Southwest Airlines kicks family off flight because autistic toddler son won’t wear a mask

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Attendants aboard a Southwest Airlines flight booted a Texas mother and two sons off a plane last week after one of them who suffers from autism refused to wear a mask.

Alyssa Sadler of Houston said she and her kids were returning from Midland, Texas, where they had spent a week visiting with family when the incident occurred. She added that on the trip to Midland, she and her sons flew Southwest without any problems.

But when her three-year-old son who suffers from autism wouldn’t wear a mask on the return flight, attendants on board the aircraft had an issue with it.

“We’re getting close to the runway,” she explained. “They’re going over the security safety features and all that, and the flight attendant walks by and tells me that he has to put a mask on. So, I try to put the mask on him. He is three and has autism and sensory processing disorders, so he wouldn’t keep the mask on.”

“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,” she said, adding that he “doesn’t like things touching his face,” the New York Post reported.

At that, the captain decided to return to the gate.

“So the captain went back to the front, then he went over the loudspeaker and said that he had a non-compliant passenger that refused to wear a mask and follow the policies so they were heading back to the gate,” Sadler said, according to ABC 13.

“We had to head back to the gate. They have an escort take us back to the plane to get all of our luggage off the plane, and then they proceeded to write up my 3-year-old for noncompliance to their policy,” she added.

Southwest and American Airlines changed their mask policies in July to require everyone aboard flights to wear a mask with the exception of children under two years of age.

Sadler said she wasn’t aware of the rule change and again noted that last week, the family flew to Midland without her son wearing a mask and had no issues with the crew.

“I agree with the mask policy. I wear my mask everywhere I go. It’s not an issue, but you’ve got to have some kind of exemption, especially for people with disabilities, [and] kids with disabilities,” she told the station.

“I mean, no 3-year-old, who is autistic and has sensory processing disorder, is going to put anything on their face. He’s supposed to wear glasses. I can’t even get him to wear his glasses to help him see,” she added.

“He just doesn’t understand. He doesn’t like things touching his face, so he’s not going to put a mask on.”

In a statement, Southwest officials said the airline makes their mask policy very clear to passengers prior to boarding flights.

“Southwest Airlines requires all Customers over the age of two to wear a face covering or mask while traveling to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” the statement said, according to ABC 13.

“We communicate this policy to all Customers at multiple touchpoints throughout the travel journey, so we regret any inconvenience this family experienced,” the airline continued.

“If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason, Southwest regrets that we are unable to transport the individual. In those cases, we will issue a full refund and hope to welcome the Customers onboard in the future, if public health guidance regarding face coverings changes,” the statement said.

Jon Dougherty

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