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4-year-old, non-verbal autistic boy kicked off Spirit Airlines flight for not wearing a mask

Masked passengers fill a Southwest Airlines flight. (Christopher Reynolds/TNS)
March 17, 2021

Spirit Airlines kicked a non-verbal, autistic 4-year-old and his father off a flight on Monday because the child wasn’t wearing a mask, the boy’s mother told CBS Little Rock, Arkansas, affiliate KTVH.  

According to Callie Kimball, her son Cater Kimball “had a medical note from his physician stating that 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.”

Ms. Kimball said the family flew on the airline to Las Vegas on Friday without any issues, but Spirit refused to let them stay on the return flight despite the doctor’s note.

“He has a disability. It’s protected under the American Disability Act and they go, ‘No no no. Autism’s not a disability. He has to wear a mask or he has to get off the plane,'” Kimball said.

The mother said her family has always flown on Spirit without any trouble, adding that Carter loves planes and the situation was extremely distressing for the young boy.

“Kids on the (autism) spectrum, they’re usually very obsessed with something,” Ms. Kimball explained. “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!'” 

American Airlines accepted the doctor’s note and agreed to accommodate the family, said Ms. Kimball, who is seeking a refund for the Spirit flight that they weren’t allowed to take.

“So we’re out all of our flights, a thousand bucks and we have a son who’s just so distraught now that he like threw all of his airplanes down,” Ms. Kimball said.

The airline told KTVH that it did issue a refund, with the apparent delay resulting from credit card refund standards.

“Our existing policy does not provide for medical exemptions, regardless of diagnosis,” Spirit noted. “Our team members explained this to a family traveling today, but never questioned anyone’s medical status in the process.”

The airline continued, “Starting March 19, 2021, guests with a medical disability who are traveling on or after March 22, 2021 can apply for an exemption as provided for in the federal mandate requiring masks in airports and on planes.”

The airline does have a mask exemption for children under 2 years old, according to a Spirit airlines spokesman.

“We remind guests of our face covering policy throughout the booking process, in a pre-trip email sent prior to departure, and in a required acknowledgment that is part of the check-in procedure,” the spokesman said.

Ms. Kimball said she understands taking precautions to help protect people against COVID, but her son’s disability prevents his from being able to wear a mask.

“I’ve never in my life — being the parent of an autistic kid is really hard and I’ve never in my life experienced that kind of discrimination from someone,” she said.