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Family claims flight home denied after son with autism couldn’t wear mask

Published: May. 4, 2021 at 12:35 AM MST
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DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) - An Iowa family is challenging Southwest Airlines after they say they were turned away from their flight because their 5-year-old son, who has autism, couldn’t wear his face mask.

After a fun vacation in Florida, Cody and Paige Petek and their two children were set to fly back to Des Moines, Iowa, on Sunday. During their layover in St. Louis, their 5-year-old son, who is nonverbal and has autism and a sensory processing disorder, was struggling to wear his mask.

The Peteks say the Southwest Airlines crew refused to let them into their connecting flight.

The Petek family says the Southwest Airlines crew refused to let them into their connecting...
The Petek family says the Southwest Airlines crew refused to let them into their connecting flight in St. Louis when their 5-year-old son couldn't wear his face mask. The boy is nonverbal and has autism and a sensory processing disorder.(Source: Paige Petek, KCCI via CNN)

Dr. Vince Hassel, who was also flying to Des Moines, says people started lobbying to get the boy on board after the crew refused.

“They weren’t going to let the kid on the plane if he didn’t put this mask on. He kind of had a bandana around his neck, and he just wasn’t having it and throwing a fit. Just to watch this play out was absolutely horrible,” Hassel said.

As the scene was playing out, the family says the 5-year-old had a seizure, but his medication was on board the flight to Des Moines.

The Petek family says they had to drive home from St. Louis in a rental car. What should have been an hourlong plane ride turned into a nearly six-hour drive.

Anthony L. Marchetti Jr., the Peteks’ lawyer, believes Southwest violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Transportation Security Administration’s policy states that people with disabilities who cannot wear a mask because of the disability are exempt from having to wear one.

“There’s clear guidance from the Department of Transportation as to what the airlines should do. None of that happened here,” Marchetti said.

In a statement, Southwest cited federal law requiring everyone 2 years of age and older to wear a mask during travel. The airline says it “considers applications for exemptions” from passengers with disabilities, and the child “did not have an exemption.”

The airline says employees offered to book a hotel for the Peteks, so the family could try the trip at a later time. Instead, the family chose to drive, and the airline says it gave them a full refund.

Copyright 2021 KCCI via CNN Newsource. All rights reserved.