Lucas Wall of Washington D.C. on June 14 filed a lawsuit in a federal court accusing seven airlines of discriminating against travelers who can’t wear masks because of medical conditions.
According to a complaint filed in District Court in Orlando, Florida, Wall can’t wear a mask because he has generalized anxiety disorder. The 44-year-old sued Southwest Airlines, Alaska Airlines, Allegiant Air, Delta Air Lines, Frontier Airlines, JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines.
Wall filed a similar complaint against government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Federal mask mandates for travelers have been in place for months although airlines have their own mask requirements. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said last month that mask mandates were still in place as a “matter of respect” for flight crews and others.
Wall said he’s been stranded in his mother’s retirement community in the Villages, Florida, because he can’t fly without a mask. His court filings included medical paperwork detailing his diagnosis.
“I take medication for that, but I’m still prone to panic attacks,” he said in a phone interview. “One of the triggers is any time my breathing is obstructed – that brings a feeling of claustrophobia and a complete sense of unease.”
Wall bought tickets for eight flights this summer, according to his complaint. He requested a mask waiver on the airlines’ websites.
The frequent flier, who has been to all 56 states and territories and has visited 134 countries, missed a Southwest Airlines’ flight on June 2 after a back-and-forth with members of the TSA, airport officials at Orlando International and Southwest employees. Wall was able to record his interactions with TSA agents. (Related: Man kicked off Southwest Airlines flight for not wearing a mask WHILE EATING candy.)
“No, I will not wear a mask that’s why I have my vaccination card,” Wall told a TSA agent.
“You need a mask,” the TSA agent told Wall.
“You can’t go through here without a mask,” another TSA agent told Wall.
“Well I refuse to comply with that,” responded Wall. “I can’t wear a mask because of my anxiety I will not wear a mask. I cannot wear a mask because of my breathing difficulties.”
Wall said the airlines’ requirements violate the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA), which protects passengers with disabilities from discrimination. He sought an emergency temporary restraining order that would let him travel without a mask.
JetBlue on June 17 made a filing against the temporary restraining order, saying Wall’s complaint “is entirely without merit.” Only the Department of Transportation can investigate or enforce ACAA regulations, the airline said in its filing.
“Plaintiff cites that he needs emergency relief from this Court because, otherwise, he will be ‘stranded at [his] mother’s house in the Villages,'” wrote JetBlue’s lawyer, Suzanne E. Gilbert, of Holland & Knight LLP. “Plaintiff’s procrastination is not an emergency.”
Wall said he expected that initial defense, which amounted to “a government agency conspiring with the airlines” to ground travelers who can’t wear masks.
Delta also stood by its policy. (Related: Delta Air Lines bans over 100 people from flying with them for refusing to comply with company’s mask mandate.)
“While Delta has no specific comment on this complaint, 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,” a spokesperson for Delta said in an email. “Delta’s mask-wearing requirement for customers and our people remains in place as does a federal mandate for mask-wearing across all modes of public transportation.”
Wall said he’s been comfortable in the Villages, but the arrival of summer means unbearable weather. “I mean, you can also say as a 44-year-old living in a retirement community – as much as I love my mother – it’s not the greatest place to be,” he said.
On May 3, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that bars businesses, schools and government entities across the state from asking anyone to provide proof of coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination. He also told Fox host Laura Ingraham that airports and airlines will not be able to require vaccine certificates in Florida.
But it is not clear whether the state also plans to interfere with the mask wearing policy of airports and airlines in Florida.
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