A Nashville mother and daughter were threatened with arrest by an officer assigned to the Nashville International Airport for not leaving the secured Southwest Airlines gate after their flight was delayed.
The officer told the two Black women, Amani Robinson, 20, and her mom, Shelley Morrison, they would be charged with trespassing if they did not leave, assuming all of their flights were canceled. They argued they were lawfully in the secured gate area because they had not been notified that their flight to Cleveland, Ohio, was canceled when the officer approached them.
Morrison and Johnson said they were frustrated not only with the flight situation but with how the officer threatened and treated them. They also alleged the officer singled them out on Christmas Day.
On the day of their trip, they received an alert by text message stating that their flight was delayed. According to NBC News, many Southwest Airlines flights, one of the top four airlines in the country, were delayed or canceled during the Christmas weekend. Monday, Dec. 26, alone, 70 percent of its flights—almost 2,900— were canceled. The next day Tuesday, 63 percent of the flights scheduled across the nation were also canceled.
The delays and hiccups on most U.S. airlines, not just Southwest, were because of the holiday blizzard called Winter Storm Elliot that not only caused chaos in the sky but on the ground causing over 50 people to die from a plethora of issues ranging from accidents to freezing to death to dying by carbon monoxide.
Regardless of the reason, on its website, Southwest Airlines called the “challenges” the company encountered for “consecutive days” due to the “extreme winter weather across our network” “unacceptable.”
The company’s CEO, Bob Jordan, released a video explaining the “highly complex” system that went awry and caused so much confusion, like what happened to Robinson and Morrison.
On Wednesday, Dec. 28, the daughter posted a cellphone video on TikTok of the officer telling them to leave with the caption, “Me and my family were trying to go to Ohio, and we were threatened and followed by this police officer.”
The footage captures the officer telling travelers in the secured waiting area they needed to “leave” or they would have been arrested for trespassing. He instructed the group, some of whom were standing around and others in line to speak to an agent, to exit the unsecured area if they had invalid tickets.
“But we have tickets,” the mother says off camera, only to be shot down by the officer saying, “Your ticket just got canceled.”
Johnson tries to tell him they are not there for the flight he is pointing to, but he ignores them.
Other people are seen in the 2:50-minute clip talking to the officer and he listens and attempts to help them. He even approaches some of the other frustrated travelers and asks them, “What can I do for you?”
“Are we just being kicked to the curb?” the daughter asks.
Morrison clarifies, “You said you are going to arrest me for trespassing for being at a ticket counter?”
The cop states in the video, “If you don’t have a valid ticket and you are on the secure side, you will be arrested.”
“We do have tickets,” she assured him. “We have valid tickets. They are just not to Washington D.C. or Phoenix.”
“But if your ticket is canceled, you no longer have a ticket. You understand that?” he said.
The mother informs him she and her daughter are “not congregating” but are in line to receive additional information— as per instructions from a Southwest representative.
In an interview with NBC’s Today Show, the mother and daughter said they had been in line for over an hour waiting to speak to someone regarding their flight, saying they heard a person behind the Southwest Airlines desk say they were calling for security because the crowd was growing.
Johnson and Morrison believed they were not out of order because neither had received an update saying their flight had been canceled, and they worried if they left the area, they would miss their already delayed flight.
At one point, Morrison asked if the officer had any more information regarding his “trespassing” policy, adding she was a lawyer and wanted the exact statutes. Unable to provide her with it, the officer beats his hands together and reiterates, “You were told to leave the secure side. I am telling you for the third time. You refuse to leave.”
The cop never asked to see Morrison or Johnson’s tickets in the first video nor did he ask if they needed assistance. Instead, he reminded the women of his authority and told them to leave, ending his statement with “You’re an attorney, you understand that, right? Are you refusing to leave?”
In the second video, also posted on TikTok, the two went to another line where the same officer approached them and started questioning their presence.
Morrison told the officer her ticket was still valid and then retrieved the physical ticket from her luggage.
He reviewed and cross-checked it and then took her ticket to a Southwest attendant at gate C4 and in real-time Morrison and Johnson’s flight had just been canceled.
He said, “Aight, Miss. Your flight has been canceled,” as he handed her the tickets back, he said, “These flights are now void.”
With that, the two left the secured ticket area and rebooked their flight from the South to the Midwest. However, before leaving, Morrison addressed what she believed was racial bias which caused the officer to single them out over all the other families and individuals waiting in line.
“Okay, so just for clarity. Is it customary? Do you stop everybody and check their tickets?” the Black woman asked. “Is it customary for the police to stop any and everybody and check their tickets or why was I singled out?”
The officer said the reason he zeroed in on her was that he saw her multiple times, giving him a “reasonable suspicion that your tickets had been canceled.”
“So you had a reasonable suspicion because I stood in the line like any other customer to ask a question?” she asked.
He said, “Yes. The customers in that line had all canceled tickets and they were advised. They were all advised to leave the secured side and go to the ticket counter for the report.”
The two women ended up spending the entirety of Christmas at the airport, waiting for the next plane, which ultimately was also canceled.
Though they were asked to leave, customers were entitled to some support. According to View from the Wing, an information site for flyers, if Southwest Airlines was “at fault for the cancellation they say they’ll provide hotel accommodations and meals.”
The airport released a statement Wednesday in response to the videos.
“With the high number of flights impacted at BNA on Sunday evening, travelers were asked to visit the pre-security ticketing counters for help to rebook flights,” the statement says. “We understand and appreciate the frustrations travelers may have, and we are working to provide the best passenger experience for all.”