Airport security: A letter to Southwest Airlines

Where is the LUV?

To: Gary Kelly, CEO & Vice Chairman, Southwest Airlines Co.

Mr. Kelly,

I have flown Southwest Airlines for years. Your schedule, pricing and general performance make you a valuable asset to the business traveler.

That said, Southwest’s implementation of name-matching is one of the most absurd, xenophobic things any airline has attempted to do with a straight face. To be clear, I am an elite flyer for United, American, Alaska, Delta, and USAir. After 9/11, I was pulled aside by each airline and asked questions, additional checks of my ID were done and then I was noted as a “screened” passenger. From then on I enjoyed the use of automated kiosks and less hassle. Sure, I still get pulled “randomly” – but then there is Southwest.

Since 9/11, I have not been able to use your kiosks. I thought the issue was my arrival time at the airport – until the day I showed up with plenty of time. I queried the agent about this and was told my name was on a “match list.” Upon asking about the procedures other airlines used, and mentioning the use of my frequent flyer number, etc. it was described I would have to pulled over EVERY TIME flying Southwest.

Every time? I wondered about the 4th amendment for a few moments. So then, I started a little experiment: I would monitor my flights with Southwest for the next year to see if you ignore the normal procedures of every other airline in the industry in favor of vigilante checking. Result: Yup!

Now, to give credit where due – most ticket agents have been very friendly. After the 20-30 minutes it takes for them to go through their procedures, they have often have helped me get through the lines at security to try to make a flight. One actually called me on my cell phone to make certain I made it OK and explained how she was confused by Southwest’s stance. She went on to tell me the “home office” said there was a policy to check every time.

Calls to DOJ, FAA and TSA soon followed, in order to see what federal mandate existed to explain this wacked-out policy being used by Southwest. You can imagine my surprise when all parties told me the enforcement of the rules using the “name match” is up to the individual airlines.

So Mr. Kelly – it appears you don’t like my name. I didn’t choose it, my parents gave it to me. I won’t change it on your behalf to make you feel “safer.” Candidly, my name is the “John Smith” of the Muslim world. You seem to like my money and are happy to entice me with frequent flier points – but you want to treat me with suspicion and single me out upon entering an airport.

I suppose you’ll quote how the world has changed in the face of terrorism. You’re right. I’ll relate to you my own encounters with white supremacists who issued death threats against me when I ran for office. You want terrorists? They look like clean-cut white boys and have a “Y” in their name. Don’t believe me?

James Earl Ray
Lee Harvey Oswald
Ted Bundy
Gary Mark Gilmore
Timothy McVie
Ted Kaczynski
John Wayne Gacy
Danny Rolling
Jefferey Dahmer
Antonly Onoprienko
Andras Pandy
Patrick Kearney
Randy Kraft
Mack Ray Edwards
Ray and Faye Copeland
Gary & Thaddeus Lewington
Bobby Frank Cherry
Martin Bryant
Archibald “Mad Dog” Beattie McCafferty

And for the airline industry in particular: “DB Sweeney”

Candidly, one could look at your name and the list above and draw some interesting conclusions. But we will likely agree such a thought would be ludicrous. Stopping all white men with “y’s” in their name would be preposterous – wouldn’t it?

Mr. Kelly, this policy stinks of something most good folks in Texas know not to step in. From where I sit, Southwest’s Kafkaesque policy is racist, outright idiotic, and does nothing to enhance security for the traveling public.

I would like to believe you are simply unaware some knuckleheads have decreed a reprehensible policy for your airline. I hope in bringing this matter to your attention, you will explain what steps you will be taking to correct this blight on your airline.

Omar Ahmad is a Silicon Valley-based technology entrepreneur.

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