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Woman sues airline for asking her to get off the plane, after removing mask to drink water

Woman sues Southwest, says airline ejected her for removing mask to drink water
Woman sues Southwest, says airline ejected her for removing mask to drink water   -   Copyright  Reuters
By Jonathan Stempel  with Reuters

A 68-year-old woman has sued an airline after she was asked to disembark her flight for removing her mask to drink some water. 

Medora Clai Reading, hailing from Florida in the US, took action against Southwest Airlines Co suing it for $10 million (€8.8m) on Tuesday.

Reading says she was wrongly removed from a flight on 7 January 2021 to Palm Beach, Florida, from Washington DC, after a hostile flight attendant demanded that she keep her mask on despite medical issues. These included a heart condition and low blood sugar, requiring that she stay hydrated.

Southwest had no immediate comment, having yet to review the complaint.

The passenger's lawsuit in federal court in Brooklyn differs from disputes focused on travellers who are unwilling to wear masks. The Federal Aviation Administration said airline crews in 2021 submitted 5,981 reports of unruly passengers, including 4,290 incidents related to masks.

In her complaint, Reading said that she offered to show the attendant her medical exemption card but was told, "we don't care," and that the attendant objected to her later sipping water by shouting: "You were talking!"

She offered to show the attendant her medical exemption card but was told, "we don't care."

According to Reading, a gate attendant eventually ordered her off the flight, as an unmasked pilot "laughed mockingly" as she tearfully exited.

She said nearby police helped her to a chair and offered water, while commenting that similar occurrences were "happening far too often" and "it is usually Southwest."

Kristina Heuser, her lawyer, adds that a "planeload full of witnesses" saw the encounter, and some may have videotaped it.

Heuser called Southwest's conduct "hostile and abusive" and reflected a "COVID insanity" that should not override federal laws protecting people with medical disabilities.

Reading's lawsuit alleges violations of the federal Air Carrier Access Act and various civil rights laws. The flight attendant, two gate officials and the pilot, none of whom is identified by name, are also defendants.