'Some people cannot wear masks': How airline mask mandates impact people with disabilities

Posted at 6:54 AM, Dec 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-01 08:00:51-05

Because of COVID-19, holiday travel looks different this year, but some families need to go out of state for one reason or another and in many cases, masks are mandatory when you board most planes.

John Morris, founder of has been writing about how airline mask mandates impact people with disabilities for months now.

"The CDC does say some people cannot wear masks," Morris said.

"I heard from one reader who is no longer able to take her daughter to some of her medical appointments because they're not able to fly on Southwest Airlines which serves their airport," Morris said.

Most of the major airlines in the United States, including, American, Frontier, Jet Blue, Southwest, Spirit, United, and Alaska Airlines require passengers on board age two and older, to wear a face mask. That includes people with disabilities.

"I believe that we can create safety protocols to apply to those who are able to observe them and then offer that exemption to people who cannot," said Morris.

Heather Heiman supports airline mask mandates.

"As a disabled person and someone who is high risk, it protects us," Heiman said.

Heiman has asthma and a condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome -- it affects her skin, joints, and blood vessels.

"One of the things for me with masks, my skin it tears really easily, it's friable. So, the masks tear the skin around my ears," she said.

Despite the discomfort, Heiman recently flew to Wisconsin from California and wore two masks.

"Everyone's medical history and journey are different," she explained.

Heiman's mother, Marci Boucher, is the CEO of Independence First, a nonprofit in southeast Wisconsin offering services to people with disabilities. She also supports the mask mandates on planes but agrees there can be extreme cases where someone can't wear one.

"If they had to travel, then they would find different means of doing so or make it so there's nobody within ten feet around them on the plane," Boucher said.

Agree or disagree with the mask mandates on several airlines, John Morris doesn't see the policies changing anytime soon.

"Even with a vaccine on the horizon, not everyone will be vaccinated immediately. I think that the policies will continue," Morris said.

If you are flying somewhere for the holidays, you can click on the airline listed below to read about their face mask policy:

Alaska Airlines
Allegiant Airlines
American Airlines
Delta Airlines
Frontier Airlines
Hawaiian Airlines
Jet Blue Airlines
Southwest Airlines
Spirit Airlines
United Airlines

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