Family says they were kicked off flight after telling Southwest their son has trouble with masks

Posted at 9:12 AM, May 13, 2021

CASTLE ROCK, Colo. — A Colorado family says Southwest Airlines refused to let them fly because their child with disabilities has trouble with masks.

"They called corporate and it wasn’t even a couple of minutes and they were like, 'No, kick them off,'" said Trent Smitley of Castle Rock.

Smitley and his wife Andi adopted their new son, Kingston, on May 6.

"He’s 7 years old with the mentality of a 1-year-old," Smitley said. "He has epilepsy, a malformation of his brain and cerebral palsy."

The day after the family became whole, they took a trip to Utah. It would be the first time Kingston would meet his extended family.

They took a Southwest flight to Utah with no issues. It was their flight home that ruined Mother's Day after the new parents alerted employees of Kingston's condition, explaining that the 7-year-old may struggle at times to keep his mask on.

"They're like, 'go to the flight attendant and they’ll take care of it.' They stopped us halfway down," Smitley said.

Southwest didn't let the family get on the plane. Instead, they reimbursed the family for their ticket, forcing the three to get a hotel for the night, rent a car, and drive the ten hours home the next day. Smitley said it cost him nearly $1,000.

Southwest Airlines did not respond to a request for a comment.

Smitley's experience came less than a week after another Colorado family said that they too were kicked off a Southwest flight when the pilot raised concerns over their 3-year-old son with Sensory Processing Disorder. In that incident, the pilot feared the child would remove his mask during the four-hour flight back to Denver.

"Every single person knew about your story that you guys did last week and they didn’t want another repeat, but yet here we are," Smitley said.

With summer right around the corner, experts recommend that those traveling with someone with a disability get airline approval of accommodations in writing prior to the trip — even before booking the flight.

"It is vitally important for travelers to indicate well beforehand when they buy their tickets that they have special circumstances that might require special handling," AAA spokesperson Skyler McKinley said.

He also said booking with a travel agent will provide the muscle to make sure things run smoothly.

"I would say by the time you get to the airport you should be confident that you’ll be able to board your plane without an issue," McKinley said.

This story was originally published by Gary Brode on Scripps station KMGH in Denver.