Mother, 2-year-old escorted from Southwest Airlines flight because of mask policy

Melissa Montoya
Fort Myers News-Press
Jodi Degyansky and her son, Hayes Jarboe, were escorted off of a Southwest Airlines flight at RSW because the 2-year-old was not wearing his mask in order to eat some snacks, she said.

A woman traveling from Fort Myers to Chicago said she was escorted off her Southwest Airline flight on Saturday because her 2-year-old son was snacking prior to take off and wasn't wearing his mask. 

Jodi Degyansky, 34, wants airlines to have more compassion for parents who have toddlers that might have difficulty donning their masks for a long time. 

"We are trying to get used to it, but he's 2," Degyansky said. 

Degyansky said she flew to Fort Myers to visit her family in Naples. On her arrival flight to Southwest Florida International Airport, the flight attendants were much more understanding, she said. 

"On the way back I was surprised the flight attendants were much stricter," Degyansky said. 

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Degyansky said she boarded the flight with her son, Hayes, and he took the mask off to eat some of the snacks that were served. On multiple occasions, a flight attendant told her that he needed to be masked, but he was eating, she said. The plane had already left the gate, but returned for staff to escort them off the flight. For about 15 minutes, Degyansky argued with airline personnel because her son had his mask back on, but they did not listen to her, she said.

According to CDC guidelines, children 2 years and older should wear a mask over their nose and mouth if its difficult to social distance. 

"My toddler who literally turned 2 two weeks ago ... I know you have to draw the line but let's be a little compassionate with everyone's individual circumstances," she said. 

Degyansky said a flight attendant told her that parents were using snacks and chips as an excuse to not put a mask on their toddlers. 

But that wasn't the case for Degyansky, she said. The 34-year-old mother said she supports wearing masks and is aware of how it can stop the spread of COVID-19. 

"I'm sure other parents are going through this," Degyansky said. "I want people to either do their homework before they choose to fly or find an airline that has more leniency."

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Jodi Degyansky and her son were escorted off of a Southwest Airlines flight at RSW because the 2-year-old was not wearing his mask in order to eat some snacks, she said.

Degyansky said it was humiliating to have the plane return to the gate so she could be escorted off. According to her, the airline offered to find her another flight for later in the day, but none of them were direct to Chicago. The next direct flight was on Monday, she said.

Instead, she booked a flight on American Airlines, but it cost her $600. 

"I just felt like I can't believe it happened," Degyansky said. "I was left scrambling — how the hell am I going to get home? What if I didn’t have the resources to buy a $600 ticket?"

According to Degyansky, Southwest Airlines said they would refund her money, but as of Sunday they had not. 

In a statement to The News-Press, Southwest Airlines said they are looking into the situation to learn more about what occurred and will reach out to Degyansky. 

However, the company policy is that a customer must wear a mask and that it's communicated often prior to the flight and during the check-in process. 

"If a Customer is unable to wear a face covering for any reason, Southwest regrets that we are unable to transport the individual. In those cases, we will issue a full refund and hope to welcome the Customer onboard in the future, if public health guidance regarding face coverings changes," said Ro Hawthorne, a spokesperson for the airline. "Caring for others with our Southwest Hearts is at the center of everything we do, which is especially important during this pandemic. We appreciate the ongoing support and spirit of cooperation among our Customers and Employees as we collectively take care of each other while striving to prevent the spread of COVID-19."

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