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Spirit Airlines kicks 4-year-old boy with autism off flight for not wearing mask

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An Arkansas woman says Spirit Airlines kicked her son and husband off a flight Monday because the 4-year-old, who's non-verbal with autism, wasn't wearing a mask.

Callie Kimball told CBS Little Rock affiliate KTVH-TV that Carter 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."

Callie said her family flew on Spirit to visit family in Las Vegas Friday without a problem. But Spirit wouldn't them stay on the return flight, which had a stopover in Dallas, even though her husband showed the plane's crew members the note.

She says they've always flown with Spirit and never had any issues until now.

"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.'"

An upset Carter Kimball cries after being booted from a Spirit Airlines plane on March 15, 2021. CBS affiliate KTVH-TV

Carter loves planes, and being removed from one upset him terribly. 

"Kids on the (autism) spectrum, they're usually very obsessed with something," Callie 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!'" 

Callie said American Airlines agreed to accommodate the family and accept Carter's note, but the family wants a refund for the tickets for the flight 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."

Spirit told KTVH it issued a refund but the hang-up appeared to be the time it takes credit card issuers to credit the funds.

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

"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."

A spokesman for the airline told CBS News the only exemption to its current mask policy, implemented in May, is children younger than 2 years old.

"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 acknowledgement that is part of the check-in procedure," the spokesman said.

Callie said she understands that COVID is real and people need to take precautions to protect everyone, but her son has a disability that limits him from mask use.

Teary-eyed, she said, "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."

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