Callie Kimball was traveling with her husband and her four-year-old son, Carter, home from Las Vegas to Arkansas when the family was approached by a Spirit Airlines crew member and asked to exit the flight. The reason was that Carter was not wearing a mask to protect other passengers from COVID-19.
Callie mentioned that Carter has nonverbal autism and is medically exempt from wearing a mask. She even had a note from the child’s doctor explaining the issue.
“He’s exempt from wearing masks because whenever he wears a mask he holds his breath or he starts freaking out and he will harm himself,” says Callie.
However, this reason wasn’t good enough for Spirit Airlines. Callie says she was told, “‘No, no, no. Autism’s not a disability. He has to wear a mask or he has to get off the plane.'”
So the family was forced to get off the flight, despite Carter’s medical exemption. Callie says the boy was distraught about the incident because he loves planes.
“He is obsessed with airplanes. So he was sitting in his seat quietly and looking out the window, and this lady was like, ‘Get off!,'” she says.
Callie says she has never experienced discrimination like that before. However, she’s not the first person to complain about Spirit Airlines. Back in September, a three-year-old child was also banned from flying with the airline for refusing to wear a mask and swearing at flight attendants. That child also had autism.
Luckily, the family was able to get a flight home with American Airlines, where Carter’s medical exemption note was accepted.
Spirit Airlines maintains that all their passengers must wear masks except for those under the age of two. “Our existing policy does not provide for medical exemptions, regardless of diagnosis,” they said. “Our team members explained this to a family traveling today but never questioned anyone’s medical status in the process.”
U.S. guidelines, however, state that travelers with medical issues that prevent them from wearing a face covering should not be required to do so.
It appears that Spirit is in the process of changing its policies. As of March 22nd, 2021, passengers will be able to apply for an exemption from wearing a mask. However, this was not in place in time for Carter and his family to be saved from the embarrassment and distress of being escorted off the plane.
We hope that incidents like this one can encourage changes to policies so that other people with disabilities will not have to go through the same distressing situations. It’s so important to be kind and understanding toward one another!Whizzco