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Southwest removes family from flight after 3-year-old with autism is unable to wear mask

(Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg News)

When Southwest Airlines updated its mask policy to require “all customers over the age of two to wear a face covering or mask while traveling to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19,” many travelers rejoiced. The no-tolerance policy is in line with guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that face coverings be worn by everyone over the age of 2.

But on Aug. 10, the airline confirms, Southwest removed a family from one of its flights when a 3-year-old was unable to wear his mask on a flight from Midland, Tex., to Houston. The child has autism and doesn’t like his face covered, the mother told Houston’s KPRC-TV, and she had a doctor’s note confirming as much.

“He was screaming. He was throwing a fit. He was screaming ‘No, no, no!’” she told the news station. “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 also took to social media to voice her frustration.

“When you get kicked off your flight because your 3 year old autistic child won’t wear a mask... looks like I’m stuck here in midland,” she wrote in a Facebook post, commenting on her own post that she was “disgusted by how my son was treated and how I was treated.” Customers weighed in supporting the mother on social media, as well.

In a statement to The Washington Post, Southwest said it regrets “any inconvenience this family experienced. Customers are informed of the policy on our website during booking, in a pre-trip email sent prior to departure, and during a required acknowledgment that’s part of the Customer Health Declaration Form which appears during the online check-in process on the Southwest app, and Southwest’s mobile website.”

The airline also says that it issues a full refund in cases where an individual is removed from a flight for being unable to wear a mask.

On Wednesday, Southwest chief executive Gary Kelly tweeted a reminder about its updated policies as the story circulated on social media.

Alaska, American, Frontier, JetBlue, United and Spirit airlines all have similar policies in place, requiring face coverings for travelers over the age of 2 without mention of any exceptions for medical conditions or disabilities.

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