A mother says she was left “emotionally drained” after she was stopped by an airline employee, who made a racially insensitive inquiry about her son. Others think she needs to get over it, saying the ticket agent was just doing their job. You decide.
Lindsay Gottlieb was flying from Denver to Oakland with her biracial son when she says a Southwest Airlines employee asked her to “prove” that the baby was hers before allowing her to board her flight. Furious, the mother fired off a series of tweets, expressing her disgust over what she believes was a racially motivated and insensitive inquiry.
“@SouthwestAir I’m appalled that after approx 50 times flying with my 1 year old son, ticket counter personnel told me I had to ‘prove’ that he was my son, despite having his passport,” Gottlieb tweeted. “She said because we have different last name. My guess is because he has a different skin color,” she added.
Gottlieb further alleged that the employee at Southwest’s ticket counter asked for Jordan Gottlieb Martin’s birth certificate, citing “federal law.” The 40-year-old mother told USA Today that the interaction made her “uncomfortable” and that she found the remark “hurtful.”
“I felt that in this situation it was my responsibility to say, ‘Hey, this isn’t OK,'” Gottlieb said in the statement. “We had a passport that verified our son’s age and identity, and both parents were present. 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.”
After Gottlieb reached out to Southwest on social media, the airline quickly apologized, saying they would use the interaction as a “coaching” moment with their staff. They also gave an apologetic statement to USA Today in which they acknowledged corresponding with Gottlieb and addressing her concerns and said they spoke with the employee involved.
“We apologize if our interaction made this family uncomfortable — that is never our intention,” the statement from Southwest Airlines said. “Our employees are well-regarded for their hospitality, and we always strive for the best experience for anyone who entrusts us with their family’s travel,” they furthered.
“Southwest Airlines’ policy is to verify lap children are younger than the age of two by reviewing a birth certificate or government issued identification. Certain international locations require us to verify additional paperwork for those traveling with a minor,” the statement continued. “Domestic travel does not require carriers to match last names of a child and guardian.”
Gottlieb said she appreciated Southwest’s response but was nevertheless “emotionally drained” and “hurt” by what occurred. “While it was upsetting and emotional, I realize that this was just one day of my life where I was uncomfortable and our family was made to feel ‘less than’ whereas others face similar situations on a daily basis,” she said. Others, however, bring up a good point.
Imagine how “emotionally drained” a mother must feel when her child is trafficked because the first line of defense — the airline staff — didn’t ask any questions. Gottlieb was upset because she was “rattled” and “shocked” by the remark. But, what she has done could leave many families “rattled” and “shocked” as their children are successfully abducted because airline employees are too afraid to inquire into a situation, fearing they will be labeled as racists.
“I hope the coverage this has received can serve as a learning opportunity and that all families — regardless of how ‘traditional’ they may or may not look — are treated with dignity and respect,” Gottlieb said. But, many see her public outrage providing a different “learning opportunity.” She’s inadvertently taught child traffickers that it might be easier to abduct a child of a different race since no one will want to ask “racially insensitive” questions.
While Lindsay Gottlieb believes the ticket agent only saw the color of her son’s skin, there were many other reasons for concern. First, she and her son have different last names. Secondly, Gottlieb, at 40, is of advanced maternal age with an infant. Infertility increases the closer a woman gets to 40, hence seeing a woman who has her first child late in life can be uncommon. In fact, such cases make up less than 10% of all U.S. births, according to the CDC.
There was a laundry list of reasons this ticket agent likely felt the need to ask questions, and skin color was probably at the bottom of it. This was an older woman with an infant who had a different last name with child trafficking on the rise in our country. The appropriate response would have been a public “thank-you” for Southwest’s concern and extra precautions to protect children. Showing a birth certificate is a minor inconvenience when it could save a child.