It’s been a rough few weeks for Southwest Airlines. The bad news started in early October when the airline was forced to cancel over 1,800 flights one weekend — 24% of its total weekend business — due to a weather event and staff shortage. From there, news broke a couple of weeks later of a pilot making politically divisive statements during a flight, causing visible fear and disturbances among passengers. Just days later, a different pilot was accused of allegedly assaulting a flight attendant in a fight over COVID-19 masks.
And now comes news that another passenger may have been racially profiled by a flight attendant, who suspected a white woman traveling with her Black daughter may have been up to no good.
CNN’s Jenn Selva and Gregory Lemos reported that “a California woman is accusing Southwest Airlines of racial profiling, saying she was accused of human trafficking while traveling with her biracial daughter.”
After Mary MacCarthy and her 10-year-old daughter landed at the Denver airport, they were pulled aside on the jet bridge by a Southwest employee and two police officers on the suspicion of human trafficking. https://t.co/cH9T7uzJ3x pic.twitter.com/4qhfmc1bg0
— The Hill (@thehill) November 5, 2021
According to Silva and Lemons, Mary MacCarthy was flying from Los Angeles to Denver on Oct. 22 following her brother’s death when a flight attendant suspected the pair may be part of an illegal child trafficking ring and reported those suspicions to authorities.
MacCarthy told CNN that during the flight, the mother and daughter — who were both emotional over their recent loss — traded seats with a passenger so they could sit together. Then, after an otherwise uneventful flight, the pair were met by authorities when they deboarded the plane.
“I got quite a shock,” MacCarthy wrote in an email to Southwest that she later shared with media. “Having lost my brother the night before, I thought someone else in my family had died and that police had been sent to deliver the news!”
MacCarthy also explained that her daughter was terribly frightened by the ordeal, saying “she was already experiencing the trauma of her uncle’s death, and she is scared of police due to constant headlines about how police treat Black people. She began to sob and was inconsolable.”
The police told MacCarthy that nothing was wrong but added that they wanted to ask her some questions.
“They said they were here because my daughter and I were reported for suspicious behavior, acting suspiciously before boarding and while boarding,” MacCarthy said. “I took out my phone and immediately started recording. I told [the officer] who we were and that my daughter was crying because she had lost a family member.”
MacCarthy and her daughter were cleared the same day. However, two weeks later, she received an alarming follow-up call from the Denver Police telling her they were investigating “possible human trafficking” following the incident reported by a Southwest flight attendant.
MacCarthy was rightfully alarmed. She immediately contacted the airline but heard nothing for over two weeks. That’s when she decided to bring her story to the media.
She also hired an attorney and has said she wanted the airline held “fully accountable.”
“I gave the airline plenty of time to contact me and apologize — over two weeks later, I’ve yet to receive anything more than two brief automated responses. The time for an apology is long past,” MacCarthy said.
In her original email to Southwest, MacCarthy demanded a written apology for the incident, reimbursement of the price of tickets for both her and her daughter, and “additional compensation to account for the trauma imposed on an innocent family, and especially on a grieving 10-year-old Black girl.”
With the story now making the rounds in the press, Southwest has finally issued a statement saying it was “disheartened” by MacCarthy’s story.
“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 traveling with us,” the company said. “Our employees undergo robust training on human trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of customers who travel with us each year.”
But MacCarthy says she doesn’t buy it — and neither does her legal representation.
“Had this been a white child, there would not have been a raised eyebrow,” MacCarthy’s attorney David Lane said in an interview with CNN.
Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.