Mary Campos is a million-mile flyer who is also the senior leader of an international gas and oil company. While waiting to board a flight in John Wayne Airport in Orange County, she heard her name called out. The United Airlines gate agent told her that her seat had been changed. Apparently, two Pakistani monks sitting next to her couldn’t be seated next to women, due to their religious and cultural beliefs. They also could not be served by female flight attendants; lucky for them, there was a male flight attendant onboard.
Orange County Register reports that Campos wasn’t given an option, and was essentially asked to board the plane or not fly. Once the plane landed in Houston, Campos reached out to a customer service representative, who gave her a $100 voucher. However, Campos is not satisfied—”this is isn’t about $100. It’s about treating everyone fairly.” Instead, she wrote an e-mail to United:
First, I do respect the religious beliefs of all groups. But I do not believe cultural beliefs should be enforced by United to discriminate against females. We live in the United States of America where females are treated as equals, not as subordinates. As a female, mother of two daughters and a business woman, this is unacceptable.
Mary Campos did not hear back from United Airlines other than a boiler plate “we’ll look into it” response. However, CBS Los Angeles investigated the situation, and did receive a response from United:
We regret that Ms. Campos was unhappy with the handling of the seat assignments on her flight. United holds its employees to the highest standards of professionalism and has zero tolerance for discrimination.
I am frankly a bit curious as to how this happened before boarding. Perhaps the monks also anticipated this happening, so they reached out to United ahead of time to arrange alternative seats. But at the same time, Campos pre-booked the seats, and United switching seats without first asking is rather disrespectful—I know I wouldn’t be happy and wouldn’t think it’s fair. I think a better way might have been to ask passengers to switch once onboard, since at least you could ask for volunteers that way.
However, this issue is also more complicated than just gender discrimination, since we might also have to factor in freedom of religion—how should the airline approach that with a religion the appears to discriminate? With the idea of “‘majority rules,” I tend to believe the responsibility of making alternative accommodations to be in the hands of those that go against the norm. Ultimately, I don’t envy being in United’s place, and they very much mishandled the situation, but I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.