A Texas woman claims that she was removed from a recent Southwest Airlines flight because her 3-year-old son with autism wouldn't wear a face mask. Despite having a doctor's note explaining the boy's condition, the airline booted the family off the plane for violating the company's strict coronavirus face mask policy.
"He was screaming. He was throwing a fit. He was screaming, 'No, no, no,'" Alyssa Sadler told KPRC-TV about her son's refusal to wear a face mask during a flight from Midland, Texas, to Houston. "It was just not a good morning."
A flight crew member informed Sadler that the plane would not depart until her son wore a face mask.
"The mask is not going to work," Alyssa said. "He's not going to wear the mask."
Sadler notified the crew member that her 3-year-old son has a sensory processing disorder and doesn't like his face touched. She presented a note from the boy's doctor that documented his condition, but that wasn't enough.
"They're trying to talk to him, tell him, 'You have to wear it. It's not an option,' and I'm trying to explain to them, you know, he doesn't understand what you're saying," Sadler explained.
After the boy refused to wear a face covering, the captain returned the plane to its gate. Sadler, her son, and her 1-year-old daughter were kicked off the flight. Sadler and her children flew to Midland to visit her husband, who is working a temporary job.
Sadler was wearing a mask and said she wears a face covering "everywhere" she goes. However, she believes there should be certain exceptions for people with disabilities.
"I think there needs to be something in place for children or even adults with disabilities who can't wear a mask. They should have some kind of exemption," she said. "I mean, no 3-year-old, who is autistic and has sensory processing disorder, is going to put anything on their face."
"We communicate this policy to all customers at multiple touchpoints throughout the travel journey, so we regret any inconvenience this family experienced," Southwest spokesperson Dan Landson told USA Today. "If a customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason, Southwest regrets that we are unable to transport the individual."
Southwest Airlines said the family received a full refund. A family member will pick up the Sadler and her children on Thursday to drive them back to Houston.
In June, Airlines for America, an industry trade organization representing the leading U.S. airlines, announced that its member carriers would be "vigorously enforcing face covering policies." The airlines include Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Hawaiian Airlines, JetBlue Airways, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines.
"Each carrier will determine the appropriate consequences for passengers who are found to be in noncompliance of the airline's face covering policy up to and including suspension of flying privileges on that airline," the Airlines for America statement said.
On July 27, Southwest Airlines updated its COVID-19 mask policy to state that all passengers over 2 years old must wear face masks while flying. The airline also eliminated a prior face covering exception for flyers with medical or disability conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask.
"Effective July 27, due to the safety risk of COVID-19 transmission by individuals not wearing a face covering, Southwest will require that all Southwest Customers wear a face covering or mask over their nose and mouth, and there will be no exemptions to our face covering requirement, except for children under the age of two," the airline declared in a news release. "If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering or mask for any reason, Southwest regrets that we will be unable to transport the individual."