Partner Organizations

Worker action ends Trump use of airlines to separate families


FLIGHT ATTENDANTS JUST SAID NO. They simply refused to be part of Donald Trump’s plan to separate immigrant kids from their moms and dads. There was no way they could justify it: not as flight attendants; not as human beings.

They took to Facebook to express their anguish and anger about being drawn into Trump’s scheme. They drew a line. They said it was work they could not, should not, and would not be forced to do. They vowed to refuse to work on future flights carrying little kids away from their parents.

Their personal posts on Facebook went viral. There was massive public support for their stand. The airline companies told Trump they would no longer let him use their planes to tear families apart.

On June 18 Trump cancelled his family separation program. All because workers stood together and spoke out from the heart.

It all began with an anonymous Facebook post

In mid-June 2018, flight attendant Anika Lodzinski re-posted a text from another unnamed flight attendant reporting on a flight he had recently worked.

He wrote:
“...nothing prepared me or my crew for 16 passengers. Sixteen. All dressed in black and gray cheap Walmart sweat suits, quietly boarding the 12:30am flight.

“...Children! Thirty-two scared eyes looking straight forward dazed. We try to speak, yet none speak English.

“...During the beverage service, one of the crew comes to me in tears. They can’t face these children that have been ripped from their families.

“...We are trained yearly in hundreds of possible scenarios as attendants. Something like this isn’t remotely one of those. I had only met one of my crew a few years earlier, the rest never. Thank God, we had one another to lean on to not only get through the flight, but also maybe some glimmer of hope for those babies.”

The Association of Flight Attendants-CWA (AFA-CWA) confirmed that the Facebook post was real, and written by a flight attendant.

AFA-CWA International President Sara Nelson, said: “As aviation’s first responders flight attendants are charged with the safety, health, and security of the passengers in our care. ...When we see someone in distress we are moved to help them. ...Some flight attendants are struggling with the question of participating in a process that they feel deeply is immoral.”

Two more first-person accounts

After the anonymous post went viral, two more first-person accounts by workers on flights that transported immigrant children emerged that supported the account in the first Facebook post.

On 19 June, the Houston Chronicle published a lightly edited version of a Facebook post by Hunt Palmquist, who said he has been a flight attendant for a major commercial airline for 29 years.

“Several weeks ago,” he wrote, “I worked two flights which proved to be two of the most disturbing flights I’ve ever experienced in my career.”

He continued:

"...On board these particular flights were ICE agents and migrant children (approximately four to eleven years old) who had been separated from their families and were being flown to a “relocation” site.

"...Since working the two flights, the images of those helpless children have burned into my psyche. The little children whose faces were full of fear, confusion, sadness and exhaustion left me somewhat traumatized as it occurred to me a few weeks later that I might as well have been a collaborator in their transport.

Palmquist vowed he would “no longer be complicit” in what he described as a “disgusting and deplorable cause,” and pledged to remove himself from any such flights in the future.

That same day, American Airlines flight attendant Ian Funderburg posted the text of a letter he had addressed to a vice president of the company, in which he wrote:

"...Recently on a flight from Dallas to Miami, I had the displeasure of transporting eight young boys, estimated between the ages nine to fifteen, dressed in gray sweatsuits along with their escort — a cold hearted woman who scowled at our attempts to communicate with the frightened children. Of course they spoke no English, and my Spanish is limited, but we got the job done.

"...Their situation weighed on me the entire flight, playing multiple scenarios in my head, and it broke my heart. Knowing that I was transporting innocent children to their detention and possible deportation goes against every moral fiber in my body. To me, it felt like “justified” human trafficking, and indeed was one of the aformentioned scenarios. These children have committed no crime, nor have their family members by seeking a better life away from a troublesome and often dangerous lives in their homeland.

Funderburg, too, vowed not to participate in such flights in the future. “I refuse to be complicit in carrying out the abhorrent and abusive anti-immigrant agenda of the Trump Administration,” he wrote.

On 20 June 2018, American Airlines issued a statement asking the federal government to immediately refrain from transporting immigrant children separated from their families on their airplanes. Frontier, Southwest, and United Airlines issued similarly worded statements.

Soon afterward, President Trump signed an executive order calling a halt to his own administration’s family separation policy.

This sequence of events in the airline industry stands as one more shining proof of the ability of workers to act together as a force for good and positive social change.

- 30 -