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2-year-olds are getting kicked off planes for refusing to wear a mask. Is that fair?

Some parents are fuming over rules requiring toddlers to wear masks on airplanes — after they were turfed from flights in Canada and the United States, thanks to their non-compliant two-year-olds.

“It’s foolishness,” said Aaron Munn, who was kicked off a WestJet flight on Aug. 24 when his two-year-old son, Emmett, refused to mask-up. 

Transport Canada mandates that air passengers aged two and older wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The policy aligns with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), but is stricter than similar regulations in the European Union and other countries.

Despite Canada’s rules, Emmett wasn’t interested in donning a mask when he and his dad boarded their flight from Fredericton to Toronto.

“As soon as it went to his face, he was screaming and ripping it off,” said Munn, who lives in Holtville, N.B. “He just lost it.”

Munn and Emmett were travelling to Toronto to reunite with his wife, Carolyn, and another son, seven-month-old Josiah, who’s sick and awaiting a heart transplant in the city.

But due to Emmett’s refusal to wear a mask, WestJet told the pair to leave the plane. 

emmett aaron josiah and carolyn munn
The Munn family of Holtville, N.B. Aaron Munn, second from left, holds his son Emmett, 2, while seven-month-old Josiah is held by his mom, Carolyn Munn. Emmett and his dad were travelling to Toronto to reunite with Carolyn and Josiah, who’s sick and awaiting a heart transplant in the city. (Submitted by Carolyn Munn)

In an email to CBC News, WestJet called the situation “regrettable” but said that it’s obligated to follow Transport Canada regulations.

Munn argues the regulations don’t add up. “Whoever made this law, give them a case of face masks and send them to a daycare and see how successful he is. It’s unrealistic.”

Transport Canada told CBC News in an email that it introduced its mask-wearing rules to protect air passengers from COVID-19. 

Department spokesperson Frédérica Dupuis said the regulations allow for “some flexibility” in that airlines can exempt passengers with “special circumstances” from wearing a mask, if warranted. People who can’t wear a mask for medical reasons are also exempt if they supply documentation. 

But Transport Canada’s regulations don’t state specifically that misbehaving toddlers can get a reprieve — allowing airlines to make their refusal to wear a mask grounds for removal. 

U.S. airline rules anger parents

Several parents in the U.S. are also speaking out in protest after they were removed from flights when their two-year-olds refused to wear a mask. 

Most major U.S. airlines mandate that passengers aged two and older wear face coverings. 

rachel davis instagram post
Rachel Davis of Portsmouth, N.H., posted a complaint on Instagram after she says she was kicked off an American Airlines flight on Sept. 17 because her two-year-old refused to wear a mask. The airline said it follows CDC guidelines. (Instagram/Rachel Davis)

Tiffani Jett said in an interview that she was forced off a Southwest Airlines flight departing from Nashville for Orlando, Fla., on Sept. 13, after her two-year-old declined to wear a mask at the request of a flight attendant. 

“To kick a mother and her child off a plane is very heartless,” said Jett, who lives in Orlando. “There just needs to be more compassion, understanding, empathy.”

She had flown to Nashville to visit her mother and said that on the outbound flight, the air crew was fine with her daughter not wearing a mask. 

swannie tiffani jett and daughters of orlando
Tiffani Jett of Orlando, Fla., with husband Swannie and two daughters, aged two and 13 months. She had to leave a Southwest Airlines flight after her two-year-old refused to don a mask. (Submitted by Tiffani Jett)

Southwest Airlines declined to comment on Jett’s case but said its mask policy is a protective measure that follows current recommendations from the CDC in the U.S.

The CDC confirmed it recommends that children who are two and older wear masks in public, but it said it also recognizes that younger children may not be able to wear one properly, particularly for a lengthy period.

Other countries mandate masks for older children

Many other Western countries mandate mask-wearing for children starting at a much older age. For example, the United Kingdom requires masks for air passengers aged 11 and older. 

New Zealand, which has been commended for its handling of the coronavirus, sets the age at 12 for air travel. 

The European Union requires that children aged six and older wear a mask on airplanes and said it based the rule on World Health Organization recommendations. 

The WHO recommends that children younger than age six not wear masks due to challenges with compliance and wearing them correctly. The organization also said that research so far suggests that younger children are less likely to spread the virus.

Transport Canada said it based its mask-wearing rules on recommendations from the CDC and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

The agency told CBC News that research demonstrates children aged two and older can be taught how to wear a face covering.

What happened to the passengers?

After Munn and his son Emmett were kicked off their WestJet flight, Munn paid more than $1,000 to rebook them on a flight that same day with Air Canada. 

He said Air Canada didn’t require Emmett to wear a face mask. The airline declined to comment except to say that it follows Transport Canada regulations.

WestJet didn’t offer Munn a refund for his tickets, which were paid for by a charity providing financial support to families with children in need of organ transplants.

The airline said it offered to rebook Munn and his son on the next available flight the following day, but that didn’t fit with the family’s schedule. WestJet declined to say what action it would have taken if Munn had accepted the offer, and Emmett once again refused to wear a mask on the flight.

In Tiffani Jett’s case, she said Southwest Airlines rebooked her on a later flight, and this time her daughter managed to wear a mask — at least for parts of the trip.

Jett said she hopes airlines relax their mask-wearing policy for toddlers — the same way they have relaxed the rules by allowing passengers to remove their masks while eating. 

“There’s flexibility around eating snacks and drinking juice, but there’s not flexibility with a two-year-old that is just having a moment.”

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