Airline Boots Family from Flight Because Autistic 4-Year-Old Can't Wear a Mask


A mother says her family was kicked off of a flight on Monday by Spirit Airlines because her autistic 4-year-old son, who is non-verbal, could not wear a mask and the airline refused to honor a note confirming he has a serious disability.

Callie Kimball of Little Rock, Arkansas, said that her husband and son flew from Little Rock to Las Vegas last Friday with no issues. On the return flight Monday morning, however, the airline’s zero-tolerance policy on masks saw the pair booted off before a connecting flight to Dallas.

To make matters worse, according to Kimball, her family had already planned for pushback from the airline by getting a note from a doctor which explained that the boy, named Carter, was not capable of wearing a mask.

The mother told KTVH-TV that when her son does wear a face covering, he stops breathing, becomes anxious and is prone to self-harm.

“He 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,” Kimball told the outlet.

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She said the flight crew was less than sympathetic and actually challenged autism as being a disability.

“He has a disability. It’s protected under the American Disability Act and they go ‘No no no no. Autism’s not a disability. He has to wear a mask or he has to get off the plane,’” she said.

Being that Carter was not capable of wearing a face covering, he was kicked off of the plane in Las Vegas, along with his father. Kimball told KTVH that Carter, like many children on the autism spectrum, can become fixated on certain things.

Carter’s fixation, she said, is aviation.

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That didn’t buy him any goodwill with Spirit Airlines.

“Kids on the spectrum, they’re usually very obsessed with something. He is obsessed with airplanes. So he was sitting in his seat being quietly and looking out the window, and this lady was like ‘Get off!’”

A babysitter traveling with the family was not allowed off of the plane with Carter and his father. The father-son duo found themselves stuck in Sin City alone and without a way home.

Kimball said they eventually found an airline that would honor the note from Carter’s physician.

American Airlines flew the two home, but it cost the family an added $1,000. Kimball said the family wanted a refund from Spirit for the return flight which they were kicked off of.

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“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,” she said. “I’ve never in my life, like being the parent of an autistic kid is really hard and I’ve never in my life experienced that kind of discrimination from someone.”

Spirit offered a statement that they do not allow any passenger to fly without a mask, regardless of diagnosis — or apparently vaccination or coronavirus recovery status.

“We sympathize with families facing additional burdens while traveling, including those dealing with medical conditions. Like most airlines, Spirit Airlines started requiring face coverings in May 2020 with the only exemption being one for children under age 2,” the airline said.

“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.”

“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,” the statement from Spirit added.

Spirit also said it was working to refund the family’s tickets.

As for Carter, his love for flying has taken a hit. Kimball said that after being thrown off the plane, Carter discarded his toy airplanes by throwing them on the ground.

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Johnathan Jones has worked as a reporter, an editor, and producer in radio, television and digital media.
Johnathan "Kipp" Jones has worked as an editor and producer in radio and television. He is a proud husband and father.