(American Greatness) — An Iowa family was refused entry and turned away from their flight home because their five-year-old son, who has autism, couldn’t wear his face mask, according to reports.
Cody and Paige Petek and their two children were in St. Louis for a connecting flight home to the Des Moines International Airport on Sunday when they were turned away, KCCI reported.
Before boarding the plane, the family’s son, who is non-verbal, has autism and a sensory processing disorder, was having issues with his face mask, the family told the outlet.
Southwest Airlines told them they couldn’t board a plane unless their son wears a mask for the duration of the flight.
“We were denied access onto our last flight home because Keaton was not able to keep his mask over his face due to his severe sensory issues and autism,” the boy’s mother wrote on Facebook.
Dr. Vince Hassel, who was boarding the same flight to Des Moines, said other passengers started lobbying to get the boy on board but the staff refused.
“They weren’t going to let the kid on the plane if he didn’t put his mask on,” Hassel told the news outlet. “He just wasn’t having it and throwing a fit. Just to watch this play out was absolutely horrible.”
Southwest Airlines, in a statement to the outlet, said federal law requires passengers ages two and up to wear a mask while traveling.
Under Transportation Security Administration policy, travelers with disabilities who cannot wear a mask are not required to, according to the report.
The airline said the child did not have a face mask exemption.
“Southwest Airlines considers applications for exemptions from this mask requirement from passengers with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or who cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability,” the company said in its statement to KCCI.
“In this case, a traveler was not wearing a face covering prior to boarding and did not have an exemption to the federal mask mandate,” the statement said.
The airline said it offered to put the family in a hotel Sunday night with a new flight Monday “to allow them additional time to comply.” However, the family said their son’s seizure medication was already on board the flight.
Their return home should have been an hour-long flight. The family accepted a refund and chose to drive the five-and-a-half-hour journey home in a rental car instead, the report said.
The family’s lawyer, Anthony Marchetti Jr., said the airline may have violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“There’s clear guidance from the Department of Transportation about what the airline should do,” Marchetti told the outlet. “None of that happened here.”