"A flight attendant had called ahead with some sort of concern that perhaps my mixed children weren’t my children," Harris said in an Instagram video
After flying from Atlanta to Los Angeles on Sept. 15, musician David Ryan Harris says he was accused of trafficking his own children.
In a series of Instagram videos, Harris — a singer-songwriter who has played guitar in John Mayer's band for 20 years and collaborated with Dave Matthews — explained that he and two of his sons, Truman and Hendrix, were met at the top of the jetway by an American Airlines employee and four police officers after disembarking the plane.
“Apparently, a flight attendant had called ahead with some sort of concern that perhaps my mixed children weren’t my children, because they were unresponsive during an interaction with her,” Harris, 55, said in one video.
According to Harris, the flight attendant had asked both children their names, but one of them is “pretty shy.”
“I wanted to go through the roof, but I did not want my kids to see me handle the situation with anything other than grace and class,” Harris explained. After a discussion with the staff and officers, Harris was cleared to leave.
Afterwards, he called the airline’s customer service line and was told to fill out an online form, but had received no response eight days after the incident. That's when he took to social media to share the ordeal.
“My kids are like ‘We don’t want to fly that airline again,'” he said, adding that his son Hendrix asked, “Did I do something wrong?” and felt like “maybe he endangered the family.”
In the caption of his first post detailing the confrontation, Harris noted that American had been his airline of choice since 2004 and that he felt their actions were racially motivated.
“I don’t care what you say, if this had been a white dad/mom with 2 little black kids, they would probably been offered an upgrade, not an interrogation,” he wrote.
In another series of videos posted later, Harris gave more context to the morning of the flight, sharing that his kids were groggy from waking up at 4:15 a.m. to make the 7:17 a.m. departure time.
He added that the child whose brief interaction with the flight attendant prompted her to raise concern is only 7 years old.
“It seems to me that you should have to have a bit more to go on before you’re able to call the police on someone,” he said.
“It’s my word against her word, and she’s not even there," he recounted, referring to the flight attendant. "She didn’t even come to the top of the jetway to get her hero award, so I’m left to defend myself, based on something that at the time I was like, ‘I don’t even know what you’re talking about. My child doesn’t speak to anybody.’”
PEOPLE reached out to American Airlines and received the following statement:
“At American, the safety and security of our customers and team members are our top priorities. We strive to create a positive, welcoming environment for everyone who travels with us and apologize for any misunderstanding that may have occurred. A member of our team has reached out to the customer to learn more about their experience and address their concerns.”
On Monday, Harris shared another update on Instagram, revealing that an agent from the airline had reached out to him Sunday.
He says he and the agent spoke for a while about the “purported nonresponsiveness” of his children, and the agent said airplane staff are given a list of trigger scenarios they’re told to look out for when identifying child trafficking victims.
While the agent couldn’t share the exact list, Harris said it was apparent one of them was the fact that his children looked at him after being asked questions by the flight attendant. Harris says the agent acknowledged, “at a very human level,” that his own children typically look at him before talking to strangers.
Harris told the agent the flight attendant could’ve easily looked up their seat numbers and seen that he and his sons share the same last name and that he has a frequent flyer account.
After talking for about 20 minutes, Harris says he told the agent he was simply seeking an apology from the airline for how the incident made him feel. The agent then apologized and offered him 10,000 frequent flyer miles as a consolation.
Harris called the gesture “kind of insulting,” noting that the airline offers more points for opening an AA credit card.
He ended the update by observing that if airlines are truly concerned about child trafficking, “the line of defense should not be on the plane."
“It should stop with the federal agents," he said. "Once we get past TSA, I don’t want to hear from a flight attendant about what kind of hunch they have. It's a burden on the flight attendant and it makes far more room for error.”
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