June 20, 2018

Airlines ask the government not to fly separated children on their planes

American Airlines, United Airlines and Frontier Airlines have asked the US government to not use their planes to transport undocumented migrant children who have been separated from their families.

All three companies issued statements Wednesday telling the Trump administration they did not want to be ensnared in its controversial "zero tolerance" policy for detaining undocumented immigrants at the US border. Parents who cross the border illegally are taken into custody and children are rounded up and placed in holding facilities apart from their parents.

The Department of Homeland Security said it was disappointed in the airlines' decision.

After intense outcry over the policy, President Trump on Wednesday signed an executive order to end the separation of families.

American Airlines said on Wednesday it has "no desire to be associated with separating families, or worse, to profit from it. We have every expectation the government will comply with our request and we thank them for doing so."

Like many other US airlines, American Airlines has contracts with the US government to allow federal employees to use its planes for certain travel. For example, the company said it has "carried refugees for non-profits and the government."

None of the three airlines were able to definitively say whether their planes had been used to transport migrants who were detained after crossing the US border.

American said it would be "extremely disappointed to learn that is the case."

"[T]he government does not disclose information about the nature of the flights it takes or the passengers who are traveling," the company said.

Frontier said in a brief statement posted to Twitter that it "will not knowingly allow our flights to be used to transport migrant children away from their families."

"At this time, we are not aware if Frontier has been used for this purpose," Frontier's statement reads.

United Airlines said it has "serious concerns" about the immigration policy, and said it has "contacted federal officials to inform them that they should not transport immigrant children on United aircraft who have been separated from their parents."

However, the company added, "[b]ased on some research we have done internally and public reports, we have not seen evidence these children have been flown on United aircraft."

The companies did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

The news coverage about the policy has included stories of cries from children asking for their parents, harsh living conditions and understaffed facilities.

A Facebook post began circulating last week that claims to be the story of a flight attendant on an unnamed airline who watched 16 migrant children board a flight from Arizona to Miami just after midnight.

Department of Homeland Security spokesman Tyler Houlton claimed American, United and Frontier want to distance themselves from a number of DHS's missions.

"It's unfortunate that American, United, and Frontier Airlines no longer want to partner with the brave men and women of DHS to protect the traveling public, combat human trafficking, and to swiftly reunite unaccompanied illegal immigrant children with their families," Houlton's statement reads.

Houlton blamed a "false media narrative" for prompting the companies to speak out against the Trump administration's policy.

American Airlines is the first major airline to issue a statement. Delta, United, and Jet Blue did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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