A 4-year-old Florida boy who suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder and has been restricted from flying during the COVID-19 pandemic because he medically can’t wear a face mask filed suit here Friday demanding $400,000 in damages from American Airlines and Southwest Airlines.
Michael Seklecki Jr. and his dad, Michael Sr., are also asking a federal judge to vacate the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s Federal Transportation Mask Mandate, which marks its first anniversary on Feb. 1.
Michael Sr. and Michael Jr. of Sanford have been denied medical exemptions by the two airlines. They have also have been banned by Frontier Airlines and harassed by Spirit Airlines because Michael Jr. can’t wear a mask.
Delta Air Lines is the only carrier that has accommodated Michael Jr.’s disability with a mask waiver, but it refuses to give Michael Sr. an exception. Delta, Frontier, and Spirit are not named in the lawsuit due to settlement talks outside of court regarding the Sekleckis’ discrimination complaints, but Michael Sr. said they might be added to the case later.
The Sekleckis must fly often between their home near Orlando and Boston for Michael Jr.’s specialty medical care, with their next flight to Boston happening today. They are scheduled to fly home Feb. 2. They have another trip to Boston Children’s Hospital the week of Feb. 20-26.
“Being denied the right to fly because we can’t wear masks jeopardizes my son’s life as it’s not practical for us to make the lengthy drive to and from Boston every time he has a medical appointment,” Michael Sr. wrote in his 124-page complaint. “Should CDC and the airlines be allowed to continue to mandate masks, my son could miss critical medical care, which could be fatal. My family and I would suffer enormous irreparable harm.”
The Sekleckis’ case is the 11th brought to federal courts by members of Americans Against Mask Mandates, a coalition of travelers with medical conditions fighting against the FTMM and airlines’ mask rules.
Like three prior cases against numerous air carriers, the Sekleckis charge American, Southwest, and many of their employees with conspiring to interfere with the civil rights of the disabled.
“Media reports abound of disabled children being removed from planes because they can’t wear masks,” Michael Sr. said. “It’s hard enough for parents traveling with young children, especially kids such as my son who have special needs. The mask mandate – and airlines’ refusal to grant medical exemptions – has made it a complete nightmare. The court must stop this insanity.”
The Sekleckis ask U.S. District Judge Patti Saris to vacate the FTMM, enjoin the airlines from requiring face coverings, and award damages against the two airlines totaling $400,000. They seek additional compensation from all American and Southwest workers who participated in the conspiracy to deprive them of their civil rights.
“My family and I have been restricted from flying by the Airline Defendants for more than 1½ years because of their enforcement of mask mandates that violate numerous provisions of federal and international laws, plus breach their contracts, and violate tort law and the Constitution,” Michael Sr. wrote. “In mandating masks for all passengers, the Airline Defendants violate the Rehabilitation Act, Air Carrier Access Act, international law, and their contracts with passengers – especially when it comes to illegally discriminating against travelers with disabilities who can’t medically tolerate wearing a face covering with first a complete ban and then arduous exemption requirements that aren’t supported by law.”
The Sekleckis are part of a group of 14 flyers from nine states and the District of Columbia who filed six lawsuits in October charging the Transportation Security Administration with exceeding its legal authority by continuing to extend a requirement that all public-transportation passengers don face masks.
TSA’s health directives are based on the CDC order. Those cases are all before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
In December, the Sekleckis and Lucas Wall, chairman of Americans Against Mask Mandates, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to block TSA’s ability to enforce its portion of the FTMM, which has been continued until at least March 18. Chief Justice John Roberts denied their emergency application on Dec. 9.
The trio resubmitted their application to Justice Neil Gorsuch, who referred it to the entire court. Without comment, the Supreme Court denied the emergency request on Jan. 18.