A man has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging the way in which seven airlines, including Delta Air Lines, Alaska and Southwest, have interpreted a federal face mask mandate discriminates against passengers with medical conditions that prevent them from wearing a mask and is in violation of the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA) which guarantees disabled passengers certain rights.
Lucas Wall of Washington D.C. has already filed a separate lawsuit against the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) over the mask mandate which is set to remain in force until September 13 at the earliest. Now, Wall is taking his fight to the airlines that are enforcing the mandate.
In a press release after the 94-page complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for Orlando, Wall claimed airlines had either refused to provide medical exemptions or made the process so onerous as to make it impossible for passengers with medical conditions to travel.
“The evidence is indisputable that all seven defendants for the past year or so during the COVID-19 pandemic have illegally discriminated against potentially millions of flyers with disabilities,” Wall said. Along with Delta, Alaska and Southwest, the lawsuit has also been brought against Allegiant, Frontier, jetBlue and Spirit Airlines.
“By refusing to grant any mask exemptions and/or requiring such an onerous exemption process that travelers such as myself with a medical condition that makes it impossible for them to cover their face are essentially banned from using the nation’s commercial aviation system,” he continued.
Wall says he suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder which leads to breathing difficulties whenever he puts on a face mask.
“When I try to put on a mask it just triggers a breathing difficulty with me,” Wall explained in a recent interview. “I start feeling a panic attack.”
The lawsuit claims: “The airlines have acted without statutory or regulatory authority to demand that every passenger – even those with disabilities as well as those who are fully vaccinated and/or with natural immunity – obstruct their breathing by wearing a mask that covers their nose and mouth.”
Wall is demanding $35,188 in damages per alleged violation of ACAA with a total demand of $351,880. This covers eight booked flights from June 2 to July 10.
He submitted a mask exemption request to Southwest ahead of his June 2 flight from Orlando to Fort Lauderdale but rather than providing evidence of his medical condition, Wall told Southwest that he believed Southwest’s rules were in violation of the ACAA. Southwest turned down his application.
Throughout the complaint, Wall repeatedly attests that he is fully vaccinated. In one interaction with TSA officers ahead of his attempted June 2 flight, Wall refused to wear a face mask: “No, I will not wear a mask that’s why I have my vaccination card,” he told the officers.
The TSA refused him access to the gate because he had not obtained a mask exemption from Southwest.
“While we regret any Customer inconvenience, federal law requires each person, 2 years of age and older, to wear a mask at all times throughout the travel journey,” Southwest explained in a statement.
“To support travelers with disabilities, there is a narrow exception to the mask mandate for specific types of disabilities that prevent a person from wearing a mask,” the statement continued. “Southwest Airlines considers applications for exemptions from this mask requirement from passengers with a disability who cannot wear a mask or who cannot safely wear a mask because of the disability
Delta did not have a specific comment about this complaint but said in a statement: “The actions Delta began taking in 2020 to protect our people and customers during the pandemic are part of our long-standing commitment to a high standard of care as nothing is more important at Delta than safety.”
On Monday, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revealed it had received over 3,000 unruly passenger reports since January – over 76 per cent of those complaints concerned passengers who refused to abide by the federal face mask mandate.
Photo Credit: Yau Ming Low / Shutterstock.com
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.