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Autistic girl, 15, removed from Southwest Airlines flight for not wearing mask

An Oregon family claim their autistic daughter was removed from a Texas-bound Southwest Airlines flight because she was not wearing a face mask.

The Cleary family had already boarded their flight from Portland, Oregon, to San Jose, California, this week when the crew asked 15-year-old Mya to wear a face mask or be kicked off.

KNTV reports that Mya has autism and sensory sensitivity, which can make wearing a proper face mask for extended periods of time difficult.

'She was really upset, crying, she was so excited for the ride and for the trip,' her father, Tim Cleary, told KNTV.

Cleary had explained Mya's disabilities to the Southwest crew, but they insisted Mya must wear a face covering, per their company guidelines.

Mya and her mother, Jennifer Tharpe, were forced off the flight while the rest of their family traveled to their vacation in San Jose.

'This isn’t like we're protesting masks or anything,' Tharpe told KNTV, adding that Mya will wear face masks, but they feel increasingly restrictive due to her disability.

'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,' she told KNTV.

Tharpe admitted that the pilot was remorseful, but senior officials determined that pair could not fly without the face mask - regardless of circumstances.

'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,' Tharpe told KNTV.

Southwest Airlines, like all major airlines, implemented coronavirus health guidelines when the federal government failed to do so.

The Texas-based company has required customers to wear face masks during all aspects of flight, like checking in, boarding, while aboard the plane and baggage claim.

While Southwest Airlines included a provision stating children aged two and under were exempt from face masks, the same was not done for disabled travelers.

'If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason (even a verifiable medical condition), we regret that we are unable to transport the Customer at this time, due to safety risk of asymptomatic COVID-19 transmission by Customers without face coverings,' its website read.

'In other words, because of public health guidance recognizing the important role of face coverings in preventing the transmission of COVID-19, Southwest will temporarily refuse to transport any passenger who is unable to wear a mask even if the Customer has a verifiable medical condition that prevents them from wearing a mask.​'

Eating and drinking were the only exceptions to face mask coverage.

This goes against recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which argued for exemptions in similar situations.

'Wearing masks may be difficult for some people with sensory, cognitive, or behavioral issues,' the CDC website said.

'If they are unable to wear a mask properly or cannot tolerate a mask, they should not wear one, and adaptations and alternatives should be considered.'

Mya's family noted the CDCs recommendation when speaking out against Southwest Airlines and the experience.

Jennifer Clymer, a passenger on the Southwest Airlines flight, told KNTV that other witnesses were bothered by the exchange.

'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,' Clymer said.

The discontent has spread among some Southwest Airlines customers, including Chana Bennett-Rumley, a mother whose two sons have austism.

Bennett-Rumbley started a petition to urge Southwest Airlines to change its current policies to be more inclusive. The petition has amassed 18,222 signatures out of a goal of 25,000.'

Southwest Airlines' broad measures mirrored those of several other companies who did not make exemptions for people with medical conditions.

That list included Spirit Airlines, American Airlines and JetBlue Airlines, which said no exemptions would be provided unless the individual is a child aged two and under.

'No other exemptions will be provided, and all other customers must wear a proper face covering during their travel,' JetBlue's website read.

United Airlines this summer ended medical exemptions, but those who believe they have 'extraordinary circumstances' should contact the airline before their flight, or talk to customer service to verify the exemption.

At Delta Airlines, those with medical conditions that prevent mask wearing must undergo a pre-departue medical screening.

Making false claims about medical conditions or disabilities could also see passengers suspended.

Hawaii Airlines has a similar procedure that required passengers with medical conditions who cannot wear a mask to complete an assessment with a medical professional at the airport.

As of Thursday morning, the United States has surpassed 11.5million cases and 250,000 deaths.

This article originally appeared on the Mail Online

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