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Man sues 7 airlines including JetBlue, Southwest, and Delta, which he accuses of discriminating against travelers who can't wear masks because of medical conditions

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Business Insider
Business Insider
 2021-06-19

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A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 in Denver.
  • JetBlue, Southwest, Delta, and four other airlines have been sued over their mask requirements.
  • Lucas Wall, of Washington DC, told Insider his anxiety condition means he can't wear a mask.
  • He said he's been living in his mother's retirement community in Florida and is stranded there.
  • See more stories on Insider's business page .

A frequent flier on Monday filed a lawsuit against seven airlines - Southwest, Alaska, Allegiant, Delta, Frontier, JetBlue, and Spirit - accusing them of discriminating against travelers who can't wear masks because of medical conditions.

Lucas Wall, of Washington DC, can't wear a mask because he has generalized anxiety disorder, according to a complaint filed in US District Court in Orlando, Florida.

He filed a similar complaint against government agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Federal mask mandates for travelers have been in place for months. Airlines have their own mask requirements. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in late May said 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 this week. "One of the triggers is any time my breathing is obstructed - that brings a feeling of claustrophobia and a complete sense of unease."

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A TSA employee at JFK airport in NYC.

Wall bought tickets for eight flights this summer, according to his complaint. He requested a mask waiver on the airlines' websites. When he went to Orlando International for the first one, on June 2, he recorded his interactions with members of the Transportation Security Administration.

"To get in you need a mask," a TSA officer said in one video. After a back-and-forth with the TSA, airport officials, and Southwest employees, Wall missed his flight.

Wall said the airlines' requirements violate the Air Carrier Access Act, which protects passengers with disabilities from discrimination. He sought an emergency temporary restraining order, letting him travel without a mask.

JetBlue on Thursday filed in opposition to a 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.

A Delta spokesperson said via email: "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."

It added: "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."

An Allegiant spokesperson declined to comment. Insider has reached out to the other airlines for comment.

Wall said he's been comfortable in The Villages, but the arrival of summer means unbearable weather. He's desperate to get out to the Rocky Mountains - or anywhere else.

He said he's been to all 56 states and territories, and has visited 134 countries. He's planning to make it to every one.

He added: "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."

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