A California woman is accusing Southwest Airlines of racial profiling, saying she was accused of human trafficking while traveling with her biracial daughter.
Mary MacCarthy of Los Angeles told CNN she and her 10-year-old daughter, Moira, were flying to Denver on October 22 after receiving news that MacCarthy’s brother had suddenly died.
MacCarthy said they had a brief stop in San Jose and boarded another Southwest flight but realized then that they couldn’t be seated together.
“I asked flight attendants if we could be seated together but they told us we’d each have to take a middle seat,” MacCarthy said. “So with their permission I asked other passengers if they would kindly move so we could be together, especially as my daughter was grieving, and they did. People are nice.”
When they arrived in Denver, MacCarthy said, she and her daughter were met on the jetway by two Denver police officers.
“I got quite a shock; having lost my brother the night before, I thought that someone else in my family had died and that police had been sent to deliver the news!” MacCarthy wrote in an email to Southwest Airlines’ media team, which was included in the police report.
“As for my daughter, she was terribly frightened: she was already experiencing the trauma of her uncle’s death, and she is scared of police due to constant headlines about how police treat Black people (she is Black). She began to sob and was inconsolable,” her email said.
The officers assured her nothing was wrong but said they wanted to question her and her daughter, MacCarthy said.
“They said they were here because my daughter and I were reported for suspicious behavior, acting suspiciously before boarding and while boarding,” she said.
“I took out my phone and immediately started recording. I told (the officer) who we were and that my daughter was crying because she had lost a family member,” MacCarthy said.
According to a report from the Denver police, “Both Mother and child were cleared.”
The report also noted that officers were responding to a “possible Human Trafficking reported by South West flight attendant” – but MacCarthy says she only found out two weeks later that she was suspected of human trafficking.
“I got a call from Denver Police human trafficking unit letting me know they were following up on the incident,” she told CNN.
CNN reached out to the Denver Police Department on Sunday afternoon about MacCarthy’s claim but has not received a response.
MacCarthy accuses Southwest Airlines of racial profiling. She says she’s retained an attorney and wants the airline to be held “fully accountable.”
“I gave the airline plenty of time to contact me and apologize – over two weeks later, I’ve yet to receive anything more than two brief automated responses. The time for an apology is long past,” MacCarthy said.
In her email to Southwest’s media team, MacCarthy said she wanted a written apology from the airline, immediate reimbursement of the full price of their tickets, and “additional compensation to account for the trauma imposed on an innocent family, and especially on a grieving ten year-old Black girl.”
Southwest Airlines said it is “disheartened” by MacCarthy’s account of the events and plans to reach out to her.
“We are conducting a review of the situation internally, and we will be reaching out to the Customer to address her concerns and offer our apologies for her experience traveling with us. Our Employees undergo robust training on Human Trafficking. Above all, Southwest Airlines prides itself on providing a welcoming and inclusive environment for the millions of Customers who travel with us each year,” Southwest Airlines spokesperson Dan Landson said in a statement to CNN on Sunday.
“Had this been a White child, there would not have been a raised eyebrow,” MacCarthy’s attorney David Lane told CNN.