Despite the Outrage, Southwest Did the Right Thing

 

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.

There are 42 comments.

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  1. milkchaser Member
    milkchaser
    @milkchaser

    I did not know about the birth certificate requirement. I’m confident we did not do that in Nov 2002.

    • #1
  2. milkchaser Member
    milkchaser
    @milkchaser

    For me, the biggest hassle of traveling overseas with infants has been cleaning up the barf they spewed during landing. The one thing I learned is that smelling of barf will get you waved through customs at record speed.

    • #2
  3. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist
    @WesternChauvinist

    Interesting. I hadn’t thought about it, but, are the airlines deputized to act if the infant is not traveling with his parents? What happens? The ticketing agent calls over a TSA agent? That’s comforting. 

    • #3
  4. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    I hadn’t thought of the trafficking angle, but it makes sense. A few years ago, we had to fly with our daughter when I think she was around 18 months. I remember reading the airline requirements and bringing her birth certificate to the airport. We weren’t asked for it, but I had it as required.

    • #4
  5. Merrijane Inactive
    Merrijane
    @Merrijane

    I disagree. While asking children questions is fine, I think this was inappropriate. Parents provide proof of relationship when they apply for the passport. A passport is considered a proof of identity on par with a birth certificate. In fact, in my state it’s far more difficult to get a passport than a birth certificate.  The fact that the mother had traveled with her child before and never encountered problems in the past makes it seem like this particular agent was making up rules on the fly, including asking the woman to prove she was the mother with a Facebook post. A Facebook post definitely doesn’t rise to the standard of documentation to get the passport that was already on hand.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong about the situation, but this is how I judge it based on what information is out there now.

    • #5
  6. Mate De Inactive
    Mate De
    @MateDe

    For some reason I go onto Yahoo news a lot (I don’t know why, maybe I’m a masochist) and I see these types of stories EVERYDAY. These people air their grievances over social media. They were fat shamed, a person did something that a person perceived to be racist, or sexist or homophobic or transphobic.

    So many of these stories are one sided, or flat out fake. This trend of people putting out what they perceive to incidents that prove that we live in a rotten, racist, sexist, homophobic hell hole of a country, over social media with zero context is troubling. One thing that most of these people don’t seem to get is, well first, don’t throw stones this could also bit them in the butt because nobody is perfect, but also a lot of people are just jerks. Why caulk up what is simple rudeness to a bigger ISM (like sexism, racism etc…). A lot of these incidents tend to happen in places where people tend to behave badly. Such as planes, and airports, or Democrat run cites.  I know that NYer’s pride themselves on being jerks so why get upset about what the city is most proud of.

    I don’t like this trend, it’s annoying,. Also it’s really bad because if they keep crying racist when something isn’t, what do they think will happen when something actually racist happens.

    The one good thing is on yahoo news in the comments section of these stories usually people are super skeptical. It’s really only the media that gets their panties in a bunch. Most normal people realize this stuff is garbage.

    • #6
  7. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHill
    @EJHill

    We can’t keep this up. We swing from full panic mode of “DO SOMETHING!” to full panic mode of “RACIST!” at the drop of a hat. It’s civilization in bipolar mode. The pendulum swings from hyper vigilance to hyper paralysis. 

    If the airline employee asks for proof they’re racist. If they don’t and it turns out they let a white woman traffic a BOC (baby of color) then… they’re racist. 

    • #7
  8. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    Great post and discussion. 

    • #8
  9. Bethany Mandel Editor
    Bethany Mandel
    @bethanymandel

    Merrijane (View Comment):

    I disagree. While asking children questions is fine, I think this was inappropriate. Parents provide proof of relationship when they apply for the passport. A passport is considered a proof of identity on par with a birth certificate. In fact, in my state it’s far more difficult to get a passport than a birth certificate. The fact that the mother had traveled with her child before and never encountered problems in the past makes it seem like this particular agent was making up rules on the fly, including asking the woman to prove she was the mother with a Facebook post. A Facebook post definitely doesn’t rise to the standard of documentation to get the passport that was already on hand.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong about the situation, but this is how I judge it based on what information is out there now.

    They don’t know if the kid belongs to the people flying; they could always just have the kid’s passport. 

    She wanted her to prove this kid was hers. She was expected to fly with a birth certificate and she was given a more informal way to prove the kid was hers. If you pull up any of my social media, you see years of documentation that these kids are mine; that’s all she wanted, some kind of proof, even informal, that she didn’t take this kid.

    • #9
  10. Bethany Mandel Editor
    Bethany Mandel
    @bethanymandel

    milkchaser (View Comment):

    I did not know about the birth certificate requirement. I’m confident we did not do that in Nov 2002.

    It’s up to the discretion of airline folks if they ask for it. 

    • #10
  11. David Knights Member
    David Knights
    @DavidKnights

    My wife is an F/A for SWA.  These employees get put in an impossible position.  Enforce the rules and get dragged on Twitter.  Don’t enforce the rules and  it is a disaster that could cost you your job if something bad is happening and you didn’t catch it.  A lot of the most irritating rules are FAA regulations and the airline employees are subject to massive fines ($10K+) for violating a regulation.  

    It seems we are no longer capable of assuming that the people we interact with on a day to day basis are acting in good faith if it inconveniences us or we can become Twitter famous for 15 minutes (Andy W. was right) by throwing an outrage fit.

    • #11
  12. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    I make it a practice not to mention my son by name on Facebook and rarely show photos of him on social media. I hadn’t realized that Facebook is now the go-to verification for identity and familial relationships that the airlines now use. Perhaps that’s to be supplemented soon with requiring Twitter and Instagram verification. Perhaps humans need to be branded like cattle. Would that help?

    • #12
  13. Bethany Mandel Editor
    Bethany Mandel
    @bethanymandel

    Brian Watt (View Comment):

    I make it a practice not to mention my son by name on Facebook and rarely show photos of him on social media. I hadn’t realized that Facebook is now the go-to verification for identity and familial relationships that the airlines now use. Perhaps that’s to be supplemented soon with requiring Twitter and Instagram verification. Perhaps humans need to be branded like cattle. Would that help?

    I do too, but if you look at my profile, you know that I’m a mother. If someone asked you to take out your phone and show pictures you’ve taken of him over the years, you would be able to do that. The mother didn’t follow regulations and the employee was giving her options to prove the relationship instead of just turning her away. That was a favor on her part. 

    • #13
  14. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    I’ve just read a few stories on this, including the one in the Washington Post, and they are all uniformly uninformative as to the important question:  Based on federal law and Southwest’s policies, what was the employee required to do?  The answer to this is crucial to knowing whether the employee was freelancing or fulfilling an obligation.  According to the Post, Southwest does not require matching names, but does require proof of age for “lap” children, so . . . a passport.  But are there other requirements?  And asking for a Facebook post strikes me as just ridiculous.

    As for Gottlieb, I suppose her position as a college basketball coach for a major university provides a modicum of a news hook, but she also doesn’t seem to be all that aware.  The Post story notes her wondering, as a newly qualified “victim,” how often this (racially charged) questioning happens.  It then publishes a tweet of hers saying that she’s flown with the child 50 times without undergoing similar questioning.  Well, there’s your answer, Ms. Gottlieb.  Not very.

    • #14
  15. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    Bethany Mandel (View Comment):

    Brian Watt (View Comment):

    I make it a practice not to mention my son by name on Facebook and rarely show photos of him on social media. I hadn’t realized that Facebook is now the go-to verification for identity and familial relationships that the airlines now use. Perhaps that’s to be supplemented soon with requiring Twitter and Instagram verification. Perhaps humans need to be branded like cattle. Would that help?

    I do too, but if you look at my profile, you know that I’m a mother. If someone asked you to take out your phone and show pictures you’ve taken of him over the years, you would be able to do that. The mother didn’t follow regulations and the employee was giving her options to prove the relationship instead of just turning her away. That was a favor on her part.

    I think the focus in this case should be on the passport. If the mother was singled out by TSA as someone with a questionable or possibly forged passport she would have never made it to the gate – especially given the security measures that are incorporated into American passports (take a look at your own passport especially if it’s been issued in the past ten years and note the metal and holographic watermarks across you ID page and your photo). Forging an American passport is extremely difficult unless you’re a member of a foreign spy agency. If a US passport is no longer considered adequate identification and must be supplemented by Facebook or family photos, then what occurred is an overreach. I don’t really care about the motivations of the Southwest employee. Race may or may not have anything to do with it. But common sense did not seem to be at play here.

    • #15
  16. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Brian Watt (View Comment):
    I think the focus in this case should be on the passport

    Do US passports contain your parents’ identities?

    • #16
  17. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    genferei (View Comment):

    Brian Watt (View Comment):
    I think the focus in this case should be on the passport

    Do US passports contain your parents’ identities?

    Does federal law require such confirmation?   That’s not rhetorical.  I don’t know.

    I do know that TSA does not require ID for those under 18 travelling domestically, but perhaps there’s a law outside of TSA’s area of concern.

    • #17
  18. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    genferei (View Comment):

    Brian Watt (View Comment):
    I think the focus in this case should be on the passport

    Do US passports contain your parents’ identities?

    Per the article the Southwest employee viewed the toddler’s passport which it appears had the same last name as the mother’s and the father’s.

    “We had a passport that verified our son’s age and identity, and both parents were present,”

    • #18
  19. Arizona Patriot Member
    Arizona Patriot
    @ArizonaPatriot

    Bethany, great post.

    Here’s another important detail from the WaPo story:

    On Twitter, Gottlieb wrote that the employee claimed she requested further documentation of her and her son’s relationship because the boy had a different last name.

    “My guess is because he has a different skin color,” wrote Gottlieb, who is white.

    When an infant is traveling with an adult, and the infant’s ID is checked, and the infant’s last name does not match the adult’s, it seems reasonable for an airline to request additional evidence of the relationship. Of course, Gottlieb is convinced that this is a pretext., as the WaPo story continues:

    She added that a mother next to her told her she had never been asked for “proof” when traveling with her child, who also had a different last name but was of the same race. “Not shockingly, not mixed face fam,” Gottlieb added of the other mother.

    On the biracial issue, this also doesn’t seem wrong to me, nor even necessarily an issue of race.  Imagine that you’re the airline employee.  A woman is traveling with an infant.  Their names don’t match.  And they don’t look alike.  It’s enough to make additional questioning reasonable.  And it’s not to harass biracial people — its to protect the child.

    Let me tell you where it this is heading.  Everybody is going to be checked.  It is going to be a nuisance.  Something similar just happened to me at my bank.

    I noticed that my bank started asking for ID when I made a cash deposit.  I could see no reason for them to do so, and I asked.  The answer was that they sometimes check due to money laundering concerns, but were accused of racial profiling when they left such checking to the discretion of the employees, so they just implemented a policy of checking everybody.

    • #19
  20. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    genferei (View Comment):

    Brian Watt (View Comment):
    I think the focus in this case should be on the passport

    Do US passports contain your parents’ identities?

    Nope.  And so I understand why the agent wanted something more.  Last names matching helps, but it doesn’t prove you’re the mother.

    • #20
  21. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Tim H. (View Comment):

    genferei (View Comment):

    Brian Watt (View Comment):
    I think the focus in this case should be on the passport

    Do US passports contain your parents’ identities?

    Nope. And so I understand why the agent wanted something more. Last names matching helps, but it doesn’t prove you’re the mother.

    I’m not convinced the issue here is what the agent wanted.  IMO, it’s closer to what the agent was permitted to ask for.   If we’re in fact delegating authority to airline employees to enforce anti-trafficking laws, I’m interested in knowing where that’s done.

    • #21
  22. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    From the Dallas News:

    The Dallas-based airline said in a prepared statement that domestic travel doesn’t require airlines to match the last name of a child and guardian.

    • #22
  23. Tim H. Member
    Tim H.
    @TimH

    I mentioned this in a Twitter reply, @bethanymandel, but I’ll repeat it here:

    My cousin and her husband, both white, adopted two black children.  She told me, probably close to twenty years ago, how when they traveled by air or through a foreign border, that they brought along copies of the kids’ birth certificates, maybe even a copy of the adoption papers.  Border guards and airlines are wary about kidnapping, and they are certainly more likely to check if the kids don’t look like a parent.  In cases of the kids having a different race than a parent, I’m sure it’s likely to be a bright red flag, something they’re likely to check on.

    Both she and her husband are liberal, but not the constantly-outraged type, and they told me about this very matter-of-factly.  It is extra work to prepare this, but they understood and accepted it without any anger or visible frustration.

    But some people a prone to getting outraged.

    • #23
  24. Hoyacon Member
    Hoyacon
    @Hoyacon

    Brian Watt (View Comment):

    From the Dallas News:

    The Dallas-based airline said in a prepared statement that domestic travel doesn’t require airlines to match the last name of a child and guardian.

    That would be consistent with the TSA policy that I mentioned above.  We appear to have an overreaching employee, combined with somebody bent on assuming a victim mantle.  Ergo, PR problem.  What are the chances Gottlieb would have said “I’ve done this around 50 times and never had a problem.  It’s one unfortunate event.”?  Not in today’s climate.

     

    • #24
  25. Quake Voter Inactive
    Quake Voter
    @QuakeVoter

    Honestly, almost every security routine can be processed through a grievance lens by a law abiding person.  Every screening and questioning protocol is occasioned by the assumption that you might be a bad actor, perhaps a horribly deformed human being.  Of course these can be executed with more or less skill.

    But if you want a truly effective security force, you have to give room for hunches and spidey sense, which themselves are pretty erratic.

    Two of our children were adopted from Haiti.  I’m of Gaelic and Hungarian Jewish stock.  Whenever we traveled as a whole catastrophe the easy familiarity and camaraderie of the kids and the presence of a clearly alpha female never raised alerts.  But whenever I was travelling with my Haitian son and/or daughter, particularly in those oh-so-pleasant early childhood emergency bathroom visits or in more remote locales, I attracted some extra scrutiny from security personnel and fellow passengers/beachgoers/hikers etc.

    Now, adopting a child of a different race can give you an entirely unearned sense of your non-racist bona fides (I’m an Avenue Q racist).  And I can recall (or rather my wife reminds me) that I was off put by some questioning early on.  Yet I quickly came to understand that security personnel and fellow citizens were simply concerned about the welfare of our children.

    If you keep that in mind, 99% of these encounters are an opportunity for thanks, not offended sensibilities.

    • #25
  26. NickManeck Inactive
    NickManeck
    @NickManeck

    What I like about you @bethanymandel is you have a nose for the truth. Those of us who are blessed with the power of the pen, must also bear the responsibility of wielding such a powerful weapon in a careful and considerate manner. In the days of Twitter and other social media, not everyone can always exercise their responsibility appropriately. Often our emotions and our subjectivity cloud our narrative. The worst part of our electronic media is the speed at which our roughed up feelings are splattered all over the world. We do not have an opportunity to cool down and be considerate or objective. This kind of random emotion laden expression does more harm than it does good. 

    When you covered this story, you dug deep. When you inserted *human trafficking* in your report, I had no doubt the airlines did not put the mother through the inconvenience out of spite. They were doing what needs to be done. The examples which you cite about the TSA and other officials asking you similar questions when you traveled with little kids was educational. More important than what we ask of our traveling passengers is, how we ask it. A friendly chatty probe is usually more fruitful. Usually the lower rung airline employees do not possess the wherewithal of time, skill or tact of doing these kinds of screenings.

    Yes, I agree with you Bethany SWA did the right thing. It was unfortunate that it turned out the way it did. We all live and learn. As long as we have the Free Press, and able correspondents such as yourself, we will continue to learn.

    • #26
  27. Brian Watt Member
    Brian Watt
    @BrianWatt

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    Brian Watt (View Comment):

    From the Dallas News:

    The Dallas-based airline said in a prepared statement that domestic travel doesn’t require airlines to match the last name of a child and guardian.

    That would be consistent with the TSA policy that I mentioned above. We appear to have an overreaching employee, combined with somebody bent on assuming a victim mantle. Ergo, PR problem. What are the chances Gottlieb would have said “I’ve done this around 50 times and never had a problem. It’s one unfortunate event.”? Not in today’s climate.

    I think that’s a fair characterization.

    • #27
  28. RufusRJones Member
    RufusRJones
    @RufusRJones

    David Knights (View Comment):

    My wife is an F/A for SWA. These employees get put in an impossible position. Enforce the rules and get dragged on Twitter. Don’t enforce the rules and it is a disaster that could cost you your job if something bad is happening and you didn’t catch it. A lot of the most irritating rules are FAA regulations and the airline employees are subject to massive fines ($10K+) for violating a regulation.

    It seems we are no longer capable of assuming that the people we interact with on a day to day basis are acting in good faith if it inconveniences us or we can become Twitter famous for 15 minutes (Andy W. was right) by throwing an outrage fit.

    I would never, ever complain on twitter about this stuff unless there was no other option. Jesus. 

    We had a great guy on the radio, Jason Lewis, he’s now Congressman. He was very good at explaining the intricacies of the economic mess that are the airlines. It is a very tricky thing to regulate properly. 

    • #28
  29. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Bethany Mandel (View Comment):

    Merrijane (View Comment):

    I disagree. While asking children questions is fine, I think this was inappropriate. Parents provide proof of relationship when they apply for the passport. A passport is considered a proof of identity on par with a birth certificate. In fact, in my state it’s far more difficult to get a passport than a birth certificate. The fact that the mother had traveled with her child before and never encountered problems in the past makes it seem like this particular agent was making up rules on the fly, including asking the woman to prove she was the mother with a Facebook post. A Facebook post definitely doesn’t rise to the standard of documentation to get the passport that was already on hand.

    Of course, I could be completely wrong about the situation, but this is how I judge it based on what information is out there now.

    They don’t know if the kid belongs to the people flying; they could always just have the kid’s passport.

    She wanted her to prove this kid was hers. She was expected to fly with a birth certificate and she was given a more informal way to prove the kid was hers. If you pull up any of my social media, you see years of documentation that these kids are mine; that’s all she wanted, some kind of proof, even informal, that she didn’t take this kid.

    So many parents avoid Facebook and other social media and never put their kids on it–for safety and security reasons–that a passport should have been sufficient.

    My daughter will not allow any pictures of her son on social media.

    If the attendant was concerned about the identity of the parents because they did not have the required birth certificate, she or he should have called the security officials. That’s life for parents. Fill out the forms and have them with you. It’s a day-to-day chore of parenthood.

    Reading this thread suggests we need new and better identification procedures. A birth certificate can stolen as easily as a passport. That’s not a good solution.

     

    • #29
  30. NickManeck Inactive
    NickManeck
    @NickManeck

    genferei (View Comment):
    Do US passports contain your parents’ identities?

    Hi @genferei

    I tried to look up the answer to your question. At this time I can not tell you with any certainty whether or not US Passports of minors contain the identities of the parents/guardians. What I can tell you is that a minor cannot apply for a passport online or via mail. They have to apply for a passport in person in the presence of both parents/guardian. 

    The Evidence of the parental relationship to a minor is proven by one of the following documents:

    • U.S. birth certificate
    • Foreign birth certificate
    • Adoption decree
    • Divorce/Custody decree
    • Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a United States Citizen (FS-240)

    I hope others may be able to provide you with a more definitive answer.

    • #30

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