Merseyside teen with Tourettes told he couldn’t board EasyJet flight

The captain of the aeroplane told the family they were a ‘security risk’.

A local teenager’s 18th birthday was ‘ruined’ when the captain of an easyJet flight told him he couldn’t board the plane, due to his Tourettes.

Last Friday, Josh Dooley was travelling with his mother, father and sister, from Liverpool John Lennon Airport to Amsterdam, to celebrate turning 18.

His mother, Jo Dooley, contacted easyJet two weeks in advance, to request special assistance and make them aware of Josh’s Tourettes ahead of the flight - despite having no obligation to do so. She hoped that doing so would ensure a smooth experience for Josh, who has a fear of airports.

Despite ‘extremely helpful’ employees at the airport’s special assistance desk, Jo told LiverpoolWorld that Josh faced discrimination when boarding.

‘Security risk’

She said: “There was a delay and we could see people talking in the cabin. The lady from the gate asked us to move to one side onto the tarmac as the captain wanted to speak to us.

“We saw the captain and a couple of staff members with the lady from the gate coming from the plane. The captain asked if Josh had Tourettes. I said yes. He said that he had been told that Josh could shout ‘bomb’ or ‘I’ve got a bomb’ and if so we wouldn’t be able to board the plane as he may scare other passengers and he couldn’t have that on his plane as we were a security risk.”

Ms Dooley explained that Josh has Coprolalia, which affects one in ten people with Tourettes, and can cause the shouting of such words. However, Josh was more likely to say inappropriate things to staff.

Special Assistance gave Josh a sunflower lanyard, designed to make staff aware of hidden disabilities. Image: Jo Dooley

Jo said the captain repeated that if there was any danger of him shouting ‘bomb’ then the family couldn’t board, forcing her to downplay his condition. Eventually, the captain went to speak to his staff.

Jo said: “By this point the other passengers were boarding and were watching the action. I told the staff that Tourette’s Syndrome is a protected condition under the 2010 Equalities Act, that they were breaking the law by not allowing us to board and that I would take legal action against them if they didn’t.

“About five minutes later the captain put the thumbs up out of the front of the plane and we were allowed to board. We were accompanied by a staff member who kept on saying, ‘So his Tourette’s is only mild then?’ I did not engage in the conversation. By this time there were a lot of people around.”

Josh dislikes large crowds and Jo said the situation was exactly what she had been trying to avoid.

Whilst boarding, the captain told Jo that there had been a miscommunication from Special Assistance, and she and her family boarded the now significantly delayed flight. She added that a fellow passenger was appalled that they almost were not allowed to board.

A staff member then asked Jo if she and her family would like to move from their seats, to the back of the plane - which she declined.

In-flight apology attempt

Jo and her family were then offered drinks, as way of an apology. She said: “Later in the flight the cabin crew came to serve drinks. We said that we didn’t want anything. The staff member asked if we were sure so I said that I would have a can of diet coke. He then gave us the can and said that it was an apology from the captain.”

At the end of the flight, Jo waited for all the other passengers to disembark and told the crew that what they had done was an example of discrimination. However, she said they apologised for the miscommunication between themselves and special assistance, rather than the discrimination itself.

Jo and her husband, Richard. Image: Jo Dooley

She added: “They asked for our flight home. One crew member, a gentIeman, was lovely and said that it wouldn’t happen on the flight home. I told the crew that I had informed the CEO of Tourettes Action who basically worked tirelessly on our behalf over the weekend. Emma McNally messaged me on the Sunday to say that somebody would apologise at the airport on the way home.

“On the way home nobody apologised to us. We deliberately didn’t inform anyone at Special Assistance for fear of a repeat so we just kept our heads down. Josh’s physical tics were bad but he managed to suppress his vocal tics for the flight which is not great for him to be honest.”

‘This is about discrimination’

EasyJet offered £100 vouchers as an apology but Jo refused the vouchers and said that her family would not use easyJet again without proof that their practices had changed significantly.

Jo said: “This is about discrimination. We have flown with other airlines who have just put an announcement over the tannoy to inform passengers. It doesn’t matter whether people with Tourette’s Syndrome shout ‘Bomb,’ or ‘Tomato’ - it’s part of the condition.

“We just don’t want others to go through what we did. I also think that the whole public aspect of it made it worse. Why on the tarmac in the freezing cold? Do airports not have offices?

“It is the responsibility of easyJet to educate it’s staff so I hope that they take up Tourettes Action’s offer of support. Tourettes is a disability. Hopefully this will make things better for others, even if it did ruin Josh’s 18th.”

Jo had hoped the trip would help Josh with his fear of airports. Image: Jo Dooley

What is Tourette’s Syndrome

Tourette’s Syndrome is a condition that affects the brain and nerves, which leads sufferers to make involuntary sounds or movements, called tics. Around one in ten people with Tourette’s also have Corprolalia, which involves involuntary outbursts or utterances of obscenities, and is often socially stigmatised.

Tics are completely out of a sufferer’s control, and are often heightened by anxiety, excitement or overwhelming situations. The lack of understanding from staff members, as well as the conversation being done in public, would have made the flight far more challenging for Josh.

A response from easyJet

A spokesperson for easyJet said: “It is incredibly important to easyJet that our customers feel supported when they fly with us and we are very sorry that this was not the Dooley family’s experience. We have been in touch with them to apologise and understand more about their experience as we always want the highest levels of care to be shown to all our customers.

“We are also meeting with Tourettes Action to explore how we and our partners can apply any learnings.”

Emma McNally from Tourettes Action will be meeting with easyJet’s inclusion team on Thursday.