A three-year-old with autism wouldn't wear a face mask — so Southwest wouldn't let his family fly

dslotnick@businessinsider.com (David Slotnick)
·2 mins read
Southwest requires all passengers over age two to wear masks or face coverings on board — and doesn't make medical exemptions.
Southwest requires all passengers over age two to wear masks or face coverings on board — and doesn't make medical exemptions.

REUTERS/Mike Blake

A family in Houston said they were kicked off of a Southwest Airlines flight after a three-year-old boy with autism wouldn't wear a face mask.

The incident, first reported by KPRC Channel 2 in Houston, happened on Monday morning.

Alyssa Sadler told the station she was headed home from Midland, Texas, with her son and one-year-old daughter. 

The flight had pushed back from the gate, but Sadler's son, who she said has a sensory processing disorder and does not like people or things touching his face, would not wear a mask.

"He was screaming. He was throwing a fit. He was screaming 'No, no, no,'" Sadler told KPRC. "It was just not a good morning."

Eventually, the plane returned to the gate, and Sadler and her children got off.

Southwest requires all passengers over age two to wear masks or face coverings on board due to the coronavirus pandemic. The airline, like American and Alaska, no longer allows exceptions, after various incidents in which people allegedly claimed illegitimate medical exemptions. (Delta requires any passengers claiming an exemption to consult with a contracted healthcare professional before boarding the flight.)

Sadler told KPRC that she had a note from her son's doctor, and that she does not know what other option she had. The family was returning from visiting Sadler's husband, who is on a temporary job away from home.

"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. A family member will drive the family home later this week.

Southwest did not immediately return Business Insider's request for comment. But in a July 22 press release announcing the strengthened mask policy, the airline said that exemptions would no longer be given except to children under two years old.

"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."

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