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The Unfriendly Skies: What’s With Airlines Discriminating Against LGBTQ Passengers?

It’s hardly surprising that major airlines sometimes make serious mistakes when handling LGBTQ passengers. Amid a backdrop of changing laws regarding the marital statuses of same-sex couples and gender markers on transgender people’s government-issued ID, airlines and security agencies have to periodically re-train their staff about everything on company procedures, security measures and customer relations.

Naturally, the national and international flight providers make errors. Sometimes, it’s an administrative error or a misunderstanding, other times its a serious insult or inconvenience costing LGBTQ passengers time, money and dignity.

In light of two recent stories of airlines discriminating against LGBTQ passengers, we decided to highlight those and three other cases involving anti-LGBTQ behavior by major airlines. Buckle up — it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

 

1. Southwest Airlines dismisses a same-sex family

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The Morse family

While boarding a flight from Buffalo to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, May 20, 2017, Grant Morse claims that Southwest “aggressively” denied entry for himself, his husband Sam, their three children and their 83-year old grandmother during the flight’s family pre-boarding period.

Morse, a frequent Southwest Airlines passenger with over one million annual miles, says that the gate agent told him, “This is for family boarding only and you are not permitted to board. This is only for family, and I told you that already.”

Morse later told the media, “I feel as though we were profiled the minute we walked up the boarding area.” Morse filed a formal complaint with the airlines and that they have still not contacted him although they’ve released a statement saying that the real problem had to do with the 83-year-old passenger:

Our Operations Agent informed two parents that another member of their group was ineligible to board under Family Boarding and asked that she board in her assigned boarding group. This conversation in the boarding area had nothing to do with discrimination, we welcomed both parents to board the aircraft with their children.

Despite attempts by flight attendants to find the family seating close together, Morse claims that the 83-year-old mother was seated by an emergency exit, their 5-year-old daughter sat alone in a row between two strangers, Morse sat in the last row with his twins and his spouse sat two rows ahead.

 

2. United accuses a gay father of molesting his own child

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Henry Amador-Batten and his foster son, Ben

On Friday, May 19, 2017, Henry Amador-Batten and his five-year-old foster son Ben were disembarking a flight in their home state of North Carolina when a United flight crew member allegedly accused Henry of resting his hand “too close to the child’s genitals.”

Police at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport detained Henry for an hour while he tried to explain that he was Ben’s foster parent and that he was asleep with his arm across his son’s lap when the touching occurred.

Not only did this allegedly play out in front of the other disembarking passengers, but Henry had spent most of the previous two weeks caring for his ill father who eventually died, heaping humiliation on top of grief.

The airlines issued a statement saying, “Our customers should always be treated with the utmost respect. We have followed up with the customer directly and we apologized for the situation.”

Henry has since hired legal representation and is seeking damages based on “emotional distress and improper persecution… based off zero evidence.” Henry adds that his son Ben was shaken by the situation and is “feeling very sensitive and in need of a lot of love right now.”

 

3. American Airlines seriously inconvenienced a trans passenger

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Transgender traveler Shadi Petosky during her ordeal

On Sept. 21, 2015, agents with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) detained transgender passenger Shadi Petosky for 45-minutes, subjecting her to two-full body pat-downs and completely unpacking her bag after they detected an “anomaly” (Petosky’s penis) in an x-ray body scan.

The detainment made Petosky miss her flight. Afterwards, American Airlines offered to rebook Petosky for an additional $955. Petosky was live-tweeting her entire ordeal and, after finding an alternate flight elsewhere, learned that American Airlines had incorrectly informed the media that she had been booked on a flight home. She had not.

After 33 hours, Petosky finally returned home. She has since used her story to push American Airlines to start accommodating trans passengers detained by the TSA without additional charge. She also wants the TSA to work with trans organizations like TransEquality to update its guidelines for gender nonconforming passengers.

 

4. Emirates laughs at and detains a gay couple

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In June 2016, Lee Charlton accused the check-in staff of Emirates Airlines of laughing at him when he and his partner Jason tried to check in as a couple for their flight from Dubai to South Africa.

According to Charlton, the woman behind the counter asked if Jason or their son Kieran were Lee’s brother. She eventually called her manager and the family was allegedly detained in a back room for two hours without any explanation.

The airlines claims that the family were held up because of an error with their travel paperwork. They also say that they offered to let the family stay in an airline office while personnel resolved the matter.

However, Carlton said that after about an hour with no explanation, he returned to the flight gate and asked if the hold up was because they were gay. “I was laughed at,” Carlton said in a Facebook post.

He added, “This was absolutely about our sexuality, there is no doubt about that. I was shocked, it was a horrible and stressful situation and I felt humiliated.”

In a statement, Emirates said that the hold-up had to do with international laws regarding child protection:

“Like all airlines, we must comply with the laws of every country in which we operate and this is a shared responsibility with passengers, who are required to hold valid travel documents for all countries on their itinerary…. We regret any inconvenience caused, however, compliance with international laws concerning child protection will not be compromised.”

5. Delta censors an award-winning queer film

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A scene from the 2015 dramatic film, “Carol”

In August 2016, lesbian journalist Trish Bendix broke news of Delta Airlines showing a censored version of gay director Todd Haynes’ award-winning lesbian drama Carol. The censored version removed all of the same-sex kissing and lesbian sex scenes.

At the time, Bendix wrote:

In-flight versions of Carol shown on Delta Airlines (and possibly others as well) have edited out every bit of physical intimacy between the two female stars while leaving in heterosexual kisses and affection

Delta later explained that they themselves did not edit the film but rather the film’s production studio, The Weinstein Company, made an edited and an un-edited version available to them. The airline accepted the edited version, apparently unaware that it wholly removed the film’s brief and tasteful same-sex kissing and sex scenes.

Bendix lamented that any viewers on Delta who had never seen the film before might leave thinking that the film’s female leads never physically requited their burning passion for one another. Moreover, she also blamed both Delta and the studio for making such censored versions available:

“It seems they all share the blame with the greater global entertainment industry that is concerned more with making money in areas of the world that criminalize homosexuality or deem it indecent than catering to those who are looking to see themselves represented on-screen.”

(Featured image by guvendemir via iStock Photography)