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Southwest Airlines apologizes after Cal coach questioned while flying with her biracial son

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© Mollie McClure/Courtesy of thisiscalbasketball.com Lindsay Gottlieb with her family.

By Jaclyn Reiss, The Boston Globe

A college basketball coach with New England ties slammed Southwest Airlines on Twitter after she said they questioned whether her biracial son was actually her child, leading the company to apologize.

Lindsay Gottlieb, the head coach for the University of California women’s basketball team, said that while she was flying from Denver to Oakland, a Southwest ticket counter worker told her she had to “prove” the child she was traveling with was her son, even though Gottlieb showed the worker his passport. The ticket worker said it was because the pair had different last names and asked to see Gottlieb’s son’s birth certificate before then asking her to prove she was the mother with a Facebook post.





"We had a passport that verified our son’s age and identity, and both parents were present,” Gottlieb said in a statement sent by the Cal women’s basketball team. “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 a former basketball player at Brown University in Providence, who later was an assistant women’s basketball coach at the University of New Hampshire, according to a 2012 article in a Cal-Berkley publication.

Southwest representatives said they have reached out to Gottlieb to apologize and are using the incident as “a coaching opportunity” for the employee in question.

“We apologize if our interaction made this family uncomfortable — that is never our intention,” Southwest said in a statement e-mailed to the Globe. “Our Employees are well-regarded for their Hospitality, and we always strive for the best experience for anyone who entrusts us with their travel.”

Southwest’s representatives said Federal Aviation Administration rules require airlines to ask for government ID or a birth certificate for children who are sitting in a parent’s lap during the flight, to verify that the child is under 2 years old.

“Although some international travel requires additional paperwork for leaving the country with a minor, domestic travel does not require airlines to match the last name of a child and guardian,” the airline said.

For her part, Gottlieb said she just hopes that the incident proves to be a learning experience for others.

“While it was upsetting and emotional, I realize that this was just one day of my life where I was uncomfortable and our family was made to feel ‘less than’ whereas others face similar situations on a daily basis,” she said. “I hope the coverage this has received can serve as a learning opportunity and that all families — regardless of how ‘traditional’ they may or may not look — are treated with dignity and respect.”

Gottlieb may coach in California now, but she has strong ties to the Northeast. She was born in Scarsdale, N.Y., and played basketball and worked as a student coach while she studied at Brown . After graduating in 1999, she also worked assistant coach stints at Syracuse University and at UNH before ultimately ending up on the West Coast.

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Read the full statement from Lindsay Gottlieb:

My family had an interaction with a Southwest Airlines employee last night that was uncomfortable and hurtful. I felt that in this situation it was my responsibility to say “Hey, this isn’t ok.” 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. I reached out to Southwest Airlines via Twitter to make them aware of the incident. Southwest replied quickly — apologized and said they would make this a “coaching” moment for their organization. I can certainly appreciate that. While it was upsetting and emotional, I realize that this was just one day of my life where I was uncomfortable and our family was made to feel “less than” whereas others face similar situations on a daily basis. I hope the coverage this has received can serve as a learning opportunity and that all families — regardless of how “traditional” they may or may not look — are treated with dignity and respect.

***

Read the full statement from Southwest Airlines:

We have reached out to Ms. Gottlieb directly to address her concerns and will utilize the situation as a coaching opportunity for our Employee. We apologize if our interaction made this family uncomfortable — that is never our intention. Our Employees are well-regarded for their Hospitality, and we always strive for the best experience for anyone who entrusts us with their travel.

When traveling domestically, FAA regulations require airlines to verify a lap child is under the age of two by reviewing a birth certificate or government issued identification. Although some international travel requires additional paperwork for leaving the country with a minor, domestic travel does not require airlines to match the last name of a child and guardian.

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