A Southwest Airlines passenger is suing the carrier for $10 million, claiming that employees yelled at her and pulled her off a flight because she repeatedly took off her mask to drink water.
Medora Clay Reading, 68, tried to fly from Washington, D.C., to Palm Beach, Florida, on January 7, according to her lawsuit, filed on Tuesday in New York district court. Reading said she has a heart condition, severe hypoglycemia, claustrophobia and fainting spells — "disabilities that are triggered by wearing a face covering," the complaint states.
Because of her condition, Reading told a booking agent she would need a medical accommodation and paid for early boarding so she could sit at the front of the plane (Southwest doesn't assign seats.)
But when Reading was boarding her flight, a gate attendant told her that Southwest "does not care" about her disability, the complaint claims. Once she was on the plane and pulled down her mask to sip water, a flight attendant "yelled" and "shouted" at her to pull her mask back up, the suit alleges.
After a prolonged exchange with the flight attendant, who insisted that Reading pull her mask up between sips of water, the crew member and gate attendant pulled her off the flight, an ordeal that left the passenger "confused, shaking, crying, unable to breathe through her nose, [and] hyperventilating," leading her to have a nosebleed, the complaint states.
The suit also claims that an unmasked pilot "laughed mockingly" while Reading was being removed and that the airline didn't return Reading's luggage to her or refund her ticket. These acts "were unconscionable and are not to be tolerated in a civilized society," the suit claims.
The suit accuses Southwest of violating Reading's civil rights and its obligations to disabled passengers. It's asking for $10 million for Reading and for airlines to allow passengers to take off masks for medical conditions.
Reading is represented by attorney Kristina Heuser of Glen Cove, New York.
A spokesperson for Southwest said the airline was reviewing the complaint and declined comment.
Last year, the airline allegedly wouldn't let a teenager with autism board who could not keep aon his face.
The company's policy allows disabled passengers who can't safely wear a mask to receive an exemption if they provide a doctor's note and proof of a negative COVID-19 test before they fly.
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