Texas family kicked off Southwest flight when boy, 3, with autism refused to wear mask

A Texas woman said her family was removed from a Southwest Airlines flight Monday because her 3-year-old son with autism refused to wear a mask.

Alyssa Sadler, of Deer Park, was trying to return home from Midland, Texas with her son and 1-year-old daughter, KRPC reported. The flight left the gate but returned when the boy would not wear the face covering.

“It was just not a good morning,” Sadler told the television station. “He was screaming. He was throwing a fit. He was screaming, ’No, no, no.‘”

Sadler said her son does not like to be touched, adding that she showed Southwest officials a note from the boy’s doctor about his condition.

“We’re getting close to the runway,” Sadler told KTRK. “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.”

The boy refused, and the plane turned around and taxied back to the gate. Sadler and her children were escorted off the plane, and Southwest officials retrieved their luggage.

Southwest Airlines said all customers age 2 and older must cover their faces while traveling to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, KPRC reported. That rule is explained in the airline’s booking and check-in process.

“If a customer is unable to wear a face-covering for any reason, Southwest regrets that we are unable to transport the individual,” the airline told the television station in an email.

Sadler said her family had flown to Midland to visit her husband, who had a temporary job there, adding that her son did not wear a mask on the flight from Houston. She added that she agrees with Southwest’s policy, but believes the company should make an exception when medical issues are involved.

“I agree with the mask policy,” Sadler told KTRK. “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. 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. 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 to KTRK, Southwest said it regretted any inconvenience Sadler and her family experienced.

If a customer is unable to wear a face-covering for any reason, Southwest regrets that we are unable to transport the individual,” the statement said. “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.

Southwest CEO Gary Kelly told CNN on Wednesday that the no-exception rule will be enforced.

“What we have concluded is there shouldn’t be any exceptions, because the exception could be someone who has the virus,” Kelly said. “I’m very empathetic. I’m a grandfather. I have small grandchildren and I know how kids can be, but it’s just a matter of making sure that it’s a safe environment for everyone including all those families.”

Sadler said a family member will drive her and the children home on Thursday, KPRC reported.

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