DENVER – The past year has been full of airline controversies, and Southwest Airlines is in the middle of the latest one.
Conversation is still swirling around an episode last weekend in Denver in which a white woman was asked to prove that her 1-year-old biracial son was hers before they could board a plane.
Lindsay Gottlieb, head coach for the University of California-Berkeley women’s basketball team, took to Twitter to claim she was “appalled” after a Southwest ticket counter agent asked for additional paperwork that could verify her relation to the toddler.
“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. She said because we have different last name. My guess is because he has a different skin color,” Gotllieb tweeted.
The tweet sparked outrage, but also chatter about the event not being a racial issue but a safety concern.
Model Chrissy Teigen even chimed in. In a response to Gottlieb’s tweet, Teigen pointed out that airlines verifying the identity of children is a common occurrence when flying and that it isn’t due to racism.
“Airlines have asked this of me, too, with my daughter. once I learned it’s a precaution for the very real threat of child trafficking, I stopped being exasperated with it. Now I’m kind of worried when they don’t ask,” Teigen said.
In a statement sent to CNN, Southwest said certain international flights require them to verify additional paperwork for those traveling with a minor. Domestic travel does not require airlines to match the last names of a child and their guardian, they said.
However, Gottlieb was flying domestically, from Denver to Oakland, California, and she was not alone. Patrick Martin, her fiancé and father of the infant, was present at the ticketing counter when the episode occurred, according to a spokeswoman for the University of California-Berkeley.
Martin, who is African American, presented his ID, proving that both he and their son carried the same last name. But the agent still pushed her to prove her maternity with a Facebook post, Gottlieb tweeted.
“Being pushed further to ‘prove’ that he was my son felt disrespectful and motivated by more than just concern for his well-being,” Gottlieb told CNN.
According to Gottlieb, she reached out to the airline via Twitter to “make them aware of the incident.”
Southwest told CNN that even though their policy includes verifying the age of lap children by reviewing birth certificates or government-issued identification, they didn’t mean to disrespect anyone.
“We apologize if our interaction made this family uncomfortable — that is never our intention,” the airline told CNN.
Southwest also said in a statement that they reached out directly to Gottlieb “to address her concerns and will emphasize the coaching moment with our employee as we ensure our policies are properly followed.”