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Statement about Flight 5136 on May 20, 2017


We've fielded many inquiries from Customers and news outlets regarding Flight 5136 from Buffalo to Fort Lauderdale on May 20. On that flight, we welcomed all families to board the aircraft during Family Boarding, which happens between the "A" and "B" boarding groups.

Our Operations Agent at the gate 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 all of 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 while the conversation continued in the gate area.
You can read about our Family Boarding Policy on Our Employees work hard to follow the policy to accommodate families traveling together while also maintaining boarding priorities for all of our Customers. Our Chairman and CEO recently wrote a post about Civility and The Golden Rule, which means treating every Customer and fellow Employee with respect and dignity.
New Arrival

Was this in response to not allowing two married men and their three children to board during Family Boarding?  Or is this in response to a third adult wanting to board with a family?


Not allowing the two fathers to board with their three children during Family Boarding IS discrimination especially since they explained multiple times that they are spouses and they both appear on the children's birth certificate.  I personally have seen heterosexual couples board with children during Family Boarding without any problem.  Why should non-heterosexual couples not be allowed this same courtesy? 

New Arrival


 Maybe you want to reread the article for clarification?


"This conversation in the boarding area had nothing to do with discrimination; we welcomed both parents to board the aircraft with all of their children."

New Arrival

I think this was a huge misunderstanding and the two fathers were just unfamiliar with Southwest's family boarding policy. It sounds as if the flight crew did everything they could to accommodate the families request of getting seats together. Discrimination? Hardly. Misunderstanding? Perhaps. 

New Arrival

They wanted the grandmother to accompany them and was not part of the family, yes related but not the immediate family.  She had her own boarding pass with assigned boarding number. 

Not flying alot and not knowing the policies can creat prolbems. I have seen people asking if they have meal service. Have they been living in a cave? Dont they know they only offer peanuts and prrtzels?

Discrimination?? I think now. Everyone now has to use that word for everything they do in life now. Just dont get it. They were offered seats together in the back of the plane.

Top Contributor

Here's the policy.


Do families get to preboard?

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.




Note that it says, "an adult traveling with a child." This could mean one adult and one child only. Or two adults and any number of children. Or one adult per child. The family in question had three adults and three children -- technically in compliance with the policy.


Another area of the website shows this graphic with two parents and two children, which simply says "families." 


1 1.29.43 PM.png


Whether or not bias was the cause of this family being stopped (which is debatable, but ultimately only known to those who were actually there), it's clear that they should not have been per the intent of the policy -- that families use Family Boarding so that they can board and sit together.


These issues stem from Southwest vague policy and inconsistent application. Southwest would do well to craft and publish a clear policy and apply it consistently. Until they do, problems like this one will likely continue.


Remember this incident when the next one occurs, as, sadly, I suspect nothing will be changed as a result of it.

Top Contributor

Also, be aware that, while the FAs tried to assist and hold seats for the family, they were unable to, which led to the 83 year old grandmother, described by the son-in-law as "frail," being seated in the exit row -- a questionable decision at best.

New Arrival

Chgoflyer, on all flights the exit row passengers must give a verbal okay that they agree to the conditions expected to sit in an exit row. No one is "made" to sit there. She would have been moved had she disagreed with sitting there. Maybe one of the 2 dads should have switched with her if they were that concerned.


Also, there is a policy and family members are asked to board in their boarding group. There is nothing sinister about this story. It is just another example of someone trying to make a story that is not really there.

Top Contributor

Thank you, I'm aware how exit row seating works. 😉


We do not know if the 83 year old grandmother was able to answer the exit row qualification question in the affirmative, or for that matter if it was even asked. Southwest's statement conveniently avoids mentioning anything about that.


We do know that she was sat there by the FAs, as it was the last remaining available seat on the plane. After the family were held from boarding until after all other passengers had boarded. And that the grandmother is described as "frail."


Ultimately, as I have said earlier, Southwest just simply failed, multiple times, in this incident.


First, they failed to apply the literal terms of the Family Boarding policy -- vague as it is -- by stopping, for whatever reason, the family of three adults and three children, all wishing to board together; and 2) they failed to uphold the spirit of the Family Boarding policy, which is to allow families to board together so that they may sit together.


The policy literally says, "an adult traveling with a child." This family had three sets of "an adult traveling with a child." By the literal interpretation of the written policy, they were 100% compliant.


But of course, the policy is so vague as to be interpreted many ways. Two parents with a child are generally never stopped, despite this not being what the official policy allows. And, many times I have seem multi-generational families board together during Family Boarding without issue. Or parents with multiple children, some over the age of 6, all boarding together.


Please use some common sense here. Two parents, traveling with three children -- twin boys age 3 and a girl age 5 -- plus their 83 year old grandmother -- tried to board as a family, and were denied.


Yes, the grandmother and one father could have likely preboarded, but one assumes that wasn't desirable because that would leave the other father to board with all three children by himself. Remember, two 3 year olds and a 5 year old. Three strollers. One father.


Keep in mind that Family Boarding is not Preboarding. Family Boarding happens between the A and B groups. Although they could have preboarded, they chose to wait and board together during Family Boarding, presumably so that the two fathers could attend to both the three children as well as the grandmother.


The father believes they were profiled because they are a gay couple. We don't know if that's true or not because we weren't there. But Southwest explanation doesn't make sense, as it's 1) not in keeping with the language of the official policy and 2) not in keeping with common practice.


Whatever the reason, it was wrong.








New Arrival

Thank you, I know how family boarding and preboarding works. 


They did it by the book. Like I said, if the men were so worried about frail grandma then they could have changed seats since one of them was sitting alone. 

New Arrival

I find Southwest's public position on this shocking and unbelievable.  The Policy on the website is CLEAR and directly conflicts with the reasoning brandy-king makes in this post (notice she didn't link directly to the pertinent information):

Do families get to preboard?

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.


The policy makes no mention of what role the adult must play in the family to qualify. Taken literally, there were three adults and three children and each "(An)" adult should have been able to take "a" child aboard, therefore the three adults should have been able to preboard with three children.


Why are people defending Southwest's actions on this, and more importantly why doesn't Southwest say "We made a mistake and we apologize"?  Is it really that hard to do?

New Arrival

Mikey11, the company does not say we made a mistake because they didn't. There is a fine line between accommodating certain people, like true pre boards and families with children, and taking care of the people in the B & C boarding groups

New Arrival

RockyMtn, specifically what is this "fine line?" There is a process, stated on the website, that explans how family boarding works. If you read it literally, it should work as I laid out in my post and Southwest made a mistake. 


New Arrival

Generally I am a big fan of Southwest, but in this case, SW should have just apologized. First and foremost -the letter of the law is often different than the spirit of the law. I have seen many people carry a preboard on airlines, and get two friends to walk in with them, because they can. In this case, what harm was it to seat an 83-year-old grandmother? Did they perhaps feel legally okay? I hope so, but it appears to be mean-spirited to me, and that is something I have never seen Southwest do, well nearly never. There was that one time...

The family being refused to board with small children and an elder? Come on SW- just suck it up and admit an error and move on. The official statement gives you a blacker eye than you had to begin with.

New Arrival

Lots of concern for "policy." Not so much evidence of SWA's "luv." That's what I'm missing here.