A Rockwall family is upset with American Airlines after they say they were all kicked off a flight when one of their sons, who is autistic, began having a meltdown while boarding.
Adam and Heather Halkuff have five boys under the age of 16. Preparing for a family vacation can be hectic, and because their two youngest sons have autism they took planning for their vacation a step further.
“I first contacted American Airlines and I asked them if there were any programs or anything they can do for us because we’d be traveling with five boys, two that had autism,” Adam Halkuff said.
On Sept. 24, more than a week before their trip, 5-year-old Milo and 2-year-old Ollie went through a mock scenario at the airport, practicing the process of going through security and boarding a plane.
The practice session was done so that when the day came to begin their vacation, boarding would be familiar and would, hopefully, go off without a hitch. However, what happened next didn’t go as planned.
During boarding, the Halkuffs said, Milo had a meltdown right before getting on the plane.
A "meltdown" is generally regarded as an intense response to a situation a person finds overwhelming. During a meltdown, the person may find it hard to reason and redirection is often difficult or impossible. The disruptive state can begin with agitation and escalate to include screaming, crying and hitting.
"All the passengers are walking by. They're very kind, they're like, 'You got this mom. Do you need any help?'" Heather Halkuff explained.
But she said a ticket agent for American Airlines wasn't nearly as understanding.
“Right away she goes, 'He can't get on the flight ... he's going to bother the other passengers and then he'll still be upset during the flight and we'll have to turn around and escort you off the plane,'" Heather recalled.
The Halkuffs said they offered to split up. Adam would go back home with Milo. Heather would fly to Kansas City with the older kids.
But that offer was rejected. The entire family was brought back into the terminal, they said.
"I’m thinking now that my older boys," Heather said tearing up, "I don't want them to resent Milo, ever, that we can't do stuff."
Now, instead of a vacation to visit family, the Halkuffs are back home making the best of the situation and wondering what could have happened if Milo had been given a chance.
“Don’t say, ‘Oh, look at that autistic kid crying. He’s going to ruin this whole flight. Let’s not even let him on,’” she said.
American Airlines contacted the family Thursday and said it is looking into their case.
In a statement, a spokesperson wrote:
“We are concerned to hear about this situation. Our team has reached out to the Halkuff family to gather more information about what transpired at Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW). The American Airlines team is committed to providing a safe and pleasant travel experience for all of our customers.
When it comes to autism, American is a strong advocate for children. Our team members work closely with various nonprofit groups to alleviate the stress these children and their families may experience while flying, including offering families the opportunity to take a test fight on the ground. This process — which includes role playing and realistic airport interactions — helps children grow accustomed to the experience of flight.”
Over the summer, American Airlines received a top score on their disability inclusion programs from the American Association of People with Disabilities.