Social Media, LGBT Equality, and the Fishy Passenger Complaint

People love whining about airlines.  Particularly on Twitter, Youtube, and Facebook.  In the past year,  Delta has been accused of being anti-semitic and anti-military .    Schedule changes, charging for food and baggage, and weather delays are often the targets of the masses complaints.    One blogger, Chris Elliott, has a feature on his website basically devoted to helping people resolve complaints caused by their own ineptitude or failure to do the bare minimum of research before making a multi-thousand dollar purchase  (for example, this traveler complained that the hotel on hotwire wasn’t as nice as she wanted and couldn’t accommodate her special needs).

With nearly each of these complaints, the facts were simply NOT what the complaining traveler said they were.  Yet people threaten boycotts, lawsuits, and the like based on misinformation or no information at all.

Yesterday, a new complaint hit the blogosphere and twitterverse, in that a Lesbian actress claims she was kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for kissing her girlfriend.   Southwest claims that there were “several passenger complaints characterizing the behavior as excessive,” and it wasn’t based on the passenger’s sexual orientation.   I wasn’t on the plane, and neither were you, but that hasn’t stopped Twitter, Facebook, and the blogosphere from lighting up with calls to boycott Southwest.

Now I generally don’t think a boycott is the appropriate response to a negative customer interaction with one low-level employee, particularly prior to the company having a chance to figure it out.

Moreover, I am dubious about the actress’s story.   Flight Attendants are not generally an anti-LGBT set.   I have been on dozens of flights where either I snuggled with my (ex)boyfriend, or others have done the same.   There has never been a problem.  Southwest hasn’t said what was “excessive” about the passengers’ behavior, and, as a legal matter, I would advise them not to.  But I wouldn’t be surprised if there was more to the story than the actress claimed — particularly if someone said something, she got indignant and started ranting about discrimination — in which case she was rightfully booted from the flight.

The story is also particularly interesting to me as it overlaps with an issue I have been grappling with in my day job- just because something is an expression of your sexuality *doesn’t* mean it has to be tolerated.   If a straight couple were involved in sexually “excessive” activity, calling them out for it would not be sexual orientation discrimination.  So if a gay couple is, it wouldn’t be either.   In the employment context, there have been a number of cases recently where gay employees claim that, to be labeled “unprofessional” for activity such as screaming across a workplace, talking about their sexlives, and calling coworkers “girl,” etc. constitutes sexual orientation discrimination.  Rightly so, such claims have largely been rejected.  But I’ll keep my lawthoughts to another site…

As I referenced before, I was not on the Southwest flight where this incident occurred. It could have been sexual orientation discrimination, or it could have been something else.  But the response is emblematic of the new social media, which allows completely uncorroborated gripes to get disseminated widely.



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