Southwest Airlines Reports White Mom To Authorities For Having Biracial Daughter

For the last 5 years I’ve written about Department of Homeland Security programs working with airlines and hotel chains to snitch on their customers as possible sex traffickers based on a set of behavior that could match that of just about anyone.

To borrow from Jeff Foxworthy, ‘you might be a sex trafficker if…’ you frequently use of the “Do Not Disturb” sign on your room’s door; you have more than one computer or cell phone or you have photography equipment, turn down housekeeping (as if that’s still offered) or you pay with gift cards.

At airlines this manifests itself in flight attendants calling authorities to detain a husband and wife because the woman was Asian and the man wasn’t so of course it must be sex trafficking. American Airlines at the time said, “Out of an abundance of caution, our employees are trained to report any activity that is out of the ordinary.”

Southwest Airlines agents do this, too, like demanding to see the U.C. Berkeley women’s basketball coach’s Facebook photos to prove her her biracial son was hers prior to a Denver – Oakland flight. Her son’s passport wasn’t deemed good enough because apparently sex traffickers aren’t permitted on Facebook?

Once again Southwest is in the news after a flight attendant reported a white mother traveling with her 10 year old biracial daughter as “suspicious.” The mother was investigated as a sex trafficker.

Mary MacCarthy, 42, told Insider that she and her daughter, Moira, boarded a Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Denver with a connecting flight in San Jose on October 22 in order to be with her family following the sudden death of her brother.

When the single mom and her child got off the plane at Denver International Airport, they were immediately met by two Denver police officers and a Southwest representative on the jet bridge at around 2:30 p.m…According to a police report from the Denver Police Department, officers were sent to the airport over a “report of possible Human Trafficking reported by Southwest Flight Attendant.”

Southwest had claimed that the,

  • mother and daughter didn’t speak to each other during the flight (the young girl was listening to an audiobook and they did speak, just not when the flight attendant was present)
  • the mother “did not allow the child to talk to flight crew” (the mother says she didn’t forbid it, the girl was engrossed in… her audiobook)
  • passengers had boarded “suspiciously late”1

Things didn’t end after being “cleared to go” at the airport. There was a followup investigation, and the woman was contacted again November 1 due to “suspicion of human trafficking.”

According to Southwest Airlines, while they are “disheartened” by the story,

“Our employees undergo robust training on human trafficking,” the airline added. “Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of customers who travel with us each year.”

The problem with asking airline ticket agents to be on the lookout for child trafficking is that even with a quick course they don’t really know what they’re looking for and are likely to substitute their own prejudices, assumptions, and life experiences for actual data. In this case the ‘problem’ was one of race.

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. Reminds me of the old saying “you can’t judge a book by its cover”. Another question I see is the two were traveling LAX to SJC due to the sudden death of her brother and their making a connection in DEN??? HUH??

  2. Sex trafficking is a huge issue. Airline staff are trained on the issues and to the best of their ability, they try to flag anything suspicious to them. In this case, it was a pretty minor inconvenience for the mother and daughter and possibly upsetting…….but it was not a life changing event. The alternative for airline staff is to ignore the matter entirely and bury their heads in the sand. I would rather have an occasional misidentified person be inconvenienced and rescue sex traffic victims any day. Race was really not the problem………often sex traffickers traffic victims of a different race. Young asian girls and women are often the subject of sex trafficking. Sometimes organizations use women to do the trafficking instead of men as it is less suspicious. Just think “Jeffrey Epstein”. So, I am glad the airlines have taken this on. Good for them.

  3. Before all this “stop human trafficking” “training” encouraged (by the government and others) at airlines, at airports, at hotels and elsewhere in the US, the racist profiling of “mixed” traveling families was not part of the domain like this in the US when dealing with commercial travel service providers. Nowadays, “interracial” families and couples are subject to suspicions fueled and fed by this “training” and “awareness” campaigns against “human trafficking” that is heavily steeped in racist and sexist prejudices. It comes daily from the airline employees and the TSA when those people working at and from airports encounter “mixed race” families traveling.

    The damage done by racism is no joke — and that racism includes the racist “think of the women and children” aspect of “white knight” “savior-hood”.

  4. When I fly with my 13-year old daughter she is often taken to the side and asked questions by TSA. It has become incredible in our society today that a dad or mom can’t take their child on a trip without being scrutinized and questioned. It is humiliating and I can’t imagine how this all plays out in my daughter’s mind, even though we talk about it. Lovely to know we can add airline employees to our “sex trafficking police force” in this country to add to a parent’s stress. What a world we live in now.

  5. @jeffK. Apparently you have never been taken aside as a parent with your child and questioned by TSA. Often with her separated from me. No, it’s not life changing, but it is humiliating, upsetting for my daughter, and unnecessary. Our Id’s match in every way so there is clearly no need for anything further beyond that. If they did not, ok, I can understand.

  6. I’ve had to tell the TSA to go pound sand when they try to interrogate children over ID or whatever.

    I am so used to seeing the TSA’s sexist and racist prejudices being in play when there are families traveling that I am more than ready to be “that person” who reminds fellow travelers that they are under no obligation to provide ID for minors flying domestically and that they are being questioned as suspected criminal human traffickers because the TSA are clueless and relying upon racist, sexist and ageist prejudices in dealing with them.

  7. I’ve only been pulled over once on a jetway after a flight and it was also SWA. Just a short hop from SJC to SNA. I was in an aisle seat with the middle one open. At the last minute, an incredibly huge man sat down in the middle seat. Hey it happens. He was not only tall but likely more than 400 lbs. I really felt sorry for the guy. I mean we all hate middle seats and to be that size must be rough. Because of his size I had to lean to the left towards the aisle for the entire flight. Honestly not a big deal since we are talking about an hour or less flight. When we disembarked SWA pulled us both over and asked if there was anything they could do. We both said no since neither of us had any kind of negative reaction to each other during the flight. He left and they detained me and gave me a $150 voucher that I dint want and never used. My point is they made an assumption that I was bothered during the flight which was not the case at all. I felt horrible for what the airline put HIM through. I know this is a small incident but it still bothers me today that they essentially fat shamed this guy for no reason.

  8. It’s not always easy to balance costs and benefits. People who see only costs or only benefits are fooling themselves. This reminds me of the vaccine mandate debates. Everyone is so sure that their side is right and good and the other side is wrong and evil.

    A good exercise is to do your best to defend the other side in a one on one debate with someone who’s on your side. If you can win even one point you’ve learned something.

  9. Honestly if a kid slipped me a note saying “Help! I’ve been kidnapped!” – no way would I ask questions or report anything… it’s just not worth getting accused of racism.

  10. THANK GOD they weren’t served alcoholic beverages aboard this flight!!!! Can you just imagine the trouble that would have caused…
    Headlines should start including “Dipshit Flight Attendant”

  11. @JohnW – How is this a “MAGA” moment?

    This is such a non event. Human Trafficking is an issue. FA’s are trained. This FA saw red flags and reported. Authorities met and confirmed there was no issue. Life goes on.

  12. SW needs to stay on course and provide air service and stop playing Cop, Politician, Human Sex Trafficking profiler.

    So many whack jobs working in commercial aviation anymore. Tighter scrutiny of employee behaviour is needed.

  13. @Stuart
    Most kidnappings in the US are from a parent who lost custody in family court, so traveling with one parent your child will likely get questions separately. Just prepare your child and explain why

  14. When exactly did the police start deputizing SWA employees to enforce sex trafficking laws?

    Is this part of their job description?

    Do they get a performance bonus for every arrest? Or just for convictions?

  15. @Colin, judging someone more harshly based on skin color is clearly a MAGA trait. That said, I was referring to the overall rash of incidents surrounding flight crew bringing political views to work….infighting over the vaccines, pilots “Brandon” comment, etc

  16. Oh crap ! My wife is Asian and I’m White. All these years they’ve been thinking I’m a sex trafficker ????

  17. Or, the flip side–transferring May, 2009, on Lufthansa from ORD-FRA-TLV with my 19 year old daughter, at FRA she was pulled into a room and questioned. I just told security she did not speak Ukraine. Once on our flight to TLV, we celebrated with champagne.

    Going to Canada I learned the hard way to always present a check-in a notarized letter of approval from her mum.

  18. @JohnW, judging someone based on skin color is clearly a trait of someone brainwashed by Critical Race Theory. You are unable to make a decision unless you know the race of the people involved–in fact it is the only really relevant information to you.

  19. My understanding (gained from reading work by sex worker activists and other civil liberties experts) is that the incidence of real ‘sex trafficking’ is tiny and not worth the time and effort that goes into the training, especially since the humiliating and probably dangerous false positives overwhelm the actual cases. And, as others have pointed out, it’s an invitation to bigotry and prejudice. I had a white friend (now deceased) whose Ethiopian wife died and left him a young adolescent son. He went through this every time he flew, despite letters from police departments, proper documentation in passports etc. It’s an absurd moral panic that wrecks lives.

  20. I think the bigger picture here that some people are missing is that the FA passed judgment based on how these two looked, not how they behaved. The claims about boarding “suspiciously late,” and not talking when the child has headphones on are ridiculous and clearly made up to cover the underlying judgment being made. People often have a picture of what a family looks like, and when confronted with common scenarios (multiracial family, single-parent traveling, or adoptive family) there is a gut reaction that they don’t “look” like they are a family.

    The reality is that many actual warning signs of trafficking also have mundane explanations: disoriented behavior (stressful work project? bereavement?), unusually fearful of social interaction (most people don’t actually like talking to strangers), avoiding eye contact (how many teenagers are attentive to an adult interrupting with a question?). But this story doesn’t even come close.

  21. @jeffk observed that “often sex traffickers traffic victims of a different race” as part of what may have aroused the FA’s suspicion.

    I’ve no idea if this is true, but it sounds like it might be. Even so, though, it’s not useful as a justification: Just because most trafficked kids are of a different race than the traffickers, doesn’t mean that any substantial fraction of mixed race adult/child pairs represents trafficking. The number of traffickers is small compared with the number of mixed-race families.

    As an extreme example: *Every* United States president has been a man. But if you see a man, he’s probably not the president.

  22. What I wonder is how many times have this mother/daughter combo flown together? Could they not quickly look at historical flight records and see it is anything but suspicious?

  23. JohnW and others obsessed with race. You all are the detriment to progress.

    The FA literally went over the reasons as to why they reported this. None of it had to do with race. But since that doesn’t suit your narrative, you have to make it up. It’s sickening.

  24. “ Do they EVER catch anybody?
    I’d like to see some statistics…..”

    That’s not the goal.

    The War on Sex Traffickers has become the new War on Drugs.

    The goal is to obtain federal funding. Stats on sex trafficking are very vague and that’s on purpose.

  25. @ Colin that’s a little odd saying “I” was making this about race….read the last line in the story.
    again, my main point is that SWA is in the news a lot for crews going full MAGA. “Let’s go Brandon”, a pilot assaulted a FA over masking on a layover, their pilots union is suing over vaccines., etc etc….and yes, racial profiling is very MAGA.

  26. Here is a thought. Maybe FAs should stop looking at two passengers of different races as automatically suspicious. Shocking I know. It shouldn’t even be a factor they consider. We all know if the child was the same race as the mom the FA would never have even thought of reporting it. The fact that there was follow-up investigation to this of the mother is just disgusting. Way to go law enforcement. Those officers should be fired for pushing the issue even farther after they knew it was a mother/daughter.

  27. Serious question – what happened to “sending” a child to fly alone in care of the airline? Not that I prefer that – but I’m tasked with escorting my wife’s son (whom she had with her ex, the child is of a different race and looks nothing me) on flights for Christmas, just the two of us. My wife/his mom can’t make this trip for legitimate reason. We’re prepared to document everything, have notarized signed letters from her and her ex, etc. I don’t care about the questioning but worry about getting stopped and not completing the journey at all. Any advice?

  28. MAGA Moment. You have it backwards. For the left it’s all about race. The Democratic Party is the party of racial oppression and the Klan.

  29. As a parent of a child who was taken and trafficked, I applaud anyone who takes the time and effort to look out for these ones despite the awkwardness. Peoples lives are at stake here and the only way to intercept is to look for the signs. Human trafficking is rampant, it’s everywhere and most times it’s taking part right under our noses! These creeps will do everything to make themselves blend in so all we have to rely on are the “signs”.
    Society today has gone to the point that no one cares about anyone else, no one knows their neighbors anymore, while out in public, we walking along with heads down not acknowledging anyone. People for the most part just want to “mind their own business” and we’re letting these creeps get away with our children.
    I feel bad for any innocent person singled out for questioning for possible trafficking but lives are at stake here, childrens lives, and I take personal offense to anyone complaining about the efforts people are making to save children over the embarrassment of people being questioned about it!

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