s father, Patrick, asked why, they were told “He can’t sit in the exit row.” When the flight attendant was asked to speak directly to Sean, the flight attendant would not look at or speak to Sean. Subsequently, the Cross family were told they would be removed from the plane if they did not move immediately. This was done loudly and very publicly, in contradiction to United’s policy to speak quietly to passengers asked to move. The result was other passengers yelling at the family.
Read Related Post Here: How Loving Someone With a Visible Disability Forces You to Stand Out
“They loudly announced that we had to change seats or be forcibly removed. When we asked them to talk to Sean they walked away. They then announced over the speaker that there would be a flight delay. Other passengers became irate and yelled “just move”. We moved. The pilot then got on the speaker to tell everyone to thank the volunteers who gave up their seats for us, to which people applauded, as if we were the cause of the problem. It was humiliating. It was discriminatory. This is a clear case of ableism on United’s part,” describes Brenda Cross, Sean’s mother.
What’s United Airlines’ policy on sitting in an exit row?
“The government requires any passengers seated in an exit row to be 15 years of age or older, be willing to assist in an evacuation and have no limitations that would prohibit their assistance. Before allowing passengers to travel in exit row seats, United must determine if they are able to take all required actions in the event of an emergency.”
There are 2 separate times when the airline is supposed to ask about exit row. First, as you scan your boarding pass at the gate. They did ask Sean there and he responded “yes”. They are supposed to ask again at the seats, which they never did. That’s when the Cross family were told to leave.
According to the Cross family, the flight crew at no time inquire as to whether or not Sean was capable of providing assistance to others in an evacuation. He was demanded to move simply based on the way he looks.
If they would have asked Sean they might have learned that he if fully capable: an Eagle Scout, George Mason LIFE graduate, employee who lives independently. Even if they didn’t think he was capable after speaking to him, at least they wouldn’t have assumed incompetence based solely on a visible disability.
The flight attendant that initiated the action later told United Airlines Representatives later that she based the decision on “previous interactions with a person with Down syndrome and it had nothing to do with Sean.”
Read Related Post Here: Ending Organ Transplantation Discrimination
The National Down Syndrome Congress has issued a letter to United Airlines CEO, Oscar Munoz, demanding an apology for the family and something even more impactful:
“We believe that United should review its diversity sensitivity training and, when re-tooled, send this flight crew. We would like to know what steps United will take to ensure that no other person with a disability is treated in this manner,” wrote NDSC Executive Director David Tolleson.
Here’s my call to action:
Tweet: @United ableism is not acceptable. Apologize to Sean Cross #UnacceptableUnitedAirlines #ShameOnYouUnited.