Bad news, America: If reports are correct, we’re going to have to flip the “Weeks Without a Story About an Airline Kicking a Family Off a Flight Because Their Young Child Wouldn’t Wear a Mask” workplace counter back to zero.
Not only that, this time it didn’t even have to do with a child who wasn’t wearing a mask. Instead, it was the fact that 3-year-old Orion Scott might not wear a mask.
According to a Tuesday report from KDVR-TV, Caroline Scott and her family were kicked off a Southwest Airlines plane at Denver International Airport on April 30 because her son Orion has sensory processing disorder and she feared he might not be able to keep his mask on for the entire flight.
“My son has sensory processing disorder, which means that sometimes he gets overwhelmed by different sensations, like touch texture,” she told CNN.
The Federal Aviation Administration requires masks for children 2 years old and up, as per Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. However, those guidelines also exempt individuals “with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or cannot safely wear a mask.”
The Scott family notified Southwest Airlines prior to their flight to Fort Lauderdale last week, providing letters from Orion’s doctor and therapist to notify the airline of his condition. She also called Southwest Customer Service Department to make sure everything was all right. It apparently was.
Caroline Scott says they had boarded and were sitting in their seats — with Orion wearing his mask — when her family was approached by Southwest staff and ordered off the plane.
“She said, ‘you have to get off the plane. The captain doesn’t feel comfortable with your family on it,’” Scott told KDVR.
“We were not de-boarded for behaviors, but preemptively in case he might take off his mask, and he’s also 3,” she added.
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Not only were they booted from the Southwest flight, but they had to find last-minute tickets on United Airlines for the next day for $1,700 — all so the family could visit Orion’s 94-year-old great-grandmother in Florida.
“It’s not OK. There was no empathy. There was no understanding. We were just humiliated. It was traumatizing and humiliating,” Caroline Scott told KDVR.
“We thought we were doing the right thing and for being forefront and honest, we were punished for it.”
Check out the KDVR report here:
The lesson? Don’t tell the airline. Caroline Scott says she didn’t inform United when she booked the tickets and everything went off swimmingly.
“We’re never going to disclose again, and that’s a shame because it should be ‘How can we support people who need extra support?’ Not let’s kick them off the plane,” Scott KDVR. “No family should have to go through this.”
The airline’s pro forma apology: “Southwest Airlines regrets any inconvenience this family experienced while traveling, and our Customer Relations Team is contacting the family directly regarding their experience,” it told KDVR.
“Southwest Employees are working each day to ensure the requirements of the federal mask mandate with sensitivity during these challenging times. We appreciate the ongoing understanding and cooperation among our Customers and Employees as we work collectively to support the comfort and wellbeing of all who travel with us during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
Here’s why that doesn’t (pun unintended) fly: We’re now a year into this pandemic and, at least in the past few months, there are plenty of other airlines that have served as object lessons in how Nurse Ratched-like inflexibility makes no one safer while diminishing a carrier’s brand.
Take Spirit Airlines, the ultra-low-cost carrier that has become the poster child for treating children who aren’t wearing masks as if they could be Patient Zero for a new COVID variant.
In March, the airline kicked the family of an autistic 4-year-old who couldn’t wear a mask off of a flight in Dallas because he wouldn’t wear a mask. At the time, the airline said its policy on masks didn’t cover medical exemptions, although the family had been able to fly several legs with the maskless boy with no problem.
In April, Spirit kicked a family off a plane because a 2-year-old girl was eating without her mask on — which, given airlines haven’t yet found an efficient way to provide sterilized feeding tubes for every passenger that fit snugly under your mask, still remains permissible under any airline’s guidelines.
To make things worse, the exchange was caught on video.
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Spirit is hardly the only offender in this department, but surely someone involved in mask policy for Southwest watched that video — or any of the other viral plane-centric mask confrontations around during this annus horribilis — and thought they ought to preclude something similar from happening on their airline.
Maybe Southwest would learn from an incident on its own airline, for that matter. Southwest already took a PR hit last September when it kicked a 2-year-old and his mother off a flight in Florida because he didn’t have his mask on when eating. Perhaps that would register.
But, nope. We’ve now got Orion Scott — kicked off a flight not because he wasn’t wearing a mask, but because he could potentially take that mask off.
“Luckily, my son is not old enough to fully realize the magnitude of what happened, but it was heart-wrenching as his mother to see him treated like that, my family treated like that,” Caroline Scott told CNN. “And I don’t ever want this to happen to another family.”
Unfortunately, it will.
I write this on a Sunday, which means — unless an incident that happened last week comes to light after the fact — we can tentatively flip the “Weeks Without a Story About an Airline Kicking a Family Off a Flight Because Their Young Child Wouldn’t Wear a Mask” workplace counter over to one. If history holds, however, it’s a lot more likely to go back down to zero than it is to see two.
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