Video footage shows the harrowing moment a mother was questioned by airport officials after a flight attendant wrongly suspected her of “trafficking” her own daughter.
Mary MacCarthy, who is white, boarded a Southwest Airlines flight on 22 October with her 10-year-old daughter, Moira, who is biracial. The two were on their way from San Jose, California to Denver, Colorado for the funeral of Ms MacCarthy’s brother, who had died suddenly.
When they arrived at Denver International Airport, Ms MacCarthy says, they were surrounded by armed police and a member of Southwest’s staff, who separated and questioned them. Once the mother and daughter were back together, Ms MacCarthy filmed what happened next.
In the video, a Southwest employee and a police officer are speaking to Ms MacCarthy and Moira in reassuring tones, seemingly trying to deescalate a situation that had gotten out of hand.
“The flight attendants were just concerned about the behavior when you boarded the aircraft,” the staff person says. “We’re not suspecting anything, so it’s just our policy to follow up on…”
Ms MacCarthy cuts her off.
“Can I tell you what’s going on?” she says.
The mother then explains, as her daughter cries next to her, that they had booked the flight late the previous night because of her brother’s death.
“My brother, who’s 46, went to the hospital and died 20 minutes later,” she says, before motioning to Moira. “He’s like a father to her. I’m a single mother.”
Moira then lets out an audible sob.
“It’s OK, sweetheart,” Ms MacCarthy reassures her.
The mom goes on to explain that she asked other passengers to trade seats with her and Moira so they could sit together, and then sat quietly throughout the flight because they were tired and upset. These were the behaviours – changing seats and sitting quietly – that a flight attendant allegedly found suspicious, and then reported a possible human trafficking incident.
But Ms MacCarthy thinks there’s another reason.
“The whole thing is based on what I believe to be a racist assumption about a mixed-race family,” she told The Independent.
As the video continues, the Southwest employee tells Ms MacCarthy she has nothing to worry about, and apologizes.
“That’s all we need to know,” she says. “You guys are good.”
“It’s not,” Ms MacCarthy fires back, “because I have a daughter, who has already, unfortunately, been traumatized by the police in her life. So this isn’t OK. You’ll be hearing from my attorney.”
Southwest Airlines has said it is investigating the incident.
“We were disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when travelling with her daughter,” the airline said. “We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience travelling with us.”
“Our Employees undergo robust training on Human Trafficking,” the company added in a subsequent statement. “Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of Customers who travel with us each year.”
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