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Woman told to 'prove' her biracial son was hers for flight; implies race was reason for scrutiny

Southwest Airlines apologized to University of California women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb and her family for asking her to prove that she was her son's mother to board a flight with him. (Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

Southwest Airlines has apologized for an incident during which a ticket counter employee told a college basketball coach that she needed to "prove" she was her son's mother even though she had already shown his passport, according to the Boston Globe.

The coach, University of California women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb, detailed the incident on her Twitter account Monday.

"We had a passport that verified our son's age and identity, and both parents were present," Gottlieb said, according to a Cal women's basketball statement. "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."

What happened?

Gottlieb was flying from Denver to Oakland over the Memorial Day holiday, along with her husband and their son. Gottlieb is white and her husband is black.

When Gottlieb got to the ticket counter, she showed her son's passport as identification. But, because her son has a different last name, the employee asked for more proof.

Here's how Gottlieb described the exchange on Twitter (edited for clarity):

"I'm appalled that after [approximately] 50 times flying with my 1-year-old son, ticket counter personnel told me I had to 'prove' that he was my son, despite having his passport. She said because we have a different last name. My guess is because he has a different skin color."

"She first asked for proof with birth certificate. She then said it's a 'federal law' (not true) but asked me to prove I'm [his] mother with a Facebook post. What? Mother next to me said she's never been asked for proof despite [different] last names ... not shockingly, not a mixed race [family]."

"It was demeaning and insensitive, not to mention inefficient. Would have missed flight if it was not delayed. I would advise better training for employees to avoid this happening to others."

Gottlieb said in a later tweet that she feared incidents like that were "much more common for people that don't look like me."

Southwest apologizes

Southwest said all that should be required in that situation is for the parent to prove the child who will be sitting in the parents' lap is under 2 years old, and that last names of children and parents/guardians don't have to match up for domestic flights.

"We apologize if our interaction made this family uncomfortable — that is never our intention," a Southwest statement emailed to the Boston Globe said. "Our employees are well-regarded for their hospitality, and we always strive for the best experience for anyone who entrusts us with their travel."

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