LINCOLN, R.I. (WPRI) — A Lincoln family is upset after they said Southwest Airlines kicked them off of a plane because their special needs daughter wasn’t wearing a mask.
A federal mandate went into effect in February that requires all passengers to wear a mask when traveling on planes.
Heather and Victor Correria were supposed to be flying Southwest last Friday with their 14-year-old daughter Julianna, who has special needs.
Julianna, according to Heather, wouldn’t be able to safely wear a mask because she wouldn’t understand what it is or its purpose.
“She has cerebral palsy and she has profound intellectual disabilities,” Heather explained. “You can’t put it [a mask] on her mouth, she thinks you’re trying to kill her.”
“We’re not here to break rules, we’re not against the mask mandate,” Victor added.
The couple said they’ve flown as a family during the pandemic before and never had an issue.
But this time, as they were heading to Florida to visit family, they were met with resistance.
Heather said they brought a doctor’s note with them, as they had in the past to allow for a mask exemption.
“The plane was completely boarded, they were just about to shut and close the doors and a flight attendant came by and said, ‘Do you have her exemption letter?'” Heather recalled.
After making it clear they were unaware of what an exemption letter is, the couple said they were escorted off the plane by an officer. They were then escorted by three officers through the airport.
“We were treated like we were criminals, like we had committed a felony,” Heather said.
She said they learned what an exemption letter was once they were at the Southwest counter.
“I will follow rules, that’s fine,” Heather explained. “I just need to know what the rules are.”
In a statement to 12 News, a spokesperson for Southwest said, “to assist travelers with disabilities, there is a narrow exception to the mask mandate for specific types of disabilities.”
Southwest’s website states those who are traveling with someone who has a disability and needs a mask exemption need to complete and submit a form at least seven days prior to the travel date, along with a letter signed by their physician.
The airline also said they must also provide evidence that the passenger received a negative COVID-19 test result within three days of the travel date no later than 24 hours prior to take off.
“Southwest communicates the face covering mandate 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,” the spokesperson said.
The Correia’s claim that didn’t happen.
“There was no notice provided, and when we did look on their website, it’s very buried,” Heather said.
The airline did fully reimburse the family and gave them each a $75 Luv Voucher, but they said they want to make sure others are aware of these stipulations to prevent them from having the same experience.
“When traveling with a special needs child, bring it to their attention that there are procedures in place that people need to follow properly versus our experience,” Victor said.