Loganville family with disabled son denied boarding on Alaska Airlines flight

“The [pilot] said, ‘If he’s this bad on the ground, he’s going to be 10 times worse in the air,”
Published: Jul. 25, 2022 at 6:30 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 25, 2022 at 6:40 PM EDT
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LOGANVILLE, Ga. (CBS46) - A Loganville family claims their son was discriminated against while trying to board an Alaska Airlines flight over the weekend.

Tamara and Jeff Miller should be enjoying a week-long Alaskan cruise right now with their 11-year-old son Gabe. However, the family said they weren’t allowed to board their Alaska Airlines flight on Saturday from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International, seemingly because of Gabe’s disability.

“I’ve always worried that Gabe would face discrimination some time in his life, but I didn’t think it was going to be this bad, this in our face,” said Tamara with tears in her eyes.

Gabe was born with a rare genetic disorder, limiting his speech and intellectual abilities. He was also diagnosed with autism last year. Gabe’s flown with his parents in the past. They said he loves it.

“Any modes of transportation, whether he’s in the car, riding the bus to school,” Tamara explained. “We’ve gone on trains. He loves that feeling of being in motion and that’s when he’s his happiest.”

The Millers said their son was excited about getting on the plane and was vocalizing quite loudly as they waited to board. Once past the gate agent and down the tunnel, the family was made to wait at the door of the plane as other passengers boarded. What happened next made them speechless.

“The supervisor said the [pilot] said, ‘If he’s this bad on the ground, he’s going to be 10 times worse in the air,’” Jeff recalled.

The Millers said the captain nor the flight crew ever asked them why Gabe was making noises. Instead, they were not allowed to board the flight.

“Nobody ever came to talk to us, to ask us how we interpret what he is doing,” Jeff said. “He made an assumption, and he was absolutely wrong.”

Alaska Airlines offered the family 100,000 bonus miles and told the family an internal review was underway. The family said they likely won’t do business with the airline again, but they still believe something needs to change.

“We don’t want anyone to lose their jobs over this, no,” said Tamara. “It’s a lack of understanding of how to deal with certain people with certain disabilities. Something needs to change in their training, in their communication to their employees on how to handle and accommodate people with disabilities.”

Alaska Airlines sent the following statement to CBS46:

“We’re investigating an incident involving the denied boarding of one of our guests. We feel terrible about this family’s experience and are working directly with them to fully understand what happened and take care of their travel needs. We’ll also evaluate the situation and assess our training programs to ensure that this does not occur again. We are committed to disability inclusion, and as a longtime supporter of many disability-focused organizations, including Wings for Autism, we understand the unique needs of travelers with cognitive and developmental disabilities and are committed to caring for them on their journey.”

Following our report, Tamara said Alaska Airlines reached out to them and plans to reimburse their trip, including the cruise. She also said the airline wants to fly the family to Seattle to meet with stakeholders to better their training and procedures.