Did Southwest Really Deny Family Boarding to a Gay Couple and Their Kids?

May 23, 2017

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Update 5/23/17: After meeting with our editorial team, we regret the decision made to take a side on this issue, and have updated the text to reflect this opinion. At TPG, our goal is to remain neutral, and TPG himself will be sharing his thoughts in a follow-up post shortly. Regardless, as stressed out as many gate agents appear to be when boarding a flight, perceived discrimination is something to avoid, and considering the vastly different policies regarding early boarding, employees shouldn’t assume that all customers are intimately familiar with airline procedures.

TPG’s take is that while the policy is unclear, technically all three adults should have been allowed to board early, depending on the age of the three children. Southwest’s policy is as follows:

An adult traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding, which occurs after the “A” group has boarded and before the “B” group begins boarding. If the child and the adult are both holding an “A” boarding pass, they should board in their assigned boarding position.

As there were three children traveling, based on the policy above, both parents, and the children’s grandmother, should have been able to board, assuming all three children were no older than six years old.


Southwest is feeling some heat after a gay couple and their family said they weren’t feeling the LUV during the boarding process. But, now that more facts have emerged, it’s possible that the gate agent may have been following Southwest’s policy.

Grant Morse, his husband, their three kids and the children’s 83-year-old grandmother were traveling from Buffalo (BUF) to Fort Lauderdale (FLL) on Southwest Flight 5136. Morse said that he and his family had flown Southwest with family boarding privileges before, but this time, they got a different response. When the gate agent began the boarding process, as is policy with Southwest, she began with the A group. As is detailed on the carrier’s website, before the B boarding group was called, she invited all families to board. According to Morse, when he and his family (including the 83-year-old grandmother) approached the gate, the agent told them this “this is for family boarding only.”

Morse told WGRZ in Buffalo that his spouse then told the gate agent that they were, in fact, a family. “I feel as though we were profiled the minute we walked up to the boarding area,” Morse said. He said that he had the biggest problem with how the situation was handled by the gate agent, as he felt that she got “very sarcastic” when referring to the fact that it was family boarding and they were a gay couple.

However, it’s possible that the problem may not have had anything to do with the family’s status, but instead that they were traveling with the children’s grandmother and attempting to board with her in the family boarding group. According to Southwest’s family boarding policy:

“An adult traveling with a child six years old or younger may board during Family Boarding, which occurs after the ‘A’ group has boarded and before the ‘B’ group begins boarding. If the child and the adult are both holding an ‘A’ boarding pass, they should board in their assigned boarding position.”

We reached out to Southwest and received the following statement:

“Prior to the departure of Flight 5136 from Buffalo to Fort Lauderdale on May 20, we welcomed all families to board the aircraft during Family Boarding between the ‘A’ and ‘B’ boarding groups. 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. The parents expressed disappointment that the Family Boarding policy was not applicable to another member of their group. The two parents did not agree with our policy, and our Flight Crew worked to save seats together on the aircraft for the family as the conversation continued in the gate area. Our Family Boarding Policy is explained on Southwest.com and our Employees work hard to follow the policy to accommodate families traveling together while also maintaining boarding priorities for all of our Customers.”

On the surface, it seems like Southwest was enforcing its policy. According to the Dallas-based carrier, the gate agent told the family that the grandmother wouldn’t be able to board during family boarding, which falls in line with its policy. Instead of allowing the grandmother to board with the rest of the family, the agent requested that she board with her assigned group.

Could the gate agent have made an exception so the entire family could have sit together? Yes, and that’s probably what she should have done. Until we know all of the facts, it’s too soon to pass judgement on this particular situation, but TPG will be chiming in with his own thoughts shortly.

Featured image courtesy of Robert Alexander via Getty Images.

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