A Hamilton mother says she’s still in shock after she and her 21-year-old son with disabilities were booted off a Swoop flight on Friday because on-board staff claimed her son was too “violent.”
“He’s 21 but he’s mentally like a small child,” said Nicco Iavarone’s mother, Andrea Iavarone.
“So if a small child were on an airplane and had a little temper tantrum and hit and pulled their mother’s hair, would they kick that mother off the airplane? Because it was exactly like that.”
Andrea said Nicco is autistic and has a rare disorder called chromosome 12Q deletion.
The mother-son duo and one of Andrea’s friends were on a morning flight on Nov. 1 from Hamilton to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
Andrea said she had booked a hotel room for that night in the Sunshine State, so she was eager to make it there that same day.
She told Global News that Swoop staff were aware that Nicco was special needs because they let them pre-board under those circumstances.
Andrea said Nicco had taken the window seat, she took the middle seat and her friend settled into the aisle seat — before the flight took off.
That’s when Nicco started acting out, Andrea said, hitting and pulling her hair, while yelling.
“He’s special needs. He’s non-verbal, so he doesn’t really have a way to voice what frustrates him — so sometimes you get moments of agitation where he gets a little bit frustrated,” said Andrea.
She said she and Nicco have flown dozens of times, including with Swoop, and staff are usually very accommodating to the outbursts that sometimes take place.
“Sometimes my son hits himself on the head, but he’s not like that continuously,” she said.
One of the flight attendants saw the outburst, she said, and went to speak to another attendant.
The two staff members then approached her and told her that “Nicco’s not going to be flying with them today,” Andrea continued.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?'”
“They said, ‘He’s violent’ and ‘We’re worried for the safety of our passengers.’ I said, ‘How can you be that worried about the safety of other passengers?'” added Iavarone, who said she was in disbelief.
She said she tried to explain to the staff that the unruly behaviour was temporary, that he would only harm her and was not a threat to anyone around them.
She said she asked to speak to a supervisor to which the attendant replied, “Not, it’s already been decided.”
Andrea said they were then handed their luggage and were escorted off the plane, where she was only then able to speak to someone she was told was a manager.
She said they were only offered a Swoop credit for her flight but not for the cost of Nicco’s ticket.
She said she refused the offer and demanded a full refund and a flight that same day to Florida. However, she said her request was denied.
In a statement to Global News, Swoop said it “… Is entrusted to ensure the safety and security of all its travellers and employees, and has established policies to meet this obligation.”
Global News followed up with multiple questions regarding the circumstances around the incident and asked for more details regarding Swoop’s policy on traveller safety, but did not receive a response from the airline company.
“At best, from the airlines, this was a misunderstanding. At worst, this was a discrimination of a person with disabilities,” said Gabor Lukacs with Air Passenger Rights.
“The least they should’ve done once it was clear that this is not an unruly passenger but someone with mental disabilities, is make it as good as possible by putting them on the next available flight on whatever airline is available,” he added.
Andrea said she posted her story to social media with a video of Nicco at the airport. The post has since been viewed thousands of times.
She added that Swoop has now refunded both tickets, but she’s hoping the airline company will also be able to pay for the last minute tickets she had to book with Air Canada at an exorbitant cost.
Andrea said she also hopes that this sparks change within the airline industry.
“He’s special needs. He doesn’t have a voice so I need to speak up and make people aware how they’re being treated,” she said. “Instead of making accommodations or trying to find ways to try and make the flight easier, they’re just deciding that they would rather not deal with him and have him off the plane.”
“They made a very snap decision which I feel was unfair,” she continued.