Southwest Airlines Required Facebook Photos Before Allowing Mom and Son to Check In

A couple of years ago I wrote that the Department of Homeland Security wants hotel desk clerks to snitch on guests as possible sex traffickers based on a set of behavior that could match that of plenty of guests.

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 multiple computers, cell phones, and other technology; you have photography equipment; you pay with gift cards; you turn down housekeeping (‘make a green choice’).

Airline flight attendants are being asked to do the same thing, and I’ve written about cases like a husband and wife being detained by authorities 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 are too, and so the U.C. Berkeley women’s basketball coach was asked to prove her biracial one year son was hers prior to Denver – Oakland flight WN1808.

She showed her son’s passport but the Southwest ticket agent insisted on seeing the two of them together in a Facebook post, which the agent said was “federal law.”

The mother and child have different last names. The airline does require a birth certificate for children under two, but there’s no rule that airlines need to match the last name of children to their parents for domestic travel.

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, in Denver, the agent appears to have thought the woman wasn’t the child’s mother because of her race.

And the problem with U.C. Berkeley coaches is that even when they’re being subjected to this sort of questioning, when they risk not being able to travel, and when they’re having their motherhood questioned, they lead with their own white privilege.

“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 okay,” Gottlieb said in an interview with KPIX 5.

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. I had a (very low IQ) assistant principal in high school who insisted everything was “federal law.”

  2. The problem is when the opposite happens: an adult travels with a kid who has a different last name and no one questions it and it turns out that adult was up to no good (kidnapping, custody dispute, etc.). And if she had brought the child’s birth certificate that has her name and the kid’s name on it like she was supposed to then there wouldn’t have been any issue. I consider myself open minded and a liberal, but I don’t see how this has anything to do with race.

  3. Southwest is much more strict with this than other carriers. Every single time I’ve flown SW they have insisted on a birth certificate, while I have never been asked the same on any other carrier. I have also heard from a friend of a SW rep using Facebook to verify an infant. I’d think a passport would do, but SW does things differently…

  4. Gary, I can’t figure out what the last paragraph means. The phrasing and implications are confusing and seem contradictory. Can you say what you mean again?

  5. Gary, it’s sad you didn’t give your H/T to drudgereport on this which would have been true. I guess I should have posted on FT a few hours ago so you could have not HT’d me.

    Back to the article. I’m not sure what all was wrong here. Child trafficking is thing in this world. Staffer saw something out of place and asked for verification. See something say something, no? I’ve got kids and if one of mine was abducted and made it on a plane and if airport staffs response was “well the adult had the kids passport so all must have been okay” I’d be pissed.

  6. And to the idiots commenting on here without common sense or kids or both. Let’s say we have a 2 year old kid that can’t truly identify the parent and two random people claiming to be a parent. How would a cop best ascertain the answer? Well…whip out your phone. If you have 200 selfies with the same kid you’re slightly more likely to be the actual parent. Seriously, go grab a random kid at McDonald’s how would a third most logically determine the parent vs. an abductor?

    P.S. don’t start with a 2yr
    + old can pick their real parent. sure they might but I can also find you a kid that says “you’re not my daddy” when I sure as hell am but I just said no more frenchfries/phone/tv and they want it.

  7. What’s wrong with her post, Gary? Feels like an explanation is in order. She did not “lead” with her white privilege. She commented about leveraging it. I can see nothing whatsoever wrong with that and respectfully suggest she understands what she’s talking about.

  8. I don’t do facebook. So then what? ? A passport doesn’t suffice? Anyway there is no law that says young children need any ID at all when flying domestically. I’ve never been asked for ID or Facebook when flying (alone) with my baby/toddler on Southwesy. We have different surnames.

  9. Got told a store wasn’t allowed to discount Tempurpedic mattress because “it’s the law”. Congress seems to be busy…

  10. As someone who just had his identity stolen as a result of the info the crooks got from the equifax breach I can only say I am glad there are procedures like this to triple check identity when something as important as a child’s life is at stake. I am hyper vigilant when it comes to my credit and shred everything. But it didn’t matter, there is someone out there with my name, social security number and date of birth pretending to be me and filling out cell phone applications, credit card applications and giving my name and info to authorities when they get arrested. They’ve probably swiped my tax refund too, because I am on extension they likely beat me to the filing. And every one of these incident made me think…really? There is no other way to make sure people are me before they get to use my info?

  11. And not for nothing, if my last name were different from my child’s there would be no question I would carry every document that existed to prove I am her parent when travelling.

  12. @Larry the idea that someone must begin a public statement by humbly acknowledging the greatness of their skin color is absurd. I cannot believe that racism will be conquered in this country by having all white people conduct Maoist apology sessions. If you want people to judge and be judged by the content of their character, then you must act like it. The identity politics underlying the whole “acknowledge your privilege” movement disgusts me.

  13. @8bb8b8 – genuinely not following the h/t discussion about drudge? I linked to the news articles where I saw this, and they came up in my google news feed.

  14. @Andy She didn’t lead with anything. It was one comment from her interview the television station elected to quote. You have no idea of the context of the statement in the overall interview.

  15. @Larry gets it. White Americans are granted privilege to say and do things on the margins that people of color aren’t. They get greater benefit of the doubt. Recognizing and using one’s white privilege for good – to call out differential treatment on the basis of race by others – is a good thing and gets us all closer to equal treatment.

    Gary, the only “problem” is if you are putting yourself in the shoes of the misguided WN agent; yes, you are more likely going to get lit up in the press by a Power 5 conference basketball coach with media contacts, whether Berkeley or Texas A&M.

  16. Rob, the problem isn’t that there is no way to determine who you are, the problem is that people/stores/businesses and even credit card companies just don’t give a damn anymore! I paid a med bill with a rarely used cc over the phone, had not used card in many months, well about a week after I gave the number to pay my bill, some random charge was attempted on the card, somehow they picked up on it and sent me a notification so I called in. I told them I knew EXACTLY how the card had been compromised and who I had given the # to, they were very nonchalant about it. When was the last time someone actually ASKED FOR ID for a transaction with any credit card? I’ve made huge purchases online and in stores and they do absolutely NOTHING to make sure I’m me which is frustrating because we all know that the consumers pay for this!
    As for this situation, I agree the Southwest agent was an idiot and the mother probably felt it was just easier to show her than to actually point out all the things wrong with this situation but it is because 1) she didn’t want to miss her flight 2) knew she’d have to deal with this crazy bitch all the way to her destination 3) was afraid of being arrested for some ridiculous infraction.

    In this day and age, it is as if people are afraid to resist any authority because even if you are RIGHT it can still cost you thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to prove it! You don’t get the money back when they seize it, you don’t get the attorney’s fees or retainers back (that is assuming you can afford them to start with) so it is easier to just say “here you go Psycho Bitch” and bitch about it later on social media than to risk being arrested. She KNEW it was her kid, she was just being a racist and giving her crap because the kid was mixed race, a way of putting her in her place, it wasn’t about protecting the kid. Calling BS on it.
    How many articles have we seen on travel blogs where the government literally STEALS tens of thousands of dollars from people who have committed no crimes? People who’ve been arrested for questioning authority? People who have really done nothing wrong but still had their trips and lives seriously wrecked by these pissy, smally minded jerks? As long as government agencies and agents benefit from stealing from the public, this will happen. As long as these low wage earning positions are given of authority, this will happen. It is easier to just go with it….I hate it, but there is not really a smarter alternative.

  17. Not sure why coming to a travel blog I need to be subjected to articles that mention white privilege. I can get this crap from the rest of the media.

  18. Evidence of parenthood via posts on Facebook is a “Federal Law?” There is no way they thought that was true. The employee should be disciplined for b*** s*** bullying.

  19. That’s so weird what happens if you don’t post pictures of you or family on your Facebook page? My mil and other family members do but I don’t really like my kids being shown online.

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