MIDLAND, Texas (KTRK) -- A Houston mother claims she and her two children were kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight after her 3-year-old son with autism refused to wear a mask.
It happened as they were coming back home to Houston from Midland, Texas, after spending the week with family.
The mom, who wished to remain anonymous, said she and her family flew on Southwest Airlines last week with no issues but were refused service when trying to return home on Monday.
"We're getting close to the runway," she explained. "They're going over the security safety features and all that, and the flight attendant walks by and tells me that he has to put a mask on. So, I try to put the mask on him. He is 3 and has autism and sensory processing disorders, so he wouldn't keep the mask on."
That's when she claims the flight attendant alerted the captain who asked her son to put the mask on again before returning the plane back to the gate.
"So the captain went back to the front, then he went over the loudspeaker and said that he had a non-compliant passenger that refused to wear a mask and follow the policies so they were heading back to the gate," the mother said. "We had to head back to the gate. They have an escort take us back to the plane to get all of our luggage off the plane, and then they proceeded to write up my 3-year-old for noncompliance to their policy."
In July, Southwest and American Airlines announced they were tightening their face mask rules by eliminating exceptions for medical reasons.
Only children under 2 are exempt from the policy.
The mother told Eyewitness News she wasn't aware of the change and had no issues with her son not wearing a mask on their Southwest Airlines flight last week. Now, she said they're trying to figure out how to get back home.
"I agree with the mask policy," she said. "I wear my mask everywhere I go. It's not an issue, but you've got to have some kind of exemption, especially for people with disabilities, [and] kids with disabilities. I mean, no 3-year-old, who is autistic and has sensory processing disorder, is going to put anything on their face. He's supposed to wear glasses. I can't even get him to wear his glasses to help him see. He just doesn't understand. He doesn't like things touching his face, so he's not going to put a mask on."
Southwest Airlines sent Eyewitness News the following statement:
"Southwest Airlines requires all Customers over the age of two to wear a face covering or mask while traveling to help prevent the transmission of COVID-19. We communicate this policy to all Customers at multiple touchpoints throughout the travel journey, so we regret any inconvenience this family experienced. Customers are informed of the policy on our website during booking, in a pre-trip email sent prior to departure, and during a required acknowledgement that's part of the Customer Health Declaration Form which appears during the online check-in process on the Southwest app, Southwest.com, and Southwest's mobile website.
If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason, Southwest regrets that we are unable to transport the individual. In those cases, we will issue a full refund and hope to welcome the Customers onboard in the future, if public health guidance regarding face coverings changes.
At Southwest, safety and caring for others with our Southwest Hearts is at the center of everything that we do-which is especially important during this pandemic. We appreciate the ongoing support and spirit of cooperation among our Customers and Employees as we collectively take care of each other while striving to prevent the spread of COVID-19."