Cebastian Lewis, who is non-verbal, was flying with his family home to Chicago with Spirit Airlines when the incident occurred.
His mother Zana Shelton said a flight attendant stopped them when they were boarding the aircraft, demanding that Cebastian put on a mask.
“I’m like well he’s autistic and we didn’t have this problem coming here,” Shelton told Fox 32 Chicago. She explained that “they just put him on the autism spectrum. He has sensory delay and speech delay.”
Family members managed to get the face covering on Cebastian when boarding the plane, but he quickly removed it again.
“As soon as he sat in the seat he took it right back off,” said Shelton. “So [the flight attendant] was like, ‘he has to get off.’
“Everybody had to deplane and then the police were called.”
Spirit Airlines has accused Shelton of swearing at cabin crew and claims the family was uncooperative and refused to get off the flight.
Shelton says that, although she cursed, it was because the flight attendant was being “very ignorant”.
The carrier told The Independent in a statement: “Safety is our number one priority at Spirit Airlines, which is why we’ve joined nearly all US airlines in implementing a strict and unambiguous face covering policy.
“We have heavily publicised that policy across numerous channels, starting with our own website.”
The airline’s policy states: “Spirit requires appropriate face coverings during your entire journey with us. The only exception to this policy is children under age two. Any other Guest who is unable to wear an appropriate face covering for any reason, including medical, will not be permitted to travel with us at this time.”
The statement continued: “In this case, our flight attendants and agents in Las Vegas did their best to assist but the family refused to cooperate and a family member used profanity toward the flight attendants.
“It eventually became clear that the minor child would not be able to be in compliance with Spirit’s face covering policy. As a result and in the interest of safety, they were asked to deplane but refused to do so. Due to the family’s refusal to deplane, the entire aircraft had to deplane.
“Barring people from travelling with Spirit in the future is never the outcome we want, but in the interest of safety, guests who refuse to comply with our face covering policy will be banned from flying with Spirit at this time.”
The airline refunded the family’s air fare, but another surprise awaited them.
A few days after the incident, two letters arrived from Spirit Airlines, one addressed to Shelton’s sister, the other to three-year-old Cebastian himself.
The letters banned the toddler from flying with the airline due to his failure to comply with its face-covering policy.
Spirit has since said the letter to Cebastian was a mistake. A spokesperson said: “The letter was sent to the minor child when it should have gone only to adults. We apologise for this error.”