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There is no bigger hassle for a company than a disgruntled customer with a Twitter account. This week Southwest is getting some heat; not for killing a dog or dragging a customer off a flight, but for asking for proof of an infant’s identity. The Washington Post reports:
But her family then had what Gottlieb called an “uncomfortable and hurtful” interaction with a Southwest Airlines employee at a Denver International Airport ticket counter: On Monday, she said, the employee asked Gottlieb to “prove” she was the mother of her biracial son, even after seeing the toddler’s passport.
The employee then asked for her son’s birth certificate, citing “federal law” — and proceeded to ask the dismayed mother if she could prove she was the mother with a Facebook post, Gottlieb wrote in a tweet.
“We had a passport that verified our son’s age and identity, and both parents were present,” Gottlieb said in a statement to The Washington Post on Tuesday. “But still being pushed further to ‘prove’ that he was my son felt disrespectful and motivated by more than just concern for his well-being.”
You know what’s more uncomfortable for a mother being asked for her son’s birth certificate? An infant getting trafficked. The airline is correct; parents traveling with children under two years of age are required to travel with proof of their relationship to the child in order to protect the child.
We hear a great deal about white privilege; but here’s an uncomfortable fact for Gottlieb: just because you’re a white woman with sensitive feelings doesn’t mean you’re immune from some basic questions. The rules don’t exist to make adoptive or biracial families feel uncomfortable or upset; they are there for the sake of children. Traveling with a passport and both parents isn’t enough; authorities aren’t concerned about the child’s identity or age; they want to make sure they are traveling with the right adults before they’re able to speak for themselves.
I have a four-year-old, a three-year-old and a one-year-old; which means I’ve been traveling with a child under the age of two my entire time as a mother. I’ve flown with all of my children alone over half a dozen times across the country; from Arizona to South Carolina to Chicago and Florida. Given that my oldest are now able to speak, they’ve been asked several times by different airport employees and TSA what their names are and who I am; not in an interrogation kind of manner, just a friendly question posed to verify everything was kosher. As a mother, I appreciated their intention to make sure my children were traveling safely and with the appropriate caregiver.
It’s a fair expectation that parents of all children traveling under the age of two should be asked to provide birth certificates in order to prove they are traveling with their own children. The issue with how the Washington Post framed the story is that it was wrong and racist of Southwest to do so at all. Outside of how tiresome it is for racism to always be the blame for behavior people don’t like, it’s also dangerous in this instance. And the most upsetting thing is, this might discourage other airlines from taking this important and necessary step of asking questions of families that don’t look biologically related. The next time an airline employee sees something that doesn’t look quite right regarding a child, they may choose to stay silent, lest they elicit a social media mob more concerned about feelings than a child’s safety.