On Monday, Southwest Airlines staff demanded that a white mother provide Facebook posts to prove maternity of her multiracial son, sparking debate about how today’s increasingly diverse families are perceived and permitted to function in the world.
Gottlieb, who is white, is mother to Jordan Gottlieb-Martin, who just turned one in early May. Patrick Martin is Gottlieb’s fiancé and Jordan’s father, and he is black. They flew to Denver for the holiday weekend without incident.
It was on the flight back to Oakland that Gottlieb and Martin ran into difficulty—difficulties Gottlieb believes are connected to the physical differences between her and her baby boy.
Despite the entire family of three being there, the Southwest ticket agent grew suspicious.
“We had a passport that verified our son’s age and identity, and both parents were present. But still being pushed further to ‘prove’ that he was my son felt disrespectful and motivated by more than just concern for his well-being.”
Gottlieb is correct about the federal law not requiring birth certificates—the Federal Aviation Administration fully defers to airlines when it comes to required identification for child passengers.
Each airline determines identification requirements for minors. Contact your airline well in advance of your travel date to determine if they have unique policies or procedures for minors.
Typically, minors under the age of 18 do not have to present identification for domestic U.S. travel. Airlines will accept identification from the responsible adult on behalf of the minor(s).
For international travel, minors under the age of 18 must present the same travel documents as the adult.
Southwest, however, offers conflicting advice. On one FAQ page, the airline claims that a birth certificate, driver’s license, or passport will do.
If you are traveling on a ticketed Infant Fare, Child Fare, or Senior Fare, you must present the traveler's proof of age (i.e., birth certificate, driver's license, or another government-issued photo ID that indicates the ticketed traveler's date of birth) to a Customer Service Agent at the airport in order to check in for your flight.
Since Gottlieb had a passport for Jordan, one would argue that she’d met the requirement.
But on another FAQ page, the airline mentions birth certificates multiple times, with no mention of passports.
A birth certificate is required to validate the age of all infants under age two.
If you choose to travel with your infant on your lap (at no additional charge) the infant will not need a boarding pass; however, you will need to obtain a Boarding Verification Document (BVD) for the infant. The BVD will allow the infant to board the aircraft. BVDs are available at the Southwest Airlines ticket counter on the day of travel. In order to complete your BVD, the Customer Service Agent will need to verify that your infant has not reached his/her second birthday, so be sure to bring along a copy of your infant's birth certificate.
FAA regulations require any child who has reached his/her second birthday to occupy his/her own seat. Please keep in mind that Southwest personnel must ensure compliance with this regulation, so be sure to bring along a copy of your infant's birth certificate for age verification.
While Jordan’s passport would serve as photo identification and age verification, only a birth certificate would provide the names of his parents. Since age verification was provided via the passport, it seems that the Southwest agent only doubted Gottlieb’s and Jordan’s relationship. The question of what triggered this interaction will likely remain unanswered, but moving forward, it’s important to reconsider what we expect families to look like, and how we respond when they don’t meet the norms we’ve established in our heads.
When heterosexual couples have biological children together, those kids often will physically favor one parent or the other; these differences in appearance can be particularly marked in the children of interracial couples.
Multiracial births are also on the rise, based on the limited data available (remember, citing more than one race wasn’t even an option on the United States Census until 2000). According to the latest data from Pew, 1 in 7 babies are born to parents of different races.
Additionally, regardless of the sexuality or race of the parents, loving families of all sorts can be created through myriad ways, whether it’s with the aid of fertility science, via surrogacy, with donated eggs or sperm, through adoption, or by blending through marriage.
As for parents’ last names matching those of their children, a 2015 survey indicated that about 1 in 5 women keep their birth names when marrying; a 2016 study also indicates that 2 in 5 American children are born out of wedlock. Another 40-50 percent of marriages result in divorce; all of these trends lead to increasing numbers of families with name variations that apparently set off alarms.
As our families evolve, then so too must our expectations and assumptions about what today’s families look like; outdated mindsets and policies can cause lasting damage to children and parents alike.
Countless stories have emerged of parents being mistaken for hired help, or even suspected of kidnapping their own child.
My Salvadoran friend, Javier, is married to a white woman, Ashby. They have a sweet, round-cheeked and light-skinned daughter, Nina. When she was about 6 months old, Javier was taking her home alone after dinner with friends. It was late, so Nina was tired and crying. He was at his wits’ end as he tried to soothe her and strap her into her car seat.
As he was doing so, a woman in an apartment overlooking the street opened her window to ask what was happening. He replied that he was simply trying to get his cranky baby into his car and figured that was the end of it. It wasn’t. A few minutes later, as he was still trying to calm Nina down, a police car pulled up. The officer got out and began quizzing Javier. What was he doing? Was this his daughter? What was his address?
Javier replied that Nina was his daughter and he just wanted to get home. Why was he being treated like a criminal? The officer said someone called in a suspected kidnapping.
These knee-jerk reactions essentially amount to racial profiling, and can have far-reaching consequences: Earlier this year, Andrew and Elad Dvash-Banks filed suit against the State Department when a consulate official looked at their twins—who shared both an egg donor and a womb, but had different paternity and hair color—and set in motion a process that left one boy with U.S. citizenship and one without.
The Twitter response to the Gottlieb-Martin situation was swift. Some parents spoke of similar experiences, while others, including actress and model Chrissy Tiegen, chalked it up to measures designed to curb human trafficking, and encouraged Gottlieb to embrace a procedure that she herself now considers normal and necessary.
Thing is, the airline never mentions proving parentage is required to travel with children, nor that such (nonexistent) policies are designed to prevent human trafficking; predictably, there’s also no mention that a Facebook profile is considered eligible documentation. Also, Patrick Martin, who is black and shares his son’s last name, was right freaking there, raising questions about why his presence was dismissed.
Though Gottlieb, Martin and baby Jordan made it onto their flight, Southwest has promised to look into the situation.
Southwest said in a statement that it contacted Gottlieb to address her concerns and that the airline was sorry “if our interaction made this family uncomfortable.”
“That is never our intention,” officials said.
Officials added that Southwest’s policy is to verify that lap children are younger than 2 by reviewing a birth certificate or government-issued ID, and that employees aren’t required to match the last names of a child and guardian on domestic flights.