Leisha Hailey issues statement on Southwest Airlines incident, denies kissing was ‘excessive’

Leisha Hailey

Moments after I posted the item below, the following statement about Monday’s incident came across from Leisha Hailey and her girlfriend, Camila Grey:

“We have always promoted tolerance, openness and equality both as a band and as individuals. We both come from loving homes where our parents not only love and accept us, but are also proud of who we are. We believe everyone has the right to live openly in this society as equals. In no way were our actions on Southwest Airlines excessive, inappropriate or vulgar. We want to make it clear we were not making out or creating any kind of spectacle of ourselves, it was one, modest kiss. We are responsible adult women who walk through the world with dignity. We were simply being affectionate like any normal couple. We were on the airplane less than 5 minutes when all was said and done. We take full responsibility for getting verbally upset with the flight attendant after being told it was a ‘family airline.’ We were never told the reason the flight attendant approached us, we were only scolded that we ‘needed to be aware that Southwest Airlines was a family oriented airline.’ No matter how quietly homophobia is whispered, it doesn’t make it any less loud. You can’t whisper hate. We ask this airline to teach their employees to not discriminate against any couple, ever, regardless of their own beliefs. We want to live in a society where if your loved one leans over to give you an innocent kiss on an airplane it’s not labeled as ‘excessive or not family oriented’ by a corporation and it’s employees. We find it very disturbing that the same airline who lauds itself as being LGBT friendly has twisted an upsetting incident that happened into our behavior being ‘too excessive.’ The above is not an apology and we are in the process of filing a formal complaint with the airline. We hope that when all is said and done a greater tolerance without prejudice will evolve.”

—  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

UPDATED: Southwest Airlines statement on incident involving ‘L-Word’ actress Leisha Hailey

Leisha Hailey appeared in the ‘L-Word’ and is a member of the band Uh Huh Her.

Looks like Dallas-based Southwest Airlines could have another big gay controversy on its hands.

Months after a pilot’s anti-gay rant was broadcast over a stuck cockpit microphone, L-Word actress Leisha Hailey (also a lesbian in real life) is alleging on Twitter she was booted from an SWA flight after — GASP! — kissing her partner.

We’re waiting to hear back from Southwest — and working to get in touch with Hailey — but for now, below are her tweets about the incident.

UPDATE, 5:30 p.m.: Southwest has posted a statement on its website about the incident, which occurred aboard Flight 2274. Southwest’s statement reads: “Initial reports indicate that we received several passenger complaints characterizing the behavior as excessive. Our crew, responsible for the comfort of all Customers on board, approached the passengers based solely on behavior and not gender. The conversation escalated to a level that was better resolved on the ground, as opposed to in flight. We regret any circumstance where a passenger does not have a positive experience on Southwest and we are ready to work directly with the passengers involved to offer our heartfelt apologies for falling short of their expectation.”

UPDATE, 5:52 p.m.: Those who’ve expressed support for Hailey include fellow gay musician Adam Lambert, who tweeted, “News: kissing is NOT indecent behavior. No matter what sex u are. So if two of the same sex are sweetly kissing, get over it!”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Dallas Morning News reportedly agrees to publish same-sex weddings

Thomas-Mark-Reed-and-Dante-Karl-Walkup
Mark Reed-Walkup and Dante Walkup

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Mark Reed-Walkup, a local GetEQUAL board member who filed a discrimination complaint against The Dallas Morning News for refusing to publish his paid same-sex wedding announcement, reports that the newspaper has agreed to change its policy and he will be dropping the case. “We met with the CEO and Editor today of the Dallas Morning News and they are changing their policy to allow same-gender wedding announcements be placed in their wedding section,” Reed-Walkup wrote Thursday evening. “We are dropping our lawsuit tomorrow. OH F’ING HAPPY DAY! Thank you Dallas Morning News for doing the right thing today!” Stay tuned to Instant Tea for more.

2. Jesse Garcia, president of Dallas’ gay LULAC chapter and former president of Stonewall Democrats of Dallas, says he is moving to Washington, D.C., to accept a position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Children, Youth and Families. Stay tuned for more on this as well.

3. Thanks to KPRC in Houston, which also broke the original story, we now know what Southwest Airlines pilot Capt. James Fritzen Taylor looks like. Sort of. At left is a grainy, black-and-white photo of the Argyle man whose anti-gay, mysoginistic rant over an stuck cockpit microphone in March has created a PR nightmare for the Dallas-based airline over the last 10 days. Taylor has apologized for the rant, and a flight attendants’ union has accepted his apology. No word on whether Taylor’s wife has forgiven him, but any gay, granny or grande will tell you that if this guy really wants to get laid, he needs to post some better photos of himself online.

—  John Wright

Southwest Airlines pilot James Taylor of Argyle apologizes for anti-gay, misogynistic rant

The Southwest Airlines pilot whose anti-gay, misogynistic rant was captured over a stuck cockpit microphone in March has issued an apology to company employees. The pilot has been identified as 46-year-old Capt. James Fritzen Taylor of Argyle, north of Fort Worth. According to media reports, Taylor is married and lives with his wife and two children, ages 18 and 20, in an exclusive subdivision off Interstate 35. KPRC Channel 2 in Houston, which broke the story about Taylor’s rant, has obtained a copy of his apology dated today. Below is the full text:

June 28, 2011

To All Southwest Airlines Flight Attendants and all Employees:

Because of the impact of my comments, I wanted to communicate with you directly. Please accept my most sincere apology for the inappropriate and disrespectful remarks I made in March with an open microphone. I deeply regret the derogatory remarks I made and the hurt I have caused — I take full responsibility for those comments. It was truly insensitive of me and I would like all of you to know that from now on, I will show nothing but the utmost respect during my interactions with all employees.In addition, I would like to extend a special apology to all Flight Attendants, and especially those of Houston. I hope you will allow me to maintain a working relationship with all of you that will provide me the opportunity to extend an individual, personal apology to each one of you whenever we fly together. Please know that this event has forever changed me and I hope that others can learn from my mistake. I have learned a much-needed lesson to be more sensitive of others and I hope you will see me as a more tolerant and considerate person. I am proud to be employed by Southwest Airlines and I am committed to representing our Company, and its employees in the most professional way possible.

With My Sincere Regards,

Captain James Taylor

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: President Obama to nominate openly gay man for U.S. attorney in Texas

President Barack Obama

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. President Barack Obama is expected to nominate an openly gay man for one of four vacant U.S. attorney positions in Texas. The San Antonio Express-News reports that Obama will nominate U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert Lee Pitman of Austin as U.S. Attorney for the Western District, which includes San Antonio, Del Rio and El Paso. Interestingly, Pitman’s nomination is supported by anti-gay Republican Texas Sens. John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison. Pitman, a Fort Worth native and graduate of Trinity Valley School, would face a confirmation vote in the Senate. He would not be the first openly gay U.S. attorney, but he would undoubtedly be the first in Texas. Read a detailed profile of Pitman here.

2. In the wake of reports about a Southwest Airlines pilot’s offensive rant over an open cockpit microphone, one California lawmaker is calling on the state to sever its contracts with the airline. Assemblywoman Fiona Ma says she’s not satisfied with the Dallas-based airline’s “slap on the wrist” of the pilot, but as Instant Tea reported Friday, the airline isn’t expected to revisit the disciplinary action.

3. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has released a video invitation to his Aug. 6. Day of Prayer funded by the American Family Association, the anti-gay hate group. Perhaps Perry is getting desperate since only one of 49 governors had RSVP’d affirmatively to his invite for the Day of Prayer as of last week. Watch his video invitation below, and then tell us whether you think “people adrift in a sea of moral relativism” is Perry’s new euphemism for gays.

Gov. Perry’s Invitation to The Response from The Response USA on Vimeo.

—  John Wright

EXCLUSIVE AUDIO: Southwest CEO Gary Kelly says pilot won’t be fired for offensive rant

 

Gary Kelly

Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said in a recorded message to employees Thursday that the company doesn’t plan to revisit disciplinary action taken against a pilot whose anti-gay, misogynistic rant was captured over an open cockpit microphone in March.

Instant Tea has obtained a recording (above) of Kelly’s six-minute message posted on Newsline, a phone service for Southwest employees. In the message, Kelly said he had not been aware of the incident until the news media reported on it this week. Although some feel the pilot should be fired, Kelly said it’s too late to revisit disciplinary action that was taken against him in April, which consisted of a reprimand, a suspension and diversity training.

“People have opined that this employee should have been, or should now be fired, and let me just say that reasonable people that are fully acquainted with all of the facts could disagree on whether the severity of this discipline was sufficient for the obvious bad behavior,” Kelly said in the message. “And be that as it may, the matter was resolved already legally, and it would serve no purpose to reopen that now, even if we could. And I know that many of you do not like that decision. While there will be a complete and thorough review with management of this entire episode, it is important to understand that the discipline was rendered in April, and it cannot be reversed.”

Instant Tea also obtained a copy of a memo to employees from Jeff Lamb, Southwest’s senior vice president of administration and chief people officer. In the memo, Lamb lays out steps the company will take in the wake of the incident:

• Gary has asked me to work with our Labor Employment Group, under the Leadership of General Counsel, to investigate whether the attitudes that were communicated are an isolated instance or if we have a wider issue with lack of sensitivity in our workplace.

• We are changing the procedures used to consider and administer discipline under our Equal Employment Opportunity policies. All similar situations must go through Employee Relations and will be reviewed by General Counsel prior to discipline being administered.

• I am reviewing our Diversity training requirements for all Employees, not just Leaders. I am proud of the many efforts that we already have in place to promote, protect, and celebrate our diverse workforce, including the “Matter of Respect” training through the U4P and our Diversity Council. However, we must take it up a notch and continue to raise awareness that disparagement in any setting will not be tolerated.

—  John Wright

Southwest flight attendants respond to pilot’s rant, call for airline to ‘remedy this injustice’

TWU Local 556, which represents 9,400 flight attendants at Southwest Airlines, issued a statement this afternoon in response to a homophobic, misogynistic rant by one of the company’s pilots that was captured on an open cockpit microphone back in March. As we told you Tuesday night, the pilot was suspended without pay for the incident, but the company won’t say for how long. The company also hasn’t released the pilot’s name.

We spoke briefly today with Brad Hawkins, a gay former WFAA reporter who’s now one of Southwest’s spokespeople. But Hawkins said he couldn’t comment beyond a statement that was posted this morning on the company’s website, which is identical to the one it gave KPRC Channel 2 for its original story about the incident. (The company has also posted a video statement from Capt. Chuck Magill, its vice president for flight operations.)

The flight attendants union, in its statement, says it is “dismayed by the response from Southwest Airlines’ management” and that the company has “added ‘insult to injury.’” The union also says its attorneys will investigate the possibility of filing an EEOC complaint with the federal government based on the incident. “We hope not to have to go that route, and instead, we are counting on Southwest Airlines to remedy this injustice. Bigotry in the workplace is bad business and unacceptable behavior on the ground and at 30,000 feet,” reads the union’s statement, which we’ve posted in its entirety below.

Also issuing an official statement about the incident today was Resource Center Dallas, whose executive director Cece Cox was quoted extensively in KPRC’s original story. Cox’s follow-up statement notes that Southwest Airlines has been been a supporter of the LGBT community for many years, has a nondiscrimination policy that includes LGBT employees, and provides diversity training. Cox says the incident was “in stark contrast” to an inclusive culture and calls for the company to “to explore the effectiveness of their current diversity training program, and both evaluate and affirm their corporate commitment to inclusivity and safety.” Cox’s full statement follows the union’s statement after the jump.

Finally, in case you haven’t heard it yet, here’s the raw audio of the pilot’s rant:

Houston Pilot Caught on Tape by Christina Warren

—  John Wright

LISTEN: Southwest Airlines pilot’s anti-gay, mysoginistic rant over stuck cockpit microphone

Houston’s KPRC Channel 2 reports on a recent incident involving a pilot for Dallas-based Southwest Airlines whose cockpit microphone became stuck on, allowing air traffic controllers and crews from other flights to hear an anti-gay, misogynistic, ageist rant about what the pilot considers a lack of flight attendants suitable for him to have sex with.

An air traffic controller repeatedly tries to interrupt the pilot and alert him that his microphone is on, but the pilot doesn’t notice. Much of the anti-gay language has been bleeped out in the audio posted on Channel 2′s website, but it’s not hard to fill in the blanks:

“Well, I had Tucson to Indy all four weeks and, uh, Chicago crews … 11 out of 12 … there’s 12 flight attendants, individual, never the same flight attendant twice,” the pilot says. “Eleven (expletive) over the top (expletive), (expletive) homosexuals and a granny. Eleven. I mean, think of the odds of that. I thought I was in Chicago, which was party-land. … After that, it was just a continuous stream of gays and grannies and grandes …”

After an inaudible comment by his co-pilot, presumably about gays, the pilot continues: “Well I don’t give a (expletive). I hate 100 percent of their (expletive). So, six months, I went to the bar three times. In six months, three times. … Once with the granny and the fag, and I wish I hadn’t gone.”

Channel 2 has a complete transcript as well as the audio.

According to Southwest Airlines, the pilot was suspended without pay for the incident, but the company declined to say for how long and added that Southwest considers it “a family matter.”

The FAA also issued a statement saying it “expects a higher level of professionalism from flight crews, regardless of the circumstances.”

Cece Cox, executive director of Resource Center Dallas, is quoted extensively in the story, and RCD reportedly will be issuing a follow-up  statement about the incident Wednesday morning.

“This individual has made statements that are anti-woman, anti-age, and anti-gay in a way that can’t be disputed and they’re hateful and they’re damaging to the employees of Southwest Airlines as well as consumers of Southwest Airlines,” Cox told Channel 2. “I hope it’s an isolated incident. I hope they look and see what’s happening in their culture because clearly this incident shows that there’s something happening in this culture that allowed this person to make those kind of remarks and exhibit this kind of hostility, discrimination and hate.”

In case you’re wondering Southwest Airlines received a score of 95 out of 100 on the Human Rights Campaign’s 2011 Corporate Equality Index. According to HRC, the company conducts mandatory LGBT diversity training for all employees.

—  John Wright

Bone voyage

Fly the pet-friendly skies | Dan Weisel, Zoe and Alysa Binder founded the first airline for pets.

Pet Airways, which plans to add Dallas as a destination this summer, treats pawsengers better than some airlines treat people

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Zoe, a Jack Russell terrier, came up with the idea for Pet Airways — at least according to company founder Alysa Binder.

This summer, Pet Airways is coming to Dallas, Austin and Houston. Exact dates and which airports will be announced later, airline officials said.

Rather than try to get people airlines to treat pets better, Binder, Dan Weisel and Zoe decided to start their own airline just for dogs and cats — and a hermit crab, some gerbils, mice and maybe rabbits soon.

On Pet Airways, all of the pawsengers fly first class. Pets even walk down a red carpet. And unlike most people airlines, meals are included in the price of a ticket, although some picky pawsengers prefer to pack their own.

Binder said drinks are also included. No need for your pet to carry a credit card to purchase those amenities.

And, of course, Pet Airways has a generous frequent flier program — fly five times and get one flight free.

The airline already flies to nine cities including New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. This summer they will add Austin, Houston and Dallas.

The fares run from $99 to $249 each way on Pet Airways. On traditional carriers, pets fly as cargo or, when available, under the seat.

The least expensive carry-on is offered by Southwest Airlines for $75. The carrier must be small enough to fit under a seat.

In cargo, Delta Airlines is the most expensive at $275.

But on Pet Airways, an animal would never be treated as cargo. Binder said that a cargo hold is dark and the flight is loud and not always fully pressurized. The pet is normally alone and often scared.

Compare that to Pet Airways where, in some ways, Binder said, pets get better treatment than people do on those people airlines.

While security measures are tight, pets are not scanned or x-rayed and no one touches their junk.

No need for any of that, said Binder. Each animal is visually examined before boarding.

“We won’t take a sedated pet,” she said.

She said that no animal should be sedated before flying because it can affect their breathing.

And a recent health certificate is required from a vet for each animal.

On-board pet attendants understand the different needs of dogs and cats of different ages.

Puppies and kittens are fed on a frequent schedule. Medications for older dogs and cats are appropriately administered as well.

Pet attendants check the comfort of their pawsengers every 15 minutes and the flights take longer than people flights, partially to give every animal a potty break — the longest breaks are in Omaha and Baltimore/Washington airports where there’s a several-hour layover.

Attendants are well-trained specialists. Binder said her employees include vets and even a former lion trainer (although Pet Airways doesn’t transport lions).

The cabin is well lit, pressurized and temperature controlled. Pets do not sit out on the tarmac facing extreme heat and cold, where most airline mishaps with pets take place.
Cages are arranged side-by-side along the cabin walls. Although no pet gets a window seat, each one faces the aisle.

Check in is required two hours before flight time. Pawsengers are picked up at the Pet Lounge about 30 minutes after arrival because a potty break is given between the plane and the lounge.

Sometimes people are flying the same day as their pets and the people airline bumps or delays a flight. If that happens, just call Pet Airways and they’ll arrange for the dog or cat to spend the night at a Pet Airways Affiliated Pet Resort.

Safety, care and comfort are the company’s mission, Binder said.

And what does the airline do with their unsold seats? Space is used to transport rescued animals to their new, permanent homes.

Now that’s something special in the air.

Reservations can be made on line at PetAirways.com or call 888-PET-AIRWAYS.

—  John Wright