A federal judge has ordered American Airlines and Southwest to let a four-year-old boy who suffers from Autism travel without a face mask after both carriers denied the child and his father a medical exemption.
The order by U.S. District Judge Patti Saris follows an emergency hearing on Wednesday morning after an initial attempt to resolve the dispute out of court seemingly failed.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) originally issued the federal face mask mandate for public transport on January 29, 2021, but it has been extended several times and isn’t now due to expire until March 18, 2022. The mandate could be extended at least once more.
The mandate applies to all airline passengers aged two and over and although the order does allow for medical exemptions the process and decision making is left up to individual airlines. Both AA and Southwest have implemented a strict interpretation of the rules.
Michael Seklecki Jnr is due to fly from his home in Florida on February 22 for specialized medical treatment at Boston Children’s Hospital. They are hoping to fly with American Airlines to Boston and return the following day with Southwest.
Michael’s father had applied for a medical exemption for both him and his son because they suffer from Autism Spectrum Disorder and cannot tolerate wearing a face mask. American Airlines and Southwest had allegedly denied Seklecki Snr’s request.
The Seklecki’s got in contact with a prominent campaigner against the federal face mask mandate and a lawsuit was quickly submitted against both airlines and the CDC.
“Directing American and Southwest to issue my son a 30-day medical waiver until full briefing on my motions for preliminary injunction can be completed and a longer hearing held is a good start,” Michael Snr said following Wednesday’s hearing.
“The airlines should be ashamed of themselves that it took the intervention of a federal court to protect my son’s civil rights.”
The order is the biggest victory so far for Lucas Wall who has filed a string of lawsuits against a slew of airlines, the CDC and TSA. Until now, judges have been quick to deny Wall’s demand for an injunction against the mask mandate.
Michael Seklecki is demanding $400,000 in damages from American and Southwest for unlawful discrimination, as well as a wider injunction against the mask mandate.
Both AA and Southwest were approached for comment. In a statement, a spokesperson for AA said the airline has granted the Seklecki’s a medical exemption in accordance with its pre-existing criteria.
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.
Good! Time for them to order these airlines to allow EVERYONE to travel without a mask if they choose.
The judge’s order is a preliminary injunction while the rest of the lawsuit plays out.
Another update – the Texas Attorney General is now also suing to end the federal transportation mask mandate.