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Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

Dbichell
New Arrival

As a physician who works to enforce strict mask and visitation rules in the hospital, we make necessary exceptions to accommodate infants and individuals with intellectual disabilities who are incapable of keeping a mask on, in order to do our best to provide the same standard of care to all, regardless of disabilities, (exemptions to mask mandate defined by the Americans with Disability Act 42 U.S.C. 12101 et. Seq.).

As the father of a son with Angelman Syndrome and severe neuro developmental delay who is unable to keep a mask on (but who has tolerated a full head cover hood with plastic face shield), I was disappointed to be detained with my vaccinated and face-shielded son on the walkway into SWA 3117 on February 27, on our way to see his grandfather, (whose new diagnosis of widely metastatic small cell  lung cancer put him suddenly in home hospice, with family flying to San Antonio from all points to see him, possibly for the last time), as we saw several children and adults board with masks below their noses, and were told there are no exceptions at Southwest for individuals with disabilities, and that we could not board the plane.

The situation caused uncomfortable drama as our detention on the walkway caused my sons agitation to escalate, caused disruption to other passengers, and prompted a tearful, compassionate effort by one SWA customer service agent to look for ways to accommodate my son by keeping adjacent rows clear on a plane that was under filled. Rachel Di Fiore, identifying herself as the highest authority on the matter at SWA, arrived to stop the effort and to tell us we had to leave, and that Southwest does not make exceptions for individuals with disabilities, that there is no higher authority than her to appeal to.

I am writing to make you aware of a preventable loud scene that cast Southwest in a bad light to the public, but also to question Southwest’s rigidity around individuals with intellectual disabilities. The unfortunate scene could have been prevented if Southwest had been transparent in stating that they do not honor exemptions for individuals with disabilities, which would have helped us choose a different airline at the outset. At least 2 other airlines specifically state that they do make mask exemptions to the mask mandate for individuals with disabilities, and their websites include a link to help understand who qualifies.

I ask as a physician and as a father of a son with disabilities that you reconsider your company’s unwillingness to accommodate individuals with disabilities, or, if that is unchangeable policy, to at least state that lack of accommodation clearly at the time of ticketing, so customers can be spared the kind of disruptive, emotional public scene that your unexpected rigidity produced.

David Bichell

10 REPLIES 10

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

TheMiddleSeat
Top Contributor

When new federal policies were put in place requiring masks for all passengers 2 years and older, all airlines were given 45 days to develop a policy to allow passengers with disabilities to get an exemption from the mask rules.  Southwest has stated that March 21 will be the first day passengers can request such an exemption.  Here is what was posted to another forum in this community:

"Southwest is fully aware of all laws and regulations protecting passengers with disabilities. We are active in the airline industry in sharing best practices about how best to accommodate passengers with disabilities. If you have a disability, as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act, that prevents you from wearing a mask, but still wish to travel: Southwest is currently finalizing steps for a Customer to take to apply for a disability-related exemption from the mask requirement. The first date Southwest would allow a Customer with an exemption to travel is March 21."

 

Since this is a customer to customer forum, any other comments intended for Southwest should be made directly to Southwest.  Contact Customer Relations 

 

--TheMiddleSeat

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

Dbichell
New Arrival

 I am concerned about missing my close relatives last days alive, and even more concerned about policy that discriminated against an individual with clear inability to comply, equivalent to that of a 2 year old.  The Air Carrier Access Act (Dept of Transportation) prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in all flights of US airlines. This federal law also mandates that “the carrier must provide a written explanation” in the event that they exclude a person with a disability on alleged safety grounds. I did not receive a written explanation for why my son was excluded. Though after the fact, and after a preventable public exclusion that was to the dismay of many, I think I am entitled to that written explanation, and how this exclusion was compliant with the ACAA and American with Disabilities Act

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

TheMiddleSeat
Top Contributor

As I stated earlier, airlines were given 45 days to develop a process for disabled passengers to be exempted from the mask rule. That 45 day period was given to the airlines by the Department of Transportation, more specifically the DOT Office of Aviation Consumer Protection. That guidance was part of the Notice of Enforcement Policy document they produced. It was specifically written to provide guidance to help airlines deconflict prior regulations and the new mask requirement. After 45 days, then consumers can complain about situations like you describe. Until then, there is an unfortunate problem for disabled consumers, but not a legal issue for airlines.

 

--TheMiddleSeat

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

Dbichell
New Arrival

I believe civil rights and disability rights are not suspended for 45 days, as you suggest. 

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

gsking
Active Member

My sincerest sympathies for your situation.   It's a very good example how government overreach and overreaction when faced with this pandemic creates many problems.   Whether their doing so avoided many more serious problems may never be known. 

 

Half the people think they did too much, the other half think they did too little.   Laws are imperfect,  whether they follow them or not. 

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

Dbichell
New Arrival

It is not government overreach. The federal law supports my sons condition and mandates accommodation. The airline overreach is what ignored federal regulation to accommodate him despite his disability.  

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

NicoleAshley
Employee
Employee

@Dbichell, I am incredibly sorry to hear the details of your experience, and my heart goes out to your family during this difficult time. As a Customer-to-Customer support forum, we are not equipped to assist you here, but I strongly encourage you to email Contact Customer Relations, so they can document your concerns.

 

 

Nicole
Community Manager

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

Dbichell
New Arrival

I appreciate your reply. My sons grandfather ( my father in law) died in the company of vaccinated close family, with the exception of me snd my son (also vaccinated). It is too late to fix this problem. I am not sure that it is legal fir southwest to say they doo not have to accommodate people with intellectual disabilities until March 21. Civil rights, human rights, and disability rights are not out on hold until March 21 any more than any other law is suspended for troubled times. It is sn unacceptable snd likely illegal response to say you can violate disability rights until March 21.

Re: Disappointing policy regarding passengers with special needs

tappingmom1
Active Member

Brown556 said: "If you arrive at the airport without a seat assignment..."

 

Brown, what are you talking about?  SWA doesn't have seat assignments. 

 

And what's this "we" business.  Pretty sure you're not a SWA employee.  Perhaps you have your airlines or airline forums confused??

 

I would hate for folks reading your comment to think part of what you wrote is true.