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British Airways apologizes for turning away girl with Down syndrome

British Airways has apologized for refusing to issue a plane ticket to a girl who has Down syndrome.

Alice Saunders, 12, had planned to fly from London's Gatwick Airport to Glasgow, Scotland, to visit her aunt, the Daily Mail reports. Her mother, Heather Saunders, 49, called the airline to book a ticket and told the agent that her daughter has Down syndrome but is very independent and that she wanted her to travel as an unaccompanied minor.

Sauders said she was told by the customer service agent that "we don't take children with Down syndrome." When Saunders asked why, the agent responded: "Because we've had problems in the past."

Alice lives with her parents and three siblings in Littlehampton, West Sussex, and attends a mainstream school, reads at grade level and regularly travels with her church group.

Her mother told the newspaper that "I was very cross after speaking with British Airways.

"This is 2011. Most of the world has moved on in terms of their treatment of people with learning disabilities. People with Down syndrome go to mainstream school, college, they live independently, they hold down jobs, but, it would seem, cannot travel independently with British Airways."

A British Airways spokesperson on Thursday told msnbc.com that "we apologize unreservedly for the upset caused to Mrs. Saunders and her daughter.  Our customer service agent made a mistake and we will ensure the matter is addressed."

It is not British Airways policy to deny travel to unaccompanied minors with Down syndrome, said an airline spokesperson. British Airways has announced a companywide disability awareness program and plans additional training for all customer service agents.

"We will be happy to accept Mrs. Saunders' daughter as an unaccompanied minor," the airline said in a statement. "We have offered Mrs. Saunders two return flight tickets in recognition of the distress caused."

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Joy Jernigan is a senior travel editor for msnbc.com. Follow her on Twitter @JoyJernigan.