Southwest CEO on lesbian actress’ removal from flight: ‘We’re not trying to dictate social norms’

Gary Kelly, CEO of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, is standing behind an SWA flight crew’s decision to remove lesbian actress Leisha Hailey and her partner from a plane on Monday after they were observed kissing.

After Hailey, who starred in The L-Word and is a member of the band Uh Huh Her, called for a boycott of the airline on Twitter, SWA released a statement describing the kissing as “excessive.”

Hailey responded with a statement saying it was “one, modest kiss,” before the airline issued a follow-up saying the couple was removed from the flight during a stop in El Paso due to their “aggressive reaction,” including loud use of “profane language.”

Hailey’s publicist tells Instant Tea that the actress isn’t doing interviews about the incident, but Kelly (pictured) discussed it with The Houston Chronicle on Wednesday.

“We’re not trying to dictate social norms,” Kelly told the Chronicle. “Any of us have boundaries that we think people should behave within. …

“I think our people try very hard to accommodate the needs and the wishes of our customers, and they make judgments of what is appropriate and what is not appropriate,” Kelly said. “In all cases, we do the best we can to take care of our customers and if we can’t get them where they need to go, obviously we’re apologetic for that. … 

“It’s very difficult to script out exactly how one should deal with any particular circumstance.”

—  John Wright

Is it time to boycott Southwest?

It’s been nearly 24 hours since lesbian actress and musician Leisha Hailey alleged on Twitter that she’d been kicked off a Southwest Airlines flight for kissing her girlfriend. But we still haven’t heard anything more about the incident from Hailey, whose spokeswoman isn’t responding to media inquiries.

The Associated Press reports today that the kissing took place aboard a flight from Baltimore to St. Louis, and Hailey and her partner were kicked off the plane after it landed. According to the airline’s statement, that’s when a discussion “escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground.” The airline characterized the kissing as “excessive” and said there were “several complaints” from passengers about it.

According to an itinerary for the flight, after St. Louis it was headed to Dallas Love Field, then El Paso and Los Angeles, but it’s unclear where Hailey planned to disembark. Hailey, who starred in Showtime’s The L Word and is a member of the band Uh Huh Her, reportedly is set to begin a 21-city tour to promote breast cancer awareness.

Hailey called for a boycott of Southwest on Twitter after the incident, but the National Gay Pilots Association isn’t ready to go along with that.

“The National Gay Pilots Association (NGPA) opposes any premature boycott measures against Southwest Airlines until we hear all sides,” the group said in a statement released today. “Southwest Airlines has strict non-discrimination policies in place and is actively working with NGPA and other gay rights organizations to further enhance their policies and employee training. We still expect SWA to send a clear signal to all its employees that such behavior cannot be tolerated (especially when it comes to definition of family), should the accusations be true.”

As the AP story points out, Hailey isn’t the first celebrity to be kicked off a Southwest flight in the last few years. And as we noted yesterday, this isn’t the first gay-related controversy the airline has faced in recent months.

Southwest received a score of 95 percent on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent Corporate Equality Index, and it happens to be the official airline of GLAAD. (Check out the GLBT Outreach section of Southwest’s website here.) Another factor for those of us in Dallas: SWA essentially flies out of the gayborhood. 

So what do you think, is it time to boycott Southwest? Who knows, perhaps the below cartoon about Monday’s incident from Taiwan’s Next Media Animation will help you decide.

—  John Wright