A family from Des Moines was denied access to a Southwest Airlines flight after their son with autism was unable to wear his face mask, a new report suggests. 

Iowa-bound Cody and Paige Petek were headed home from a Florida vacation on Sunday with their two children when their five-year-old son had difficulty wearing his face mask during a layover in St. Louis on the way to Des Moines International Airport, KCCI Des Moines reported. 

Southwest Airlines jet

A family from Des Moines was denied access to a Southwest Airlines flight after their son with autism was unable to wear his face mask. (iStock)

The family’s 5-year-old son has autism and is non-verbal and has a sensory processing disorder and struggled to wear his face mask properly during the layover, according to KCCI. 

The airline reportedly would not allow the family to board without the boy wearing a face mask. Fellow passengers on board the flight witnessing the incident reportedly approached crew members on the boy’s behalf asking that he be allowed on the flight, however, crew members did not comply. 


Southwest says on its website "refusing to wear a mask is a violation of federal law and may result in the denial of boarding." The Transportation Security Administration’s policy says that individuals with a disability who cannot wear a face mask as a result of their disability are exempt, the report says. 


Southwest Airlines did not immediately return a FOX News request for comment Wednesday about the incident. The airline told KCCI in a statement that federal law requires each person 2 years of age and older to wear a mask at all times throughout travel and that it considers applications for exemption requests from the mask requirement "from passengers with a disability who cannot wear a mask, or who cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability... In this case, a traveler was not wearing a face-covering prior to boarding and did not have an exemption to the federal mask mandate," the spokesperson said, adding that employees tried to assist the family. 

Southwest said in the statement to KCCI that it offered the family a hotel for the night and to rebook them on a flight. The family decided not to fly and was given a full refund, the airline said in the statement. 

"It's the responsibility of Southwest employees to enforce federal regulations. 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 during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," the statement continued.