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ATW Editor's Blog

Child border policy brings US airlines into political fray


The scandal over children being separated from their parents by US border officials at the US-Mexico border has drawn some of America’s largest airlines into the political debate.

Most reasonable, compassionate people would agree that it does America no good to be seen as a nation that force-separates families and houses young children in camps, surrounded by strangers, while the political shenanigans of the latest Trump theater play out.

But how this will ultimately work out for those airlines that have stepped out and spoken against the policy is harder to tell.

American Airlines, United Airlines and Denver-based LCC Frontier Airlines each issued statements Wednesday asking the US federal government to not place any of the affected immigrant children on their flights (to transfer them to US holding facilities). Each airline said it was not aware that any children had been boarded in these circumstances, but made it clear they did not want it to happen and they did not agree with the principle of families being separated in this manner.

This policy is “in deep conflict with our company’s values,” United CEO Oscar Munoz said in a statement. American stated the policy “is not at all aligned with the values of American Airlines”. 

Those statements, made before President Trump signed an executive order later on June 20 to halt the separations, are unusually political for major airlines. Essentially, they are calling out the US President.

Delta’s statement, issued after the executive order was signed, is harder to interpret.  It says: “Delta’s mission is to connect people and we are against anything that runs contrary to that mission. Recent reports of families being separated are disheartening and do not align with Delta’s core values. 

“We applaud the Administration’s Executive Order resolving the issue of separating children from their families at the U.S. border.”

Is Delta chastising the President for his initial policy or praising him for a policy reversal? The ambiguity is probably deliberate.

But while you might think the clearer statements of the other airlines would win them total customer support, don’t be so sure. I’m pretty certain they will get a good share of “I’ll never fly with you again” threats from those who see these airline statements as anti-Trump, anti-American (the nation, not the airline), and an affront from businesses they feel should stay out of politics.

Which makes the American, United and Frontier statements all the more admirable.

Karen Walker karen.walker@informa.com

Editor’s update: Later on June 20, Southwest Airlines also posted a statement on this issue. It reads: “The Purpose of our Airline is to connect People to what is important in their lives, and there is nothing more important to us than family. While we do not have evidence that tickets purchased for Southwest flights have been utilized to transport detained children, we do not wish to have involvement in the process of separating children from their parents. Therefore, we appeal to anyone making those types of travel decisions not to utilize Southwest Airlines. We are a Company founded on love, and we want to connect People to what is important in their lives, not disconnect them.”


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