Airline crew accused of refusing to accommodate traveler with autism to undergo 'additional training'

SkyWest Airlines said the family did not notify the airline in advance that it would be traveling with a passenger with autism.
Denver International Airport
Passengers board a SkyWest Airlines Bombardier CRJ-100 passenger plane at Denver International Airport on Sept. 7, 2016.Robert Alexander / Getty Images

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By Janelle Griffith

SkyWest Airlines said it will require a crew to undergo "additional training" after concluding its investigation into a man's claim the crew members refused to allow his brother with autism to sit near a family member on a recent flight and walked off the plane.

All 75 passengers aboard SkyWest Flight 3596 from Detroit to Houston were forced to exit the aircraft last Friday and board another flight three hours later with a new crew as a result of an issue with seat assignments. The original crew, including the pilots, were grounded while the airline conducted its investigation.

A spokeswoman for SkyWest Airlines, which is a connection carrier for Delta and other major airlines, told NBC News on Thursday that the crew members will be required to undergo "additional training," before flying again.

"We take these concerns very seriously and we will utilize this experience to enhance our current training for all customer-facing employees and ensure we continue making travel easier and more enjoyable for all of our diverse passengers," the spokeswoman said, adding that she could not corroborate the family's account of events.

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Ayomide Isola, 23, a graduate student at the University of Houston, who was traveling with his mother, sister and 21-year-old brother, Tayo, who is nonverbal and unable to express himself, said he believed he and his family had been discriminated against by the crew.

Ayo Isola, right, with his brother Tayo.Courtesy Ayo Isola

In a lengthy Facebook post that went viral, Isola said his brother “suffers from OCD, sensory overload and many other symptoms that can make air travel particularly difficult for him.”

Isola claimed that when he and his family arrived at the gate, they learned they were all sitting apart and did not have enough time to request that their seats be changed.

Once they boarded the plane, Isola said a passenger seated a row apart from his brother offered to switch seats with his sister so that she could be near Tayo during the more than two-hour flight. Once they switched, a flight attendant reprimanded the family and ordered Tayo to return to his original seat, Isola said, but his brother could not oblige because he does not respond to verbal cues.

The family tried to explain their situation to the flight attendant and later spoke with a pilot who she allegedly looped into the dispute before the entire crew exited the aircraft, forcing all 75 passengers to do the same, Isola said.

SkyWest Airlines said it was not notified in advance by the Isola family that Tayo has autism. Isola said they were among the last people to board the flight because a U.S. Customs and Border Protection computer outage caused hours-long delays at airports last Friday.

A spokeswoman for Delta Airlines told NBC News on Thursday that it had "reached out to the Isola family, apologized for their experience and resolved the matter." Delta also offered to refund the flight costs for the entire family.

Isola said Friday that since his post went viral, he spoke to a representative from Delta but has not been contacted by SkyWest. He maintains his belief that the flight crew should be required to undergo sensitivity training if they are going to continue flying.

"I feel that the staff needs to be thoroughly evaluated to determine if they should continue to work flight in the future," he said.