A family says they were forced off of a flight due to their autistic, nonverbal son struggling to wear a face mask.
“He’s autistic. He has a hard time, so he’s nonverbal. But he’s a joy. I can’t imagine my life without him,” Lashaunda Jethro, the mother of 17-year-old Trey, said. “He will not keep a mask on his face. We have tried and tried. He just won’t do it.”
The situation unfolded in St. Louis on Sunday as Jethro, her husband, and Trey boarded a Southwest return flight to Long Beach.
The airline allows for mask exemptions for people with disabilities if the passenger or guardian fills out paperwork and has a doctor’s note.
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“We get to the door of the plane, and the flight attendant is like ‘No, he can’t come on. He got to wear a mask.’ I got my phone out, pulled out the doctor’s letter, and she was like, ‘Well, no, this has to come from corporate, and you have to do this before you get on the plane,’” Jethro, a nurse practitioner, recounted.
Jethro said she explained the family was vaccinated against the coronavirus, and tried to show the flight attendant her son’s vaccination card.
The family was eventually allowed to board the flight but were asked to leave once they sat in their seats.
“Here comes the manager again, and she’s like, ‘I need you to come with me.’ And I’m like, ‘For what?’… And my husband’s like, ‘Well, do we all have to get off the plane?’ She’s like, ‘No, you and your son can go, but she has to come off,’” Jethro said.
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Jethro was asked to leave the plane after a conversation with flight attendants where she reportedly did not wear a mask at one point, a Southwest spokesperson said.
“I don’t know. I’m just still so in shock and just so amazed that this happened. It’s like what else can I do? I don’t know what else to do besides call corporate. What do we need to do to make sure we’re doing the right thing?” Jethro said.
The family eventually took another flight on Monday. Their luggage and medications for Trey, however, were flown on their original flight and Jethro has been unable to contact the Long Beach airport to track it down.
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The incident follows a string of similar situations in the last year, including a family who was kicked off a Spirit flight in April for their toddler reportedly not wearing a mask. President Joe Biden signed an executive order following on inauguration day mandating masks be worn on planes.