Family receives full refund from Southwest Airlines, calls for more education and understanding

NOW: Family receives full refund from Southwest Airlines, calls for more education and understanding

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- A Richfield family whose son wasn't allowed to board a Southwest Airlines flight leaving O'Hare International Airport early Tuesday morning on March 22 has received a full refund from the airline and a chance to 'redo' the family vacation that was taken from them.

Megan Kitze-Ward provided the update on a Facebook Live video late Tuesday night on March 22 from Punta Cana. Kitze-Ward had earned the trip through work and planned to take her husband, Matt, and their two children, Cali and Max.

Those plans changed when a Southwest Airlines gate attendant wouldn't allow Max, who has autism, to board the flight due to fears that he wouldn't keep his mask on. This decision was made after the mother says her son wore his mask for at least 45 minutes. She says she also assured the employee that they would be able to keep the mask on Max.

"We saw that Max will never get the same shake that everybody else gets," Kitze-Ward said in the Facebook Live video. "This discrimination is alive and well and in this case, it was lack of understanding, and there's so much lack of understanding."

Kitze-Ward and her daughter boarded the flight, leaving Matt and Max behind. In the video, she says that what she saw during her travels frustrated her.

"We get to the gate, people everywhere without masks on," Kitze-Ward said. "We get on the plane, little girl just takes her mask off, sits there, watching her movie. Nobody says anything to her."

Kitze-Ward says she did receive a phone call from Southwest's corporate office late Tuesday on March 22, who told her that they will be refunding the entire family's trip, which would have been their first in three years.

Southwest confirmed the refunds to CBS 58 via email, saying they were given and that "We are conducting our own internal review of the situation."

Gerald Hay works with people of all ages and disabilities on a regular basis at Independence First. He says that the situation the Ward family found themselves in is not uncommon.

"There are a lot of different barriers that we have in our society," Hay explained. "What we find is, a lot of times, it's more of just an awareness issue."

Hay says that a lot of the unfortunate circumstances can be avoided with time and understanding.

"You don't have to be an expert or be able to accommodate specifics if you approach things as 'We want to be as accessible and inclusive as possible,'" Hay said. "The expectation shouldn't always be on the person with the disability to be able to prove, be able to access, be able to do this. It should actually be flipped. What can we do to provide those services?"

Both Kitze-Ward and Hay are hopeful that people will look at this as an opportunity to better educate themselves on how to recognize and work with people who have disabilities rather than excluding them.

"You spend your whole life worrying about, 'Will your child be left out? Will your child be excluded? What will your kid do when you die? What will your kid do when they're 21 and get out of the education system?'" Kitze-Ward said. "I want this to never happen to another family again."

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