Southwest Airlines Passenger Single Mom Reported For Trafficking Her Four Year Old Son

Update: Southwest Airlines shares,

After further investigation, the information we have is that we’ve determined Southwest Employees were not involved in the situation as calls made to local authorities appeared to have been placed by an individual or individuals who are not affiliated with Southwest Airlines. These are serious allegations, and we appreciate the patience from the Customer to allow us to look into these claims. Our Customer Engagement Team will be in touch with the Customer to further discuss the investigation.

Southwest Airlines reported a single mom traveling with her 4 year old son for human trafficking. She makes the trip frequently to Cincinnati for the boy to visit his father. In fact, she has a Companion Pass and he’s registered to be her free travel companion.

On arrival in Cincinnati on this trip, though, she was met by police and questioned while trying to rent a car at the airport.

“I was about to hand them my credit card and then they walk in and they say, ‘Excuse me, ma’am, we have reason to believe that this child isn’t your child and that your child trafficking him,’” Tomarchio recalled. “I look around and I’m like, I’m sorry, me? And they’re like, yes, you we have reason that this isn’t your child, there was suspicious activity, and the Southwest Airlines pilot had called it in.”

Officers wanted her son’s birth certificate or other identification. Many parents do not travel with that. Kids do not need ID to fly. She and her son have different last names – his matches his father’s. She happened to have a museum card with his father’s name on it, showing that it matched the name she had listed for her son. Police let her go.

On the way back, the mom sought help from an airport manager who introduced her to the flight crew. She talked to the crew of her connecting flight home at the start of the flight, too.

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,

Hotel staff, too, are trained by the Department of Homeland Security to report guests with too many used condoms in the trash, as well as:

  • 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” (which just means 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 ‘fear Covid’)
  • 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 – often, though not always, against mixed race families. It’s happened multiple times with Southwest.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Why do private businesses, like airlines, engage in spotting human trafficking? Are they obligated to legally? If not, why even bother? No good deed goes unpunished.

  2. I suspect that the false positive reports far outnumber actual trafficking. I also suspect that there are reports due to animus, simply “I don’t like you so I will try to get you in trouble even if you are innocent”.

    Those with multiple false reports should be punished and fined. One or two, ok, but too many and the reporter is the problem.

    So every man with a younger woman is a pimp? Every middle aged woman with a young man is a cougar? Ever man or woman with a kid of a different shade of skin is a trafficker? Any white man with an Asian woman is a trafficker? Every African man or Arab man is a trafficker?

  3. Sold them tickets knowing their names, checked them in, let them board and fly… then accused the Mother of child trafficking….
    Clearly a pack of power tripping morons running a shitshow at SouthWest whom, it could be argued, were complicit in the alleged crime.

  4. “Hotel staff, too, are trained by the Department of Homeland Security to report guests with too many used condoms in the trash:

    Using a piece from how many years ago that only a single chain uses(d) and painting it as industry wide is disingenuous and lazy. Is that the verbiage that Hyatt still uses? Is that the verbiage that any other chain uses (I’ll help you with that – it’s not by a long shot)? Yet another one here from the file of never let facts get in the way of good clickbait….

  5. Who cares about this. As long as they continue the annoying cutesy safety briefings talking about fake Gucci bags. If I have to hear this one more time Gary may be posting about me.

  6. Flight crew can’t diagnose illnesses without consulting some sort of medical desk on the ground. Same should be required for identifying potential traffickers. Oops, SWA has no seat assignments to identify passengers!

  7. It is the problem of creating a national police department, a poisonous idea imported from abroad. Of course then it has to find endless ways to justify itself. (And the good old USA isn’t a “ homeland” either.)

  8. This is one of the incidents that call for a class action lawsuit that really hurts the airline financially. Only after losing big will the airlines train their employees appropriately.

  9. I can understand they don’t want to miss a real one but such people are not likely to see real trafficking in the first place. And the first step should be to run their names (obtained from their reservations) and see if the match on either address or familial relationship. This could be basically automated, give the airlines a way to enter the known information and if it comes back “related” then that’s it, drop the matter.

  10. @Loren: I already mentioned it. SWA doesn’t have seat assignments. Short of directly asking for BP/names there’s no way to identify.

  11. Report human trafficking they say. In an airport. For freak sake, open your eyes there sky jockey, it’s going on out in the open in airports all over the country.

  12. Well, it’s a good theory for airline and hotel people to ‘watch out for trafficking’. But if law enforcement is going to treat people like this woman was treated, it ain’t working. What a bunch of heavy-handed goons.

  13. It’s more amazing to me how a flight attendant could actually even spot anything suspicious. It’s hard to see through the seatbelt barriers they build in the galley.

  14. I don’t see what the issue was here.
    Someone thought there was a problem.
    They alerted the police.
    The police checked out the situations.
    The woman left with her son.
    Nothing happened.

    Imagine if your kid was kidnapped and the flight crew did not alert the police…

  15. “We’ve determined this isn’t true but we’re gonna keep up the click-bait title instead of fully retracting the story”

  16. Same thing happens in the classroom. In many states, teachers are legally required to report suspicion of child abuse to the local authorities. Nobody seriously suggests changing this, and many parents are investigated who aren’t abusing or neglecting as defined by law.

  17. Huh. On AA the flight attendants could not spot a pedophile photographing sleeping unaccompanied minors. And the pee phone in the toilet. They worked with the dude.

  18. @Ryan – First, the title has been changed. Second, Southwest only (belatedly) disputes who submitted the report. The substance of what happened is accurate, and “see something say something” for people who have no idea what they’re doing remains a problem.

  19. “Airline and hotel employees are taught to use their prejudices to spot and report human trafficking, and this often works out badly.”

    How exactly are they taught to use their prejudices to spot and report human trafficking? That sounds made up. Do you have examples of how exactly airlines or hotel staff are told to use their prejudices?

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