Family Says Child With Autism Was Removed From Flight to SJ for Not Wearing Mask

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A family boarding a San Jose-bound flight says they were forced to remove their special needs daughter from the airplane because she wasn’t wearing a mask. 

Fifteen-year-old Mya was told she had to get off the Southwest Airlines plane before it departed Portland if she didn’t put on her mask.

Her father guided her out after discussions with the crew, but he says Mya has autism and sensory sensitivity and that’s the reason she wasn’t wearing one.

“She was really upset, crying, she was so excited for the ride and for the trip,” said Tim Cleary. 

Her mother says they firmly believe in masks, and even though Mya will put it on, after a few minutes it feels constraining in a way most people can’t understand. 

“This isn’t like we're protesting masks or anything,” said Jeniffer Tharp. “My daughter cannot wear the mask, and I think there should be, and I thought that there were exceptions for people who can’t comply with that.”

Passenger Jennifer Clymer of Turlock saw it all. She was seated two rows ahead on the Southwest flight. 

“We were all very unhappy and thought it was very unfair that the family couldn’t take a trip just because an autistic child didn’t understand why she had to wear a mask,” said Clymer.

Mya and her mom had to get off the flight.  The rest of the Portland area family continued their vacation in California. 

Tharp says the pilot was apologetic, but higher ups said she couldn’t continue on.  She hopes airlines will be more understanding. 

“We were looking forward to this, but everything went wrong. I just assumed it would be no different from when she’s gone into a grocery store or a doctor’s appointment,” Tharp said.

Southwest airlines sent a statement that reads, in part,  “Although we do not discuss specific information regarding customers, we can share that … customers and employees age two and older are required to wear face coverings or masks, in accordance with public health guidance issued by the CDC.” 

 Eating and drinking are the exception. 

 The family argues – the CDC says on its website, mask use may be exempt for a person with a disability, mental health condition, or sensory sensitivity like Mya.

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