An American Airlines ConciergeKey passenger, one of the carrier’s top customers, shared to social media that they were flying from Portland to Dallas on Tuesday’s flight 2655 and wound up suspected of being a child predator – because they tried to do a good deed, giving up their first class seat for an unaccompanied minor seated in coach.
They were heading to Dallas to connect to a British Airways flight to London. Pre-boarding (since ConciergeKey members board ahead of first class, even), they noticed “a very young unaccompanied minor” and let a flight attendant in first class know they’d be happy to swap their first class seat with the child and sit in coach. This didn’t seem like a big deal.
- A regular frequent flyer may find domestic first class, especially for less than four hours, to be not all that much better than coach.
- Meanwhile, an infrequent flyer might value the extra space and prestige tremendously.
The passenger explained, “I know how hard it is to fly alone at that age and I figured it would make the staff’s job easier with regards to keeping an eye on him” and noted that the flight attendant offered thanks and “said she’d ask.” However,
Once we took off and the seatbelt light clicked off, on her next pass she mentioned she hadn’t heard back from the rear [flight attendant] and she would later; I offered to ask myself if it would save time and she told me to go ahead.
I walked back and asked the [flight attendant] and was taken aback by her response.
Offering the flight attendant at the back of the cabin that they’d switch seats, the response was jarring: ”Why would you want to do that? Do you know him? Why do you want to separate him from his group?”
The passenger thought they were traveling alone (an unaccompanied minor), were offering to switch seats not to sit next to children, and apologized for interrupting her service. She had “a visible look of disgust.”
But it didn’t end there. An American Airlines employee met the flight and flagged down the ConciergeKey first class passenger, asking to speak about the incident. In a hurry to their next flight, the passenger offered to discuss the matter on the way to the airport’s D terminal. Here’s what happened next,
[I]t was an interrogation on whether I felt it was appropriate to try and talk to children on planes and if I had approached this boy at [Portland airport]. I felt very much that I was on the verge of being accused of a crime or being a pervert or some kind.
The [American Airlines] agent asked me if I could stick around for a moment (at this point I was at the escalator for the sky train). I told her no and suggested that unless something was urgent enough that I needed to delay my outbound to London that I would be hopping on the next sky train. As I headed up the steps, she promised someone would be “in touch” to discuss the concerns raised about my conduct.
Now this customer is worried they need to ‘clear their name’. Feeling no good deed goes unpunished, wanting simply to “help someone out who might be having a stressful flight,” (and never even having spoken to the child, according to the passenger) now they’re concerned about some sort of ‘permanent record’ they’ve been tagged with.
Why am I reminded of the movie Airplane! here? (“Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?”)
I don’t think they have anything to worry about. Odds on the matter will be dropped and they’ll never hear about it again. However if it does resurface, they need a lawyer.
Airline and hotel employees are taught to use their prejudices to spot and report human trafficking, and this often works out badly. Flight attendants are told they need to be on the lookout, and you have to sympathize with the position that puts them in. Imagine if they didn’t say something when they could have stopped a bad situation? That would haunt them. So better to raise the accusation or flag innocent people for law enforcement to sort out. And that gives you situations like,
- An African American social service worker was traveling with a white baby and accused of kidnapping by an American Airlines flight attendant as a result.
- Armed Port Authority police boarded an American Airlines plane at New York JFK because a flight attendant saw an Asian American woman follow her Hispanic husband to the lavatory (he was feeling unwell) and saw that they shared an orange juice. The flight attendant called for a sex trafficking investigation. It found their drivers licenses displayed the same home address because they were married, just different races.
- Southwest Airlines demanded to see Facebook posts when a white mother checked in with her mixed-race son, claiming this was ‘federal law’.
— Lindsay Gottlieb (@CalCoachG) May 26, 2018
- frequent use of the “Do Not Disturb” sign (you’re tired and don’t want to be bothered)
- guests who avert their eyes or don’t make eye contact (you’re tired and don’t want to be bothered)
- people with “lower quality clothing than companions” (no one ever accused me of fashion)
- people who have “suspicious tattoos” (you’re from Austin or Portland)
- having multiple computers, cell phones, and other technology (you’re a blogger)
- “presence of photography equipment” (you’re a blogger)
- refusal of cleaning services for multiple days (you ‘made a green choice’ or assume hotels no longer offer it)
- rooms paid for with cash or a rechargeable credit card (you have to unload your gift card purchases somehow)
- guests with few personal possessions (you refuse to check a bag because you’re a frequent traveler)
See something, say something, when you’re encouraging amateurs to do it, leads to so many false positives that real cases of sex trafficking seem likely to get less attention. Employees think they are ‘trained’ when they’re really using their prejudices.