In the latest public relations headache for the US airline United, a Mexican man traveling from Cancún to New York with his daughter was taken aside and questioned by immigration officials after a fellow passenger shared her concerns with authorities over the fact that he and the three-year-old girl he was traveling with had different skin colors.
The incident – which took place against a backdrop of increased persecution of Mexicans living in the United States under President Donald Trump – began when the man’s wife, Maura Furfey, received a phone call from a US border protection officer as she was driving to Newark International Airport to pick up her family. A man describing himself as a sergeant told her there had been an “incident” on the flight.
“My heart was in my throat – I couldn’t even bring myself to respond because my mind was racing to grasp all of the possibilities of what could have happened,” Furfey said in an article published on the news website The Huffington Post.
Maura Furfey says she and her family will never travel on United Airlines again
The officer attempted to calm Furfey, explaining that both her husband and her daughter were safe and well but that another passenger had accused her husband of child trafficking after noting that “my fair-skinned daughter didn’t look like her Mexican father.”
“This passenger had no basis for this claim, nor any evidence to back it up,” said Furfey, adding that the female passenger who had made the accusation was “obviously inebriated” and had displayed a “strange obsession” with her daughter during the flight.
When the plane landed at Newark, Port Authority and Customs and Border Patrol officers boarded and escorted Furfey’s husband and daughter from the aircraft before the other passengers had disembarked. They then asked Furfey’s husband for details of his daughter’s place of birth and wanted to know where her birth certificate had been issued. During this interrogation, her daughter began to cry uncontrollably, Furfey recounts.
All of Furfey’s husband’s papers were in order and he was carrying a notarized letter stating that he had permission to take her daughter to Mexico on a family visit. On the phone, Furfey corroborated her husband’s responses and authorities appeared satisfied. But they said it wasn’t worth investigating the mental state of the passenger who had made the initial accusation.
We never thought flight attendants on United would take the passenger’s observation seriously Maura Furfey
Furfey later complained to the customer service department of United, and received a $100 travel voucher. But she has said that she and her family will never travel on the airline again.
“We never thought [...] that flight attendants on a major airline – United Airlines – would choose to take such an observation [from a passenger] seriously,” she said of the incident.
“This was a terrifying experience for us,” Furfey added. “In this hateful political climate, we have been prepared, or so I thought – but we could never have been prepared for this.”
Recently, United Airlines made international headlines when a man was violently dragged by police from an overbooked flight after he refused to give up his seat so that United staff could travel. The airline has since apologized, introducing rule changes concerning overbooking on its flight, which it says will prevent a repeat of the damaging incident.
English version by George Mills.