Witness blames American Airlines for incident

June 26, 2008 9:00:00 PM PDT
In an exclusive interview, Eyewitness News talked to a passenger who witnessed an incident that ended in a mother and her autistic son being kicked off a flight.

By everyone's account, 2-year-old Jarret Farrell was screaming loudly aboard American Eagle flight 4644.

Jarret's mother said he had a "meltdown." American Airlines calls it a "raging fit."

One passenger described the event.

"The kid became very, very upset," Randy Cannoy said.

But what's in question is what caused the child's "meltdown."

American Airlines says the mother, Janice Farrell is at fault.

The passenger, Cannoy, who is a frequent flyer and New York resident, told Eyewitness News American is to blame.

"The situation was an everyday situation until the crew decided to take these steps which I feel were unnecessary," Cannoy said.

Friday American Airlines added to its statement that was released earlier this week. The airline say the mother was not complying with FAA regulation, and "the passenger refused to comply with our flight attendant's request to stow a carry-on bag properly.

That statement is what spurred Cannoy, who was sitting inches away from the Farrells, to contact Eyewitness News.

"That was completely untrue," Cannoy said.

Farrell says that's part of the problem. The flight attendant allowed her no access to Jarret's toys.

"She [the flight attendant] took my bag and put it up top," Farrell said.

According to Cannoy, the attendant made comments while sitting near him and indicated she made up her mind about Jarret before things escalated.

"She said that she knew a problem child, that she had been a school teacher for ten years and this was one," Cannoy said.

Friday American Airlines spokesperson Tim Wagner issued the following statement to Eyewitness News:

"American Eagle removed a passenger from a flight out of Raleigh-Durham Monday morning because the passenger refused to comply with our flight attendant's request to stow a carry-on bag properly. It is an FAA regulation that carry-on bags must either be stored in overhead bins or under the seat in front of a passenger. Because this passenger was seated in a "bulkhead" seat, there was no seat in front. An unsecured bag is a safety issue to our passengers and flight attendants during take off, landing, and in instances of turbulence.

"The passenger was also traveling with a small child, who was deplaned with the parent. The child had been crying and screaming uncontrollably, to the point where the child's wellbeing was in question. The parent of the child also refused to keep the child buckled in with the seatbelt ? another FAA requirement. Both situations contributed to an uncomfortable and potentially unsafe atmosphere for our passengers and crew. Our responsibility is to maintain the safety and comfort of all our passengers, therefore the captain taxied the airplane back to the gate before departure and the passengers were removed.

"Every effort was made by our flight crew to help the passenger comply with safety regulations. It was a last resort measure to deplane the passengers, but our crew can not, under any circumstances, allow violations of FAA regulations."

But Cannoy said another passenger helped Farrell calm her mildly autistic son, and he was buckled in and quiet before the plane returned to the gate.

"She was very compliant with whatever they wanted," Cannoy said. "And she was really just trying to handle this as graciously as she possible could. I think she was extremely humiliated, and unnecessarily so."

Cannoy said the humiliation was the direct result of the pilot making an announcement to explain to the passengers in the back of the plane that they were returning to the gate because a mother could not control her child.

"The fact that he had to come on and announce that to the entire plane sort of highlights the fact that it was really a smaller event going on in the first row or two," Cannoy explained.

Farrell told Eyewitness News that she and Jarret were actually on an American Eagle flight the night before and that flight was canceled after they had sat on the taxiway a long time.

She also said the flight attendant on that plane was friendly and allowed her some latitude with Jarret and her carry-on. She said despite the lengthy wait, there was never a problem on that flight.


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