Southwest Airlines says it was following the law when it stopped a boy with autism from flying because he refused to wear a mask.
Southwest says toddlers and people with certain disabilities are exempt from the requirement but the 5-year-old boy didn’t qualify.
After a fun vacation in Florida, Cody and Paige Petek and their two children were set to fly back to Des Moines on Sunday.
During their layover in St. Louis, their 5-year-old son was struggling to wear his mask.
The boy is non-verbal, has autism and a sensory processing disorder.
Dr. Vince Hassel was also flying back to Des Moines and said people started lobbying to get the boy on board when the Southwest Airlines crew refused.
“They weren’t going to let the kid on the plane if he didn’t put this mask on. You know, so he kind of had a bandana around his neck, and he just wasn’t having it and throwing a fit. And just to watch this play out was absolutely horrible,” Hassel said.
As this was all happening, the boy had a seizure but his medication was on board the flight to Des Moines.
What should have been an hour plane ride turned into a five and a half hour drive in a rental car.
Southwest’s website says, “refusing to wear a mask is a violation of federal law and may result in denial of boarding.”
TSA policy states that people with disabilities who cannot wear a mask because of the disability are exempt from having to wear one.
The Peteks’ lawyer believes Southwest Airlines violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“There’s clear guidance from the Department of Transportation about what the airlines should do. None of that happened here,” attorney Anthony L. Marchetti Jr. said.
Southwest says employees offered to book a hotel for the family so the boy could try again the following day.
When they chose to drive, the airline says it gave them a full refund.