Boy with autism denied flight over mask issues, family says

Published: Mar. 28, 2022 at 4:13 AM EDT
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RICHFIELD, Wis. (WDJT) - A Wisconsin family says their vacation was ruined when a Southwest Airlines gate attendant wouldn’t let their 8-year-old son, who has autism, aboard the flight.

It wasn’t the vacation Megan Kitze-Ward had planned for. The mother took to Facebook Live from her hotel room Tuesday night in the Dominican Republic’s Punta Cana. She recapped the nightmare travel experience that left her husband, Matt, and 8-year-old son, Max, behind.

“I’m here without my buddy, both my buddies,” Kitze-Ward said in the video.

Max is diagnosed with autism and, according to his doctor, can have difficulties wearing a mask. When the family arrived at their airport gate Tuesday morning at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, he didn’t have a mask on.

Federal law requires anyone over the age of two to wear a mask when on an airplane.

The family showed a Southwest gate attendant a note from Max’s doctor.

According to its website, Southwest can consider exemptions for people with disabilities but must have a letter from the passenger’s doctor and a form filled out on the Southwest website at least a week in advance, a requirement of which the family was not aware.

When they realized Max wouldn’t get a mask exemption, the family offered to have him put his mask on, but Kitze-Ward says the gate attendant was concerned he wouldn’t keep it on during the flight.

“And all she kept saying to me was, ‘I know autism, and I can’t guarantee that you’re going to be keeping that mask on him,’” Kitze-Ward said.

The family said the decision was made after Max wore his mask for at least 45 minutes.

Kitze-Ward and her daughter boarded their flight, but they had to leave her husband and son behind. The family vacation would have been their first in three years.

Frustrated, Kitze-Ward is calling what happened discrimination against her son for his disability.

“I want this to never happen to another family again,” she said.

Southwest has since given a full refund to the family. The airline hopes they will get another shot at the vacation that was taken from them. It is also conducting an internal review of what happened.

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