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Southwest Airlines crew balks at letting maskless teen with autism board flight

When a Long Beach, California family with a teenage son with autism tried to board a Southwest Airlines flight from St. Louis back home, they ran into a problem with the carrier, CBS Los Angeles reports.

LaShaunda Jethro says flying with her 17-year-old non-verbal son, Trey, is always a challenge, and mask requirements have made it ever harder.

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

But she said they've never had an issue until now.

"We get to the door of the plane and the flight attendant is like, 'No. He can't come on. He's got to wear a mask,'" Jethro said.

Southwest has mask exemptions for passengers with disabilities. The passenger or guardian has to fill out a form requesting an exemption and provide a doctor's note.

"I got my phone out, I pulled up the doctor's letter and she's like, 'Well, no. This has to come from corporate and you have to do this before you get on the plane," LaShaunda said.

After going back and forth with airline employees and calling a St. Louis television station, Jethro said they were allowed to board, but the situation still wasn't resolved.

"Here comes the manager again," Jethro recalled. "She's like, 'I need you to come with me.' For what? 'I need you to get off the plane.' I'm like, 'OK,' and my husband's like, 'Well, do we all have to get off the plane?' She's like, 'No. You and your son can go, but she has to come off.'"

trey-jethro.jpg
Trey Jethro, 17, on July 19, 2021. CBS Los Angeles

Southwest claims Jethro was asked to deplane for not wearing her mask at one point while talking with flight attendants. Jethro disputes that.

"I'm just still so in shock and just so amazed that this happened," she said.

Ultimately, the family decided to get off the plane together, even though their luggage remained checked on the flight. They rebooked a flight to Long Beach Monday.

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