NORTHGLENN, Colo. — A Colorado woman is demanding an apology from Southwest Airlines after she claims her family was removed from a flight because of her son's disability.
Three-year-old Orion Scott and his family just got back home from a Florida vacation. At his age, he likely won't remember it, but his mother sure will.
"As his mother, I haven’t felt so many emotions like that in a really long time, because that was devastating to see my son and my family treated that way," Caroline Scott said of their treatment on a Southwest Airlines flight.
Scott and her family booked a flight to Fort Lauderdale so her 1-year-old son, Atlas, could meet his 94-year-old great-grandmother. Scott says she called Southwest Airlines days before their flight about Orion's disability.
"I called Southwest and told them that my son has sensory processing disorder and that he would keep his mask on if he could but that he might occasionally struggle, but we have the tools and skills to help him with that," Scott explains.
Ken Winn, chief operating officer at Firefly Autism, has more than 40 years experience working with individuals with disabilities, including sensory processing disorder. He says, with the disorder, the brain has trouble censoring information.
"It’s an overload of sensory information that produces a painful sensation," Winn said.
Catherine says the airline gave her no warning her son's disability would be a problem. However, when they got to the gate on Friday, she says they were met with opposition from the pilot who was concerned the 3-year-old would not keep his mask on during the four-hour flight.
"A different supervisor came over and said, 'you need to get off the plane. The captain does not feel comfortable with your family flying today'" Scott tells Denver7.
Southwest refunded the family's tickets. Determined to continue their trip, the family spent around $1,700 in flights and bags plus $240 more for a hotel so they can catch their flight the next morning.
"I would like an apology from Southwest. I would like to be reimbursed for the cost that we endured as a result of this mistake, and I would like training for Southwest staff for families and children who have special needs," Scott said.
Scott says her son had no issues on either flight with a different airline.
"Outside of eating and drinking, he kept his mask on the entire time for both flights," she said.
"I think Southwest or whoever airline should require training of their employees on this," Winn said.
Winn says with the proper training, like Scott says her son is receiving, a child with sensory processing disorder should be able to comply with COVID-19 regulations.
"Absolutely, there’s no reason at all to think he wouldn’t be able to wear a mask for a long period of time," Winn said.
Southwest Airlines tells Denver7:
"Southwest Airlines regrets any inconvenience this family experienced while traveling, and our Customer Relations Team is contacting the family directly regarding their experience. Southwest Employees are working each day to ensure the requirements of the federal mask mandate [tsa.gov] with sensitivity during these challenging times. We appreciate the ongoing understanding and 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."
Denver7 followed up with Southwest Airlines asking if it is policy to allow the captain to refuse services to those with a disability. We have not heard back.