Family Denied Boarding Flight After Child with Autism Could Not Wear Mask

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

An Iowa family said Southwest Airlines denied them from boarding their connecting flight home from St. Louis, Missouri, because their five-year-old son with autism could not wear his mask.

After spending a vacation in Florida, Cody and Paige Petek, along with their two children, were scheduled to fly back to Iowa on Sunday.

On their layover in St. Louis, their son with autism, who is also nonverbal and has a sensory processing disorder, had difficulty wearing his mask, KETV reported.

Despite the five-year-old’s disability, the airline crew refused to let the Petek family board their connecting flight in St. Louis back to Iowa.

Dr. Vince Hassel, who was also on the flight to Des Moines, said passengers began lobbying to get the boy to 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 told KCCI.

As the situation was playing out, the family claimed the five-year-old had a seizure, but his medication was on the plane bound for Des Moines.

The Petek family says they had to drive back to Iowa from St. Louis via rental car. The family’s hour-long plane ride turned into a six-hour drive.

Anthony L. Marchetti Jr., the family’s attorney, said Southwest violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) policy states that those with disabilities who cannot wear a mask due to their disability are exempt from wearing one.

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

Southwest said in a statement, “Federal law requires each person, two years of age and older, to wear a mask at all times throughout the travel journey,” adding that although there are exceptions for certain disabilities, this child was not exempt from the mandate.

The airline said Southwest employees offered to book a hotel for the Petek family so they could rebook their flight for another time. But the family chose to drive instead, and the airline claimed it offered them a full refund.

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