Family Denied Entry onto Flight Because Son with Autism Wouldn't Wear Mask

As the world slowly returns to normal, varying rules around mask mandates continue to cause confusion and chaos for travelers.

Over the weekend, Southwest Airlines refused to let an Iowan couple board their return flight home because their five-year-old son, who has autism, struggled with wearing his mask.

According to Metro, Cody and Paige Petek and their two children were returning to their home in Des Moines, Iowa after enjoying a family vacation to Florida. But before boarding their connecting flight in Missouri, reports Metro, their son—who along with autism has a sensory processing disorder and is non-verbal—began to struggle with his mask.

The parents shared their child's disability information with the flight crew, but Southwest refused to let the family board the plane.

One passenger, Dr. Vince Hassel, told KCCI that others on the plane lobbied to allow the boy on the flight.

"They weren't going to let the kid on the plane if he didn't put his mask on," Hassel said to KCCI. "He just wasn't having it and throwing a fit. Just to watch this play out was absolutely horrible."

Multiple reports state that it was during this time that the boy had a seizure, but his medicine was on board the plane.

In a statement to KCCI, Southwest Airlines said: "While we regret any inconvenience this family experienced while traveling, federal law requires each person, 2 years of age and older, to wear a mask at all times throughout the travel journey."

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TSA's official guidelines state that "those with a disability who cannot wear a mask or cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act" are exempt from the federal mask mandate.

However, Southwest told KCCI that the five-year-old was not exempt because his parents had not completed an exemption application prior to boarding the flight.

To allow "additional time to comply," Southwest told KCCI that the airline offered to put the family up in a hotel room and book a new flight for Monday. But the Petek family instead decided to accept a full refund, rent a car and drive the five hours back to Iowa.

The family's lawyer, Anthony L. Marchetti Jr, says he believes Southwest Airlines violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"There's clear guidance from the department of transportation about what the airline should do," said Marchetti to KCCI. "None of that happened here."

This is not the first time an airline has gotten attention for this exact issue. Back in March, Spirit Airlines denied an autistic four-year-old boarding for his inability to wear a mask, stirring up controversy.