For those traveling with young children, the option for families to pre-board can be a total sanity saver. But on Monday, a same-sex couple alleged that Southwest Airlines wouldn't allow them to board early during a trip to Florida over the weekend, and that they were told by the boarding agent that only one of the two men could board with the children, according to WKBW News. Buffalo, New York dad Grant Morse told the news station that he considered the incident to be an example of "blatant discrimination" on the part of the airline, and said that he and his family were considering taking legal action.
Update: A rep for Southwest Airlines told Romper that while parents are offered the opportunity to board with their children as part of the Family Boarding policy, extended family is not, "to avoid 'B' and 'C' customers from potentially being pushed back in boarding priority." Those requiring additional assistance can specifically request to preboard, which occurs prior to general and family boarding.
Morse and his partner are the legal and biological parents of three-year-old twin boys, and a five-year-old daughter together. He claimed that, while his family was not allowed to board as a unit, another family on the same flight (consisting of a man, a woman, and their child), were allowed to board together without issue.
The problem, it seems, may have come down to the fact the couple were also traveling with the children's 83-year-old grandmother. In a statement to WKBW News, Southwest Airlines said that the agent in question "informed [the] 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." The rep claimed that the agent still "welcomed both parents to board the aircraft with their children," and said that the interaction "had nothing to do with discrimination," but instead reflects the "Family Boarding Policy ... explained on Southwest.com."
In a comment to The Huffington Post, a rep for Southwest said that the airline's family boarding policy allows one adult to board with eligible children, but that "typically our employees allow both parents to board" — suggesting, it seems, that the grandmother was not eligible for family boarding (and perhaps also that the final decision comes down to the agent's discretion).
But that's also not entirely clear. In February, a Southwest passenger tweeted at the airline, asking why the family boarding policy doesn't allow non-parental family members, like grandmothers, to assist with boarding, to which a rep for the airline replied, "Family Boarding allows one adult per qualified child under the age of 6 [to] board between the A and B group." That also seems to be the policy listed on the Southwest Airlines website, which would therefore presumably mean that since Morse and his family had three children under 6 years old, three adults would have also been allowed to board with them. Yet, in response to Southwest's tweet, the passenger in February replied that she'd been told that only "mom and dad could board with child, not one adult," suggesting that there may be some confusion over what the family boarding policy actually allows.
But even if the incident with Morse and his family did in fact come down a misunderstanding of the specifics of the family boarding policy, the father-of-three told The Huffington Post that he wasn't told about it, and claimed that he and his partner still weren't offered the opportunity to board with their children as their parents. He said,
Never once did they say, ‘You two fathers and you three kids can board, and grandma has to wait over there.' I feel all they’re doing is trying to cover up discrimination right now.
Instead, Morse alleged that when he and his family attempted to board the plane after family boarding was announced, the agent told them, "This is for family boarding only and you are not permitted to board," according to The New Civil Rights Movement. Morse said he explained to the agent that they were in fact a family, and that he and his partner were legally married, with both of their names listed on their children's birth certificates, but that the agent only allowed one parent to board with the children, despite the fact that two heterosexual parents traveling with one child were allegedly allowed to board together during the same time.
Ultimately, it's not entirely clear exactly what led to the concerning experience, particularly given the fact that Morse and the airline seem to have two distinctly different versions of what happened. But Southwest Airlines' vague policy about who is actually allowed to board during family boarding definitely doesn't seem to help matters, and given that air travel already tends to be a high-stress situation (especially when kids are involved), clarifying the rules seems like it might be a really good idea.