Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Airlines Doing Business with John Wayne Airport Must Not Discriminate

Following the complaint of a Coto de Caza woman regarding being moved to accommodate another passenger's religious beliefs, all airlines doing business at John Wayne Airport were asked to comply with federal non-discrimination standards.

This, in the wake of an Orange County resident who said her seat was switched when a fellow passenger cited religious beliefs in saying he could not sit next to a woman.

The announcement that all airlines doing business with John Wayne Airport would comply with the non-discrimination standards was made Tuesday at the Orange County Board of Supervisors meeting as the panel was poised to approve passenger-load limits for the airlines in 2017.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer credited the "leverage" of the passenger-load limits for getting a quick turnaround on new contracts with the airlines that force them to comply with federal standards prohibiting discrimination.

"I was adamant that we use the leverage of allocations to get these contracts amended," Spitzer said.

Spitzer noted that officials with United Airlines, which sparked the controversy by changing a seat assignment for Mary Campos of Coto de Caza, initially declined to meet with county leaders.

"They had refused to come here under the auspices of potential litigation," Spitzer said.

Spitzer hailed Campos as "the Rosa Parks of Orange County," referring to the black woman who sparked the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycotts, a watershed moment in the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and '60s.

"She said, `I'm going to drink out of the same water fountain -- you won't discriminate against me,"' Spitzer said. "Orange County put itself on the map by doing this."

The county had been going with month-to-month contracts with the airlines since the agreements expired at the end of last year.

"I don't think (United) willingly did this," Spitzer said. "We told them if you want 300,000 more seats, then you're not going to get that until you agree not to discriminate against women."

Spitzer mockingly referred to the airline's "Friendly Skies" slogan, adding, "Their motto was inconsistent with their practices."

Orange County board Chairwoman Lisa Bartlett said she had been in touch with Campos this week.

"She's very pleased with the outcome," Bartlett said. "This is a good move for all concerned."

United Airlines officials told Bartlett that they have changed the company's policy when a passenger cites religious beliefs for not wishing to sit next to a woman.
"They have changed their general policy, not just for John Wayne Airport, but all airports," Bartlett said.

"What will happen now is if a passenger comes up to the desk and says they can't sit next to a woman, then they will attempt to move the passenger requesting special privileges, and if they cannot accommodate them then they will transfer them to another flight or suggest alternative transportation ...," she said. "This is major step in the right direction and it was certainly the right thing to do."

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