Captain Cans Coughing Teen From 10-Hour Flight

You may want to bring a doctor's note next time you plan to fly somewhere but are feeling a bit under the weather.

A Continental Airlines pilot ordered a 16-year-old girl off a plane in New York Tuesday for coughing too much, a decision that infuriated parents eagerly awaiting her return thousands of miles away.

Rachel Collier's mother was waiting for her daughter to return home to Honolulu after a class trip to Washington, D.C., and New York when she got a call from one of the trip supervisors telling her that Rachel wouldn't be coming home just yet.

"She explained what was happening, and I thought it was an April Fool's joke because I couldn't imagine that happening," said Stephanie Collier, Rachel's mom.

But the airline wasn't kidding around and a spokesman Wednesday stuck by the captain's preogative to remove the girl, calling that authority the industry standard.

Rachel boarded the nonstop flight to Hawaii with 40 classmates and two teachers she was traveling with. Moments after Collier was seated, she began to cough uncontrollably -- suffering from a cold she caught from some of her friends earlier in the week.

After a few minutes, members of the flight staff asked the teen if she was OK.

"The flight crew was giving her the option of whether she wanted to stay or not," said Collier. "A doctor onboard even did a brief physical, said she sounded clear, to give her some NyQuil and she'd be fine, but the pilot didn't want to listen to that."

Instead, according to Collier, he stepped in and asked that she be taken off the flight.

"I can confirm that there was a passenger who was asked to deplane because she was very ill," said Julie King, a Continental Airlines spokeswoman. "As a precautionary measure for the passengers around her, she was asked to get off [the plane]."

A plane's captain has long had the authority to scrutinize a situation on the aircraft, even before Sept. 11, according to King.

"It's the sole discretion of the pilot to remove anyone from the flight," King said.

The airline echoed King in a statement released Wednesday.

"The captain is the ultimate authority in the plane and can remove passengers for the good of other passengers. In this instance, the captain felt he was acting in the best interests of the passenger and other passengers on the flight."

The circumstances surrounding the flight may have influenced the pilot's decision to remove Collier from the aircraft. The nonstop flight was 10 hours long, and five of those hours were over the open ocean. If the pilot was forced to land the plane for an ailing passenger, there would be nowhere to touch down in open water.

An incident earlier that day may have also affected the pilot's decision. Monday, 272 passengers aboard another Continental Airlines flight were detained after landing in Newark under suspicions of bird flu spreading among some of the passengers. The two events, however, are unrelated.

Despite the circumstances, Collier said that in her opinion, the pilot overreacted.

"I thought it was a little extreme, but I feel like the airlines are under so much scrutiny right now and people are being treated differently," she said. "I understand their concerns with passenger safety. I want them to have that authority, so it's a double-edged sword."

The Collier family met the other students at the airport Tuesday evening to gather their daughter's luggage and spoke with the pilot who'd had their daughter removed.

"The pilot said he's had a lot of situations where he didn't take action and regretted it later," said Collier. "There was a mistake made, but they're owning up to it and going above and beyond."

Rachel will arrive home Wednesday night, but Collier said she would know better next time.

"Rachel was afraid. She didn't think this was going to happen, so she didn't say anything," said Collier. "It's lessons learned, one more thing we needed to learn about how to further protect ourselves when flying."

ABC News' David Schoetz contributed to this report.

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