Family forced off flight to Long Beach after dispute over mask

ByJenna Rae, KMOV, CNNWire
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Family forced off flight to Long Beach after dispute over mask
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A family was told they weren't allowed to board their flight to Long Beach - all because their child with autism can't wear a mask. The airline, however, said there's more to the story.

ST. LOUIS -- A family was told they weren't allowed to board their plane at St. Louis Lambert International Airport - all because their child, who has autism, can't wear a mask. The airline, however, said there's more to the story.

LaShaunda Jethro grew up in St. Louis. Her husband also grew up in the area, on the other side of the river in Fairview Heights, Illinois. They were in town this weekend with their 17-year-old son Trey, who is also non-verbal.

Jethro told News 4 traveling to Lambert Airport was a breeze and they had no issues. However, when they went to board their flight home to Long Beach, California, it was a different story.

"Everyone was so nice, and you know, the ticket agent there even gave us pre-boarding and looked at my son and noticed. A lady from TSA saw us and said 'no you come here, we're gonna get him through,'" Jethro said.

That was before Jethro and her family got to the gate. Jethro said flying with her son is already challenging, and masking adds another level of difficulty.

"He will not keep a mask on his face. We have tried and tried, he just won't do it," Jethro told News 4.

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The Jethros were flying Southwest. News 4 looked into the airline's policy and saw it does have exemptions for masking. This includes passengers with disabilities. You can read that policy here.

The policy states the passenger or guardian has to fill out a formal request for masking exemption, in addition to having a doctor's note.

"We get to the door of the plane and the flight attendant is like, 'no, he can't come on, he's gotta wear a mask'. I got my phone and pulled out the doctor's letter," Jethro said.

Jethro, who's a nurse practitioner herself, said she told flight attendants her son is fully vaccinated and tried to show them his vaccination card. After going back and forth with the airline, and after calling News 4, the Jethros were allowed to board.

However, when they sat down, flight attendants asked just the mother to get off. Jethro went back and forth again with the flight attendants asking why she had to be removed.

Southwest Airlines sent News 4 this statement:

"While boarding Flight 4238 this morning from St. Louis to Long Beach, there were concerns with documentation related to a Customer seeking a mask policy exemption for their child. Our Ground Operations Team and Flight Crew worked out a solution to allow the family to travel. However, once onboard, one of the members of the family was asked to deplane following a conversation with our Flight Attendants and for not complying with the federal mask mandate. Ultimately, our Flight Crews are responsible for the Safety, Security, and comfort of all Crew Members and Customers onboard. Once in the gate area, our St. Louis Team explained the situation and rebooked the Customers on a different flight."

The statement said Jethro was asked to deplane after a conversation with flight attendants and not complying with the mask mandate. News 4 talked with Southwest's spokesperson on the phone Sunday. He said Jethro wasn't wearing her mask at a point during the conversation with attendants, but couldn't disclose any more specifics.

Jethro said she always wears a mask. She told News 4 Sunday, she had a mask on that was too oversized and kept falling off, but said she continued to re-adjust and make sure it was covering her face. The airline's spokesperson disputes this as well.

"I'm just still so in shock and just amazed that this happened, and it's like what else can I do? I don't know what else to do besides call corporate. What do we need to do to make sure we're doing the right thing," Jethro continued.

Jethro told News 4 her and her family's belongings, including her son's needed medication, was on the flight to California. She said she believes it's already in Long Beach, but can't get ahold of anyone at the airport there. For now, the family of three is rebooked on a flight out of Lambert Airport Monday morning.