The unfriendly skiesThe unfriendly skies

Swissair flight boots Israeli family over autistic child’s cries

After getting kicked off plane over 8-year-old Yaheli’s weeping, Zalmanovich family discovers return tickets also canceled

A Swissair Boeing 777. (Screen capture/Swissair website)
A Swissair Boeing 777. (Screen capture/Swissair website)

On a flight to Switzerland, an Israeli family found themselves kicked off their connecting flight with their return tickets canceled and no refund forthcoming — all because their autistic son cried uncontrollably on the plane.

The Zalmanovich family lives in Hod Hasharon, and flew last week to Zurich, Switzerland to see family. But on a connecting flight in Geneva, their eight-year-old son Yaheli began to cry, and as often happens with autistic children, could not be consoled, according to a report in the Hebrew daily Israel Hayom.

“He threw up on himself, but no one from the flight crew asked us if we needed anything or if they could help or what could calm the child,” the paper quoted Noa Zalmanovich, Yaheli’s mother, as saying. “They were busy apologizing to the other passengers for the inconvenience and shortly thereafter informed us that we had to disembark from the plane.”

The family was “left with our luggage, shocked and humiliated. It was 10 p.m. and luckily we were able to catch the last train to Geneva.”

The airline’s behavior was “shameful,” said Noa. “In an age when one in every 68 children is diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, I would expect a slightly more understanding response from a company that calls itself a luxury airline.”

It got worse.

When it kicked them off the flight, the airline staff failed to notify the Zalmanovich family that this counted as though they had not showed up for the connecting flight, and so their return tickets to Israel were canceled as well. Swissair agreed to restore their return tickets in exchange for some $2,000.

Swiss International Airlines told Israel Hayom in response that “we deeply apologize for the ordeal that this family was put through. This kind of conduct is not characteristic of this company and does not coincide with our policy; on the contrary. Swiss is involved in the community, quietly makes donations and even recently flew a group of dozens of sick children to Switzerland. We want to stress that the incident is under strict scrutiny and we will make sure that the family is compensated.”

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