Southwest Changes Family Boarding Policy After Couple Alleges Discrimination
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
Southwest Airlines recently updated its family boarding policy to allow “two adults” to board together with family members under six years of age during family boarding. The policy previously stated that “an adult” could board with children — a distinction that led to dissension nearly two years ago at an airport gate in Buffalo, NY.
Grant Morse and his husband, Sam Ballachino, said that the previous policy’s omission led a Southwest gate agent to discriminate against their family in 2017 during the boarding procedure for Flight 5136 from Buffalo to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The couple, who were traveling with their three young children and Ballachino’s mother, who was helping with the children, alleged that the agent said “This is not for you” and held the family back until the rest of the plane had boarded with the approval of an airline supervisor.
As a result, the family of six ended up being separated on the plane due to Southwest’s open seating policy, which allows passengers to select their own seats at will instead of assigning designated seats together for families with young children. Morse and Ballachino’s young daughter was forced to sit alone one row ahead of Morse, who sat with their twin sons while Ballachino was seated a few seats away and his mother was given an exit row seat.
According to Morse, the gate agent’s actions signaled “clearly discriminatory behavior,” he told the Naples Daily News at the time. “We were clearly profiled.” The couple reached out to Southwest’s corporate office after the flight, allegedly receiving a “generic apology” until the incident caught media attention. The airline reached back out with $300 and another generic apology and invited the couple to headquarters to meet in person.
On July 13, 2018, 20 Southwest executives and four attorneys listened to Morse and Ballachino over a face-to-face conversation, and each executive individually apologized. “They told us that change would come, they said change takes a lot of time,” Morse said. Although the family has not flown Southwest since 2016, Morse said that could change. “Where we are today, we are reconsidering,” he said.
Southwest has consistently alleged that the incident was a misunderstanding, and that the gate agent held back one of the family members because of the number — not gender — of the adults boarding the plane.
In a statement to TPG on Wednesday the airline said:
“Southwest consistently listens to feedback from customers and employees in an effort to enhance customer experience. When Southwest learned of concerns these customers had regarding our family boarding policy, we thoroughly investigated their journey and determined there was no discrimination. Instead, confusion in the boarding area surrounded the number, not the genders of adults in our family boarding. Both parents were allowed to board early with their children but we requested a third adult board with her assigned boarding group.”
“Southwest hosted a productive and friendly meeting with the Morse/Ballachino family last summer to learn their concerns and hear their perspectives. Southwest and these customers have different views of the facts. The conversation prompted a closer look at the clarity of our policy through the viewpoints of both our customers and employees. Earlier this month, Southwest updated our policy to specify two adults are permitted to board early with children who are six years old or younger. Never has Southwest’s family boarding policy taken into account gender or marital status when determining ability to board early.”
Featured photo by Shutterstock.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees