American Airlines forces nonverbal teen to put away her only form of communication: her iPad

Carly Fleischmann, an autistic nonverbal teenager, was made to put away her iPad, her only form of communication, during an American Airlines flight, reports

Carly was diagnosed at the age of two with autism and an oral motor condition that prevented her from speaking. Doctors told Carly’s parents that she would never surpass the intellectual capacity of a small child. Now at age 17, Carly has proven these professionals wrong. After years of intensive therapy, Carly has figured out her own form of communication by typing on her computer and iPad. She’s now an author with over 42,000 Facebook fans and 26,000 Twitter followers. She has her own parenting advice website, and she is a passionate advocate for autism.

When boarding a recent American Airlines flight, Carly was told to put her iPad away, which has never happened to this frequent flyer before. Carly was distraught; she wrote the following on her Facebook page: “My iPad to me is like a voice. Can you imagine being on the airplane and being asked not to talk for over 25 minutes?” Carly then wrote an open letter to American Airlines, encouraging them to “move with the times” and understand that more autistic people are flying than ever before, and that the use of an iPad is not necessarily “just for fun.”

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently requires that passengers turn off electronic devices during take-off and landing. Last March, however, the FAA said it would re-evaluate its stance on e-readers and tablets, due to the fact that no testing has been done to approve the use of these devices. (Emphasis ours. —Ed.)

It is unsure whether electronic devices like cell phones and iPads really do interfere with airplane equipment and aviation radio frequencies. Many devices, however, can be switched to “Airplane Mode,” which disables their radio signal, therefore making them safer to use.

For children and adults with autism, like Carly, iPads have become increasingly important tools. As offers, not permitting Carly to have her iPad is like telling a person with hearing aids that they can’t have them, or telling a person with a service dog they can’t board the plane.

If an iPad can be switched to “Airplane Mode,” and assuming the iPad is someone’s only form of communication, is it still okay to insist that it be put away? Or, are airlines like American Airlines being overly cautious?


8 Comments on American Airlines forces nonverbal teen to put away her only form of communication: her iPad

  1. I feel bad for this teen, but if ipads and ereaders are dangerous to the take off and landing stages (i don’t believe that for a second) then they are dangerous no matter what the use.

    Perhaps this incident will speed up the FAA reconsideration.

  2. I know of no reason why passengers should be forced to turn off ereaders and tablets when the communication features are off. There is no danger to navigation. However if the rule is turn them off, then girl needs to comply; there are no exceptions for disabilities.

    As an aside, the rule is just not complete anyway. I wear an atomic watch that has a radio sync function to keep correct time. It only checks at 3:00am, but on a red eye flight it started syncing as the plane was descending to land. Obviously, we all crashed and burned to death when the navigation signals went haywire. Why are passengers not asked to remove or turn off atomic watches?

  3. They could have supplied her with pen and paper as an interim solution. Archaic, I know…. Not trying to minimize someone’s disability, but if she is using the iPad to communicate by writing notes, pen and paper would be a great solution. Not comparable to replacing a blind passanger’s service dog with a teddy bear!

    If she however used for speech recognition, that’s a different story.

    But, I also don’t really believe planes crash from small electronics being turned on. Hell, I ‘ve even forgotten cell phones on NON flight mode and only realized mid-flight, but nothing ever happened. Otherwise, it would be quite easy for terrorists to have planes fall from the skies: just leave your small electronics on!

  4. This sort of thing happens far too often. Both the FAA and the TSA need to get their act together and work out the aviation equivalent of disability parking. It can’t be that hard to:

    * Get medical documentation setup, including online registration, so people with artificial hips and other special medical conditions don’t face TSA hassles.

    * Make an exception for devices used by people such as Carly. Allow them to simply register what they’re running with the flight attendants. If there seems to be a problem, they can turn them off. It be a good way to test the gadgets in actual use and might motivate the FAA to quit delaying for the rest of us.

    Notice that apparently this was the first time American Airline flight attendants have asked for her to turn it off. AA flight attendants are apparently already bending this rule for special cases. That’s what happens when rules cease to make sense.

  5. Does anyone really think that all electronic devices are turned off on every flight? Of course they aren’t! Thousands of people just put them away without turning anything off. I’ve seen numerous people pull them right back out as soon as the flight attendant is seated.

    I’ve yet to see a report of a plane crashing or experiencing any issues because of electronic devices.

    If they really are a danger, then they wouldn’t be allowed on planes at all.

  6. Imho sometimes in life something can be both awful and overblown, mainly because the media only know outrage.

    It is awful that this happened. But on the other hand she only had to put it away for the take off and landing. It’s not like she was deprived of it for the whole flight. Her parents MUST have some kind of backup plan in case the iPad goes down ? battery runs out ? paper pad ?

    At the same time the air hostess was clearly lacking in any imagination or cop on in being so rigidly bureaucratic and officious about it all and could easily have found a better solution.

  7. Are you sure this story is recent?
    I seem to recall this one coming around a year, 18 months ago.

  8. @SirMarky: If an incident happened a year or so ago, stupidity is repeating itself. The present outrage took place on August 10, 2012. See ABC News report below. – David

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