A family who had planned an idyllic overseas holiday, including a visit to Bali, say they were removed from a plane, and then refused from boarding a second one, due to their son's autism.

Hawaii couple Howard and Denise Greenberg and their two children boarded the China Eastern Airlines flight from Honolulu to Shanghai for the start of their trip on December 5.

One of their children, 16-year-old Joshua, has autism and doesn't speak, Honolulu's Star-Advertiser reported.

The family said Joshua "had been flying all his life without ever an incident" and had previously travelled with the family to faraway destinations such as Europe, Israel and Argentina.

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Just to be sure, the Greenbergs said they contacted China Eastern Airlines about Joshua and were assured there would be "no problem".

They told the Star-Advertiser when they got to their seats, Joshua flapped his hands and made light sounds as he first sat down – not unusual behaviour for a person with autism – but then settled into silence as he listened to music on his headphones.

But seemingly out of nowhere, the parents were approached by a flight attendant who said a passenger had reported feeling threatened by Joshua – and the family had to get off the plane.

"He was sitting there quietly with his earphones on," Denise Greenberg told the Star-Advertiser.

"I said, 'My son has autism, he's not a threat to anyone'."


Mr Greenberg, an autism advocate who is president of the Maui Autism Center, said he stood up and said his family would not get off the plane.

"I said, 'You're discriminating against my son for having autism'," he said.

"I told them he's nonviolent, he doesn't speak. Joshua has never harmed anything – he's like a little Zen monk.

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"An officer went to talk to the pilot, came back and said the pilot could kick us off for any reason, that's the law, and that the pilot was threatening to de-board the whole plane just to get us off."

The Greenbergs were flyin with China Eastern Airlines from Honolulu to Shanghai. Photo / Ethan Mcarthur, Unsplash
The Greenbergs were flyin with China Eastern Airlines from Honolulu to Shanghai. Photo / Ethan Mcarthur, Unsplash

After more than two hours of negotiating. the family was eventually allowed back on the plane, and the flight proceeded to Shanghai without incident.

But in Shanghai, as they went to board a connecting flight to Singapore, the Greenbergs said they were refused from boarding as their son was "sick".

After a stand-off between the Greenbergs and airline staff, they were finally allowed to board and made it to Singapore.

But they were so afraid of a repeat incident on the return trip, they booked the flight home with another airline.

News.com.au has contacted China Eastern Airlines about the incident. The Star-Advertiser reported it had not received a response from the carrier.

Mr Greenberg said he was now considering legal action against the airline. He said Joshua was usually a "truly joyous kid" but the distressing incident had sparked bouts of crying at night.

"Josh doesn't talk, but he's highly intelligent and understands everything that's said," Mr Greenberg said.

"He knew what happened, what everybody was saying about him."