A viral social media post supposedly telling a flight attendant’s tale of transporting migrant children, who have been separated from their parents, on overnight flights is forcing airlines to go on the defensive, with American Airlines and United Airlines specifically asking the government to not use their planes for that purpose.
The post has been shared tens of thousands of times on both Facebook and Twitter. And while there are several discrepancies in the tale, the Association of Flight Attendants CWA, a union that represents 50,000 flight attendants on several airlines, says it has confirmed the original Facebook post was authentic and written by a flight attendant.
Whether the story is true or not, it has hit a raw nerve in society — as widespread opposition to the policy of separating children from their parents continues to increase, and airlines see themselves as a potential target for that wrath.
American Airlines, which one Oakland TV station reporter accused of transporting children on social media, said in a statement that while the carrier did provide travel to the federal government, it did not have control of which passengers the government could book. However, American Airlines added, it wants no part of separating immigrant children from their parents.
“We have been asked about transporting undocumented children and are aware of the narrative that is circulating online,” American Airlines said in a statement. “American, like all U.S. airlines, provides travel to the federal government through our government services agreements, however the government does not disclose information about the nature of the flights they take or the passengers who are traveling. We have no way to substantiate the report at this time but would be disappointed to learn that our airline was being used to separate families.
“We have therefore requested the federal government to immediately refrain from using American for the purpose of transporting children who have been separated from their families due to the current immigration policy. We have no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it. We have every expectation the government will comply with our request and we thank them for doing so.”
United Airlines echoed that sentiment. CEO Oscar Munoz, in a statement, said the United Airlines’ research has not found evidence that any separated migrant children have been flown on its planes, but told the government it doesn’t want any part of the program.
“Based on our serious concerns about this policy and how it’s in deep conflict with our company’s values, we have contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents,” said Munoz. “Our company’s shared purpose is to connect people and unite the world. This policy and its impact on thousands of children is in deep conflict with that mission and we want no part of it.”
Delta, in a statement released after Trump’s decision to end the separation of families amid overwhelming political pressure, told Fortune, “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.”
It’s not just the general public that’s targeting airlines as the post spreads. Employees are upset as well. One flight attendant for American Airlines posted a letter he says he sent to the company’s vice president of inflight (seemingly Jull Surdek, VP of flight services), asking that employees be allowed to opt out of working flights where these minors are being transported.
Because the flight attendant who reportedly witnessed the initial incident has chosen to remain anonymous, though, verifying the details is impossible. But, as the story continues to grow on social media, that’s going to matter less to carriers like American Airlines and United Airlines, who have to deal with the potential backlash.