Lindsay Gottlieb was ready to fly with her 1-year-old son, Jordan Peter Martin, as she had done at least 50 times before. But this time, the University of California at Berkeley women's basketball head coach was asked by an employee at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter to "prove" she was her son's mother, even after seeing the child's passport.
"She said because we have different last name[s]. My guess is because he has a different skin color," the mom wrote on Twitter Monday, where she shared the hurtful experience before the family's Denver to Oakland flight. "Mother next to me said she’s never been asked for proof despite (different) last name ... not shockingly, not mixed-race fam."
Gottlieb, who is white, said she had a passport that verified her biracial son's age and identity, and both she and the child's father, Patrick Martin, were present.
She wrote that the employee still asked for a birth certificate, adding that it was a "federal law," then asked for a Facebook post (because that's somehow more valid than a passport) to prove Jordan was her child.
According to Southwest's website, the airline says a birth certificate or government-issued I.D. is required to validate the age of all infants under 2 years old who will travel on the guardian's lap. There's nothing about matching last names of children and guardians or further verification beyond the child's age.
Gottlieb felt the experience was demeaning and insensitive, not to mention inefficient, especially for parents who are already stressed enough while traveling with a little one.
"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 OK," Gottlieb said in an interview with KPIX 5. “And maybe somewhere down the line, that helps my son, who is biracial and will be for his entire life."
Chrissy Teigen, who also has mixed-race children and is known for her no-holds-barred honesty on social media, commented that while she gets it's a very situational thing, she's less peeved now when she has to bring a file folder of papers to the airport.
"Airlines have asked this of me, too, with my daughter," Teigen wrote on Twitter. "Once I learned it's a precaution for the very real threat of child trafficking, I stopped being exasperated with it. Now I'm kind of worried when they don't ask."
Southwest told the Washington Post that the airline was sorry "if our interaction made this family uncomfortable," adding, "We always strive for the best experience for anyone who entrusts us with their travel."
Gottlieb hopes Southwest will better train its employees and that families, no matter how they look, will be treated with respect.