Va. family says United Airlines discriminated against their son with Down Syndrome
Author: Debra Alfarone
Published: 9:58 AM EST November 22, 2017
Updated: 9:58 AM EST November 22, 2017
VIRGINIA 0 Articles

If you've ever sat in the exit row of a plane, you know the flight attendant will ask if you can open the hatch.

A Virginia family said they were shocked when a United Airlines employee took one look at their son, saw his disability, and never asked him about his ability.

On Oct.15, 2017, 25-year-old Sean Cross and his parents, Brenda and Patrick, were ready to take United flight 783 from Los Angeles International Airport to Washington Dulles International Airport.

They said the gate agent asked Sean if he was willing to assist in an emergency situation because the family was seated in an exit row. Sean says he replied "yes," then they boarded the plane and took their exit row seats.

That's when they said a flight attendant told them they had to move. Sean's mom Brenda said the attendant saw Sean, saw he had a disability, and assumed he couldn't perform the duties associated with sitting in an exit row.

"They never asked him, they never talked to him or even looked directly at him. they just said 'no.'"

"Even when we said 'you need to talk to Sean, ask him,' the lady refused," adds Sean's dad, Patrick.

Brenda said the attendant told them if they didn't move, they'd be removed from the plane.

NDSS_UnitedCross by WUSA9 TV on Scribd

Sean works full-time. He lives with friends. He is an eagle scout, an athlete, and a graduate of George Mason University. He also has Down Syndrome.

Brenda said she and her husband fought to have Sean attend regular classes in public school while growing up. She knows her son is confident.

"Sean never felt limits growing up. He felt like he could do anything," Brenda said.

Sean has been working at Cameron's Chocolates for two years.

The Fairfax chocolate shop employs about 20 workers with intellectual disabilities. The workers with disabilities work alongside workers without disabilities.

Ellen Graham and her husband Jim started the company. They named it after their daughter Cameron. She said the place is special.

"The reason why people come back here whether it's to buy our products or it's to work in our shop is because this is a different environment. It's so much fun. Our disabled workers aren't the only ones who benefit from being part of this community, everyone benefits. "

United Airlines told WUSA9, "We know that we could have done a better job handling this situation. We have spoken with and apologized to the Cross family."

Brenda Cross said she'd like to see United Airlines improve training for their employees and employ people with disabilities.

"What we really want to get out of this is a change in attitudes," she said.

"Nobody ever, regardless of anything, should be judged based upon their looks and deemed inadequate by anyone, without given the opportunity to show what they are and who they are and what they can do," Patrick Cross added.