Southwest Airlines kicked off a young disabled man for not wearing a mask despite federal law on his side, proof of vaccination, and a negative COVID-19 test.
Southwest Removes Disabled Passengers For Mask Violation
Bryan Crislip and his mother planned to fly from Chicago Midway to Los Angeles on Monday on Southwest Airlines. Bryan, 22, is developmentally disabled and functions at the level of a two-year-old according to WGN-9, which interviewed the family.
- Those who do not understand how to wear or remove the mask due to cognitive impairment
- Cannot wear or remove a mask on their own due to dexterity/mobility impairments
- Cannot communicate promptly to ask someone else to remove the mask due to speech impairments or language disorders.
Only one need apply, but all three applied here.
While Bryan had no trouble navigating through the airport, security, and gate area without a mask, after he boarded a flight attendant demanded that one be placed on him.
Arriving prepared, his mother, Cheri Fleming, noted:
“We had two doctors’ letters, a negative COVID test, we have proof of his two COVID vaccines. Gave everything they needed and it still wasn’t good enough still.”
Bryan was removed, even though the flight had 40 open seats (creating an opportunity to distance him from others).
In addition to the humiliation of being booted off a flight, the family was made to feel like second class citizens for matters beyond their control when federal rules were on their side.
Southwest Airlines Responds
Southwest Airlines issued an extensive statement on the incident, noting that “federal law” requires all passenger wear a mask. It later noted that there is now a disabilities exception but that Southwest is not yet prepared to implement it:
While we regret any inconvenience this family experienced while traveling, federal law requires each person, 2 years of age and older, to wear a mask at all times throughout the flight, including during boarding and deplaning. Refusing to wear a mask is a violation of federal law and may result in denial of boarding, removal from the aircraft, and/or penalties under federal law.
Southwest communicates the face covering policy to all Customers at multiple touchpoints throughout the travel journey, including: during booking, in a pre-trip email sent prior to departure, and during a required acknowledgement that is part of the Customer Health Declaration Form and appears during the check-in process on the Southwest app, Southwest.com, Southwest’s mobile website, and airport kiosks.
Per the federal mask mandate, there is now a narrow exception for specific types of disabilities that prevent a person from wearing a mask, and Southwest recently announced the airline’s process for evaluating Customer requests to travel with an exemption. Beginning March 14, 2021, Southwest Airlines will consider applications for exemptions from this mask requirement from Passengers with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or who cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability and are traveling March 21, 2021 or later. However, this exemption requires an application and documentation to be submitted prior to travel (a Customer cannot simply show up at the airport with documentation) and was not, yet, in place when this family traveled.
As always, we appreciate the spirit of compliance to the federal mask mandate and the ongoing cooperation among our Customers and Employees as we work collectively to support the comfort and wellbeing of all who travel with us.
As if that wasn’t enough, Southwest followed up with another statement after telling WGN-9 TV that disabled travelers who cannot wear a mask should avoid Southwest Airlines for now.
As part of our Southwest Promise, Southwest has had a mask mandate since May 2020, and there have been no exemptions, except for children under the age of 2 years of age. Now, as part of the federal mask mandate, beginning March 14, 2021, Southwest Airlines will consider applications for exemptions from this mask requirement from Passengers with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or who cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability and are traveling March 21, 2021 or later.
Our records indicate the Customer was reminded to wear a mask. As a gesture of support, Southwest Employees worked with the Customer, but, ultimately, as a last resort, had to deny travel before departure when the Customer could not comply with the mask mandate.
Thanks for allowing us to provide these details. The Southwest Team works diligently each day to serve our Customers with Southwest Heart while providing world-class hospitality – which is especially important during the ongoing pandemic.
The family certainly questions whether throwing a disabled passenger off a flight constitutes “world-class hospitality.”
My Thoughts On This Incident
When I voiced opposition to the new federal mask mandate, it was not because I wanted Bryan to stay home. Quite the contrary, I believe reasonable exemptions for young children and disabled passengers are not only reasonable, but necessary.
I spoke to Julie Eberhardt, a friend who was traveling with them to Los Angeles and had arranged the tickets and sensed the pain that came from this incident and Southwest’s pathetic response. Of course, kicking off Bryan meant that Julie and Cheri also had to leave.
My concern with the new mask mandate was the potential abuse: that anyone determined enough could get a doctor’s note to excuse themselves from wearing a mask.
But that is not the case here. Watch the video above. Here, we have a young man who clearly cannot keep a mask on. This isn’t a political statement, nor is it a game. This is life for Bryan and we would do well, as a society, to bring dignity to him by not disgracing and embarrassing him and his family over a mask, especially when he had a fresh negative test and proof of vaccination.
This is a very sad incident and I don’t think the “we’re not ready yet” excuse from Southwest Airlines is valid. The family is owed an apology, not a ridiculously lengthy statement which seeks to twist the situation to justify Southwest’s actions.
image: provided by family