The leading human rights organization for all individuals with Down syndrome.

National Down Syndrome Society
8 E 41st Street, 8th Floor
New York New York 10017
[email protected] 

Response to American Airlines

September 4, 2012

Mr. Thomas W. Horton
Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer
AMR Corp./American Airlines, Inc.
4333 Amon Carter Boulevard
Fort Worth, TX 76155

Dear Mr. Horton,

I am writing to you on behalf of the National Down Syndrome Society and our whole community to express our great disappointment and concern with a recent incident that took place at Newark Airport when the Vanderhorst Family of Los Angeles, CA tried to board an American Airlines flight.

In summary, according to, "Joan and Robert Vanderhorst were flying on American Airlines from Newark, New Jersey to Los Angeles on Sunday, September 2, 2012 with their 16-year-old son Bede. But they say that as they waited to board the flight, they were told that they weren't allowed on the plane. Bede -- who was labeled a flight risk -- can be seen in the video (that his mother took on her cell phone) sitting at the gate, quietly playing with his hat. The family has flown together dozens of times. The only thing different about this flight was that they had upgraded for the first time to first class."

It is clear that there is a lack of knowledge, understanding, and awareness of Down syndrome among the staff at American Airlines. I would like to extend an invitation to your senior management to meet with our Executive Vice President, Beth Finkelstein, Ed.M. Ms. Finkelstein is trained to facilitate an interactive, anti-bias training session that would prepare American Airlines staff to be sensitive and responsive to their customers with Down syndrome. Ultimately, the training would help American Airlines to provide the same level of customer service and consideration to individuals with Down syndrome and other developmental disabilities that is offered to all customers.

Down syndrome is caused by a third copy of chromosome 21. Individuals with Down syndrome and other intellectual disabilities work very hard to graduate from school, participate in sports, live independently and become valued members of their communities. More often than not, these individuals are underestimated their whole lives by people who focus on their disability, rather than their abilities, and who perpetuate outdated stereotypes.

We look forward to receiving your response,


Charles H. Gerhardt, III

Julie B. Cevallos
Vice President Marketing

National Down Syndrome Society
8 E 41st Street, New York, NY 10017

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