A mother was left threatening legal action after a flight attendant appeared to accuse her of trafficking her own daughter.
The incident took place onboard a Southwest Airlines flight on October 22 as mum Mary MacCarthy, who is white, was travelling with her 10-year-old daughter, Moira, who is biracial.
The mother and daughter were making their way from San Jose, California to Denver, Colorado in order to attend the funeral of MacCarthy’s brother, who had passed away suddenly, however upon landing in Denver they were surrounded by armed police and a member of Southwest’s staff.
Hear more about the situation below:
Authorities separated MacCarthy and her daughter and questioned them. Once they were reunited, a Southwest employee and police officer apparently tried to deescalate the situation, with a member of staff telling MacCarthy the flight attendants were ‘just concerned about the behaviour when [they] boarded the aircraft.’
The officer told MacCarthy they were talking to her because she was ‘reported to the pilot for suspicious behaviour’, The Denver Post reports, after which the mother said it ‘immediately occurred to [her] what was going on’.
She said: ‘This is the type of situation that mixed-race families and families of colour face all the time while travelling.’
According to footage of the scene cited by The Independent, the staff member continued: ‘We’re not suspecting anything, so it’s just our policy to follow up on…’
MacCarthy cut off the staff member and told her that they had booked the flight last-minute due to her brother’s sudden passing, saying: ‘My brother, who’s 46, went to the hospital and died 20 minutes later.’
The mother described her brother as being ‘like a father’ to Moira and explained she’d asked other passengers on the flight to move so she and her daughter could sit together. Once they were seated, the pair sat quietly together because they were tired and upset.
However, by asking people to change seats and sitting quietly, the mother and daughter apparently managed to make a flight attendant suspicious, which prompted them to report a possible human trafficking incident.
Speaking to The Independent, MacCarthy expressed her belief the ‘whole thing is based on what [she believes] to be a racist assumption about a mixed-race family.’
Upon explaining their behaviour to the airline worker in Denver, the staff member said that was ‘all [they needed] to know’, adding: ‘You guys are good.’
MacCarthy responded: ‘It’s not, because I have a daughter, who has already, unfortunately, been traumatised by the police in her life. So this isn’t OK. You’ll be hearing from my attorney.’
The mother has said she is not angry at how the officers and Southwest employee treated her at Denver airport, but at the fact the Southwest employee on the plane reported her without first speaking to her.
In the wake of the incident, Southwest Airlines said it was ‘disheartened to learn of this mother’s account when travelling with her daughter.’
In a follow-up statement, it added:
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.
The airline is now conducting an internal review of the situation and has expressed plans to reach out to MacCarthy to apologise.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org/talk
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