Airline apologizes for questioning white woman about her biracial son

Lindsay Gottlieb, the head coach for the University of California Women’s Basketball team, says Southwest Airlines didn’t think it was good enough when she showed her son’s passport to the gate agent in Denver. Her son is biracial.

So, remember, when traveling, always carry your passport, a birth certificate, and Facebook.

“It isn’t racism it’s Southwest Airlines policy to have the birth certificate they do the same thing to white women with white babies with different last names happened to my daughter we didn’t complain nationally about it,” one commenter said.

That will comes as news to Southwest Airlines, which tells the Boston Globe “although some international travel requires additional paperwork for leaving the country with a minor, domestic travel does not require airlines to match the last name of a child and guardian.”

“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,” Gottlieb said. “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.”

I do feel like as a white female, with a position of privilege, and a platform where someone is going to listen, it is my responsibility to say, ‘Hey, this happened, this isn’t OK,” she told KPIX 5. “And maybe somewhere down the line that helps my son, who is biracial and will be for his entire life.”

Southwest apologized and said it’s “a coaching opportunity” for the employee.

Related: ‘I’m not aware of that’: Starbucks employees receive racial bias training (NPR)

  • John O.

    I hope that a “coaching opportunity” equals “benched,” Southwest.

    • Ben Chorn

      Given how serious Southwest takes its customer service, I can bet that the employee is getting a lot of training after this incident.

  • Gary F

    Oh, why was the plane late? Engine troubles? Weather? Crew?

    No, delays boarding because of a gate agent being stupid.

  • Given that biracial families are mainstream as are families with different surnames, this seems like a “common sense” failure as much as a training issue.

  • >>“It isn’t racism it’s Southwest Airlines policy to have the birth certificate they do the same thing to white women with white babies with different last names happened to my daughter we didn’t complain nationally about it,” one commenter said.<<

    I'll take "Things that didn't actually happen" for $600, Alex.

    • It’s probably the Ambien.

      • Rob

        I love what Ambien’s chief said in response to RBarr’s excuse: “Racism is not a known side effect.”

        • “Ask your doctor if racism is right for you.”

  • jon

    Waiting for the disruptive industry for the airlines… charter flights or something uber for planes… seems like there has got to be a way around the TSA and airlines…

    Cheap rail? Hyperloops? Charter planes? something has to be cost competitive without the hassle, at least domestically…

    • Ralphy

      Road trip! My willingness to drive vs fly keeps getting further with every experience.

      • jon

        Not disruptive enough… not yet at least…
        Though self driving cars might have an impact, and electric too (lowers prices compared to ICE, but limits range … for now).

        High speed self driving cars might be the best solution…. but getting them up to 4 or 5 hundred miles per hour is going to be a challenge… probably looking at hyperloop territory there…

        • Ralphy

          Beam me up, Scotty!

        • Somewhere I read that a hypermiler got 600+ miles out of a Tesla recently. Maybe it was all downhill with a tail wind.

          • jon

            I read the story…. it was a loop, with no more than 10 ft elevation change, and they did something like 20 mph the whole time…. and after the battery cut out it wouldn’t charge again…

            But even at the rated ~300 miles for less than $10 in electricity… vs a flight to Chicago costing $45 per person minimum, or driving there for ~$40 in gas…

            Cutting costs by a factor of 4 is pretty disruptive.

          • In 2005 I bought a Civic Hybrid. Without trying too hard I could get 60 mpg between Woodbury and Golden Valley. Alas, that car was totaled when it got rear-ended on I-94 in downtown Minneapolis. There are a couple of Teslas in our neighborhood, but most households still have 2 or 3 gas vehicles – lots of Subaru Outbacks and Hondas. If I were in the market for a new car today, I’d definitely look at an all-electric. Electrics have very few moving parts, eliminating the bulk of maintenance. Even without a huge range, it would still make sense to keep at least one electric in the stable for primarily local use, which is the kind of usage that accounts for most of the gasoline usage today. Another option is to keep an electric as a primary vehicle and rent for long distance hauls.

          • jon

            I get 64 mpg on the motorcycle without trying at all (heck that is twisting the throttle hard out of most stop signs…) trying I can push 72 mpg, and I think I’ve gotten up to 78 mpg at times.

            But 72 mpg at $2.50 a gallon (rounded long term average price for gas, for easy math) is still $0.035 per mile, compared to the leaf at $0.03 a mile… and no oil changes, and no air filter changes (well cabin air filter I suppose), fewer brake jobs (thanks to regenerative braking it sounds like most leaf owners get their first set of brake pads at 100k+ miles), no fuel pump, water pump, or fuel filter to replace… no head gaskets (just paid $2,500 for that on my subaru)… .though there might be a need for a new battery, after 10 years (warranty period), going rate today is around $5k for that, and in 10 years it will likely be a larger battery for the same price.

            The leaf beats my motorcycle for cost hands down.

            xcel is still only offering rebates for the leaf… (no idea why not the bolt… or the teslas… or the BMW I series…) and it’s no longer the $10k I got, it’s only $3k ( ) but add in the $7,500 from the feds on your taxes and a $30k car now costs $20k… (for the new model year with 50% more range than I have, and a couple grand cheaper msrp).
            Over 100k miles it’ll save you $10k in fuel costs over a 25 mpg car, assuming, $2.50/gallon gas and $0.12 a kwh for electricity. If you can get off peak electricity (3 cents a kwh) at home and charge with that, then it’s more like $40k over 100k miles.

            Everyone needs to run the numbers for themselves of course, but I wasn’t looking for a new car when I did some back of the napkin math and later excel sheet math…and I was still on the fence until we test drove it.

            We still keep the subaru for longer trips, and hauling more than a little hatch back can carry (not not more than a wagon with a roof rack can carry…) but we’ve put twice as many miles on the leaf in the past 11 months than we have on the subaru… because most trips are less than 100 miles round trip… (or I can stop at a fast charger for 15 minutes to top off the battery.)

      • RBHolb

        My late father was a loyal 30+ year employee of Northwest Airlines. After he retired, he could fly anywhere they went for next to nothing. He seldom did it. He would rather drive than sit through what air travel had become.

        • I feel his pain. But driving isn’t a picnic these days either.

    • Barton

      I want something equivalent to the TGV in France. That thing is awesome! Fast, smooth, easy to manage and great connections. Also, better seats in coach than most airlines first class domestic seats.

  • Ralphy

    Wait. What?
    A Facebook post is sufficient proof of identity for SouthWest Airlines?
    Does Linkedin count?
    How about Discuss?
    Of course Twitter is double plus good.

    And for desert, SW employees are bullying customers by BS’ing “it’s a federal law”.

    • jon

      Twitter only counts for verified accounts.

      One law for them, another for the rest of us.

    • Joseph

      You may not want to use Discuss — they may think you are Vladimir-Ralph-Putin 😉

    • Barton

      I wonder if they just wanted to prove that the baby you are carrying is the same one you are over-sharing about on social media? Doesn’t make it less appalling to be asked, but it does kind of make it appalling that we are sharing too much on social media.

  • EarthToBobby

    From the newspaper article: “Southwest’s representatives said Federal Aviation Administration rules require airlines to ask for government ID OR a birth certificate for children who are sitting in a parent’s lap during the flight, to verify that the child is under 2 years old.”

    She’d already showed the child’s passport. Why press further?

  • AL287

    You can’t coach away peoples’ ingrained prejudices and stereotypes.

    You can only inform them of what the law legally allows and the penalty for violating the law—comply or lose your job.

    Roseanne Barr is now aware of what insensitive, racially charged language can do to your career and your bank account.

    Sexual harassment training has failed to prevent employees from creating a hostile work environment for women, people of color and LGBTQ employees.

    It took the MeToo movement to force employers to do something about it.

    It remains to be seen if Starbucks sensitivity training will eliminate racial discrimination in its locations nationwide.

    My advice is money talks. If you don’t buy, the company’s bottom line suffers—eventually.

    • Saw a good tweet from a colleague on Twitter last night. Asking why people use this:

      “racially charged”

      Instead of this:


      • Sonny T

        The first seems ambiguous, or open to argument. The second… look out.

        • AmiSchwab

          “look out” or how about some truths

          • Sonny T

            Not sure what you mean but racist is a big, big word and should not be used carelessly.

          • Rob

            IMHO, if someone routinely uses intentionally racist and inflammatory language/imagery to refer to other people, and approvingly retweets racist crap, the user is a racist. Sometimes big, big words need to be applied to the smallest and meanest of people.

          • Sonny T

            of course

            By the way, would you call that airline clerk a racist?

          • Rob

            racially insensitive, more like

          • Sonny T

            Yes. I would like to hear her side, though. That’s a very big piece of the puzzle. Also I want to hear from that Starbucks manager. Am I the only one who wonders where she is?

          • lindblomeagles

            For racists Sonny, there’s only ONE story, “Our race is the greatest, and your race is a POS.” As for the airline clerk, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. You are there to secure the airline from REAL THREATS, not from a white woman who married a black man and now has biracial children. As for the Starbucks Manager, ANYBODY can be a criminal. Crime is not, in and of itself, just a Black thing, which is where this manager was going when she kicked them out.

          • AmiSchwab

            racism is a small word with very big consequences.
            trump has made racism acceptable .

          • Sonny T

            We’ll take that one up the next time Bob goes on vacation.

  • Sonny T

    This could go all Starbucks. By the way, whatever happened to that manager who called the cops? She vanished.

    • Barton

      all I’ve seen is that “she is no longer with the company.”

  • Jack

    I’m doomed. Similar family situation but I’m not on Facebook.

    Never flying Southwest.

  • KTFoley

    There seems to be just two circumstances so far under which a company offers an apology for a racist interaction:
    (a) the event is recorded and the replay goes viral
    (b) the target is famous

    Makes me think how often these acts happens to people of color with no repercussions for the people who do them, just because someone on his or her own with no sympathetic cell phone users nearby hasn’t any recourse.

    Ditto for law enforcement, which is why working body cameras is such a big deal.