It wasn’t the canceled flight on Christmas Day that upset Shelley Morrison the most. It was the police officer threatening to arrest her if she didn’t leave a secure area of the airport.
Ms. Morrison and her three daughters had arrived at Nashville International Airport two hours early on Dec. 25 for their Southwest Airlines flight to Cleveland to see family in Ohio.
But as the airline canceled flights across the country, sowing confusion, disappointment and anger among thousands of travelers, Ms. Morrison tried to find out more information about what was happening with her flight.
As she waited in line among frustrated travelers hoping to speak to an employee at a Southwest gate, an airline employee called security and two police officers with the airport’s Department of Public Safety showed up, she said.
One officer told the Southwest travelers that they needed to leave “or you’ll be arrested for trespassing,” according to a TikTok video recorded by Ms. Morrison’s daughter, Amani Robinson, 20.
“Go. Right now,” the officer said. “Everybody to the unsecure side. The ticket counter will help you with any questions you have.”
The airport, in a statement, said its officers were working “to ensure the safety of all passengers” as severe winter weather wreaked havoc on holiday air travel.
Ms. Morrison said that text notifications that she had received from Southwest had indicated that her flight was only delayed, not canceled. On the video, she asked the officer directly if he was threatening to arrest people for trespassing.
“Yes,” he said. “If you don’t have a valid ticket and you’re on the secured side and refuse to leave, you will be arrested.”
Ms. Morrison replied: “We do have tickets. We have valid tickets.”
And the officer said, “Well, if your ticket is canceled, you no longer have a ticket. You understand that, right?”
The officer added that Southwest had called the police because travelers were congregating near a gate that needed to be closed.
Ms. Morrison said that she went to another line for information when the officer approached her again.
According to a second TikTok video recorded by Ms. Robinson, the officer asked to see her tickets and took them to a Southwest employee, who confirmed that her flight had been canceled. The officer instructed Ms. Morrison once again to leave the secure side of the airport, the video shows.
Ms. Morrison, who is Black, asked the officer why he chose to stop her and ask her for her tickets, according to the video.
“Is it customary?” she asked him. “Do you stop everybody and check their tickets? Is it customary for the police to stop any and everybody and check their tickets?”
The officer explained that “because of our encounter from earlier, I have reasonable suspicion to believe that your tickets have been canceled, OK? And you were advised to leave the secured side.”
Ms. Morrison agreed to leave but told the officer, “That is absolutely inappropriate on Christmas night for people to be asking questions and for you to threaten to arrest them for trespassing simply for standing in line.”
In its statement on the encounter, which was previously reported by The Tennessean, Nashville International Airport said that after many flights were canceled on Sunday evening, travelers were asked to rebook flights at ticket counters on the other side of the security line.
The statement said that Southwest personnel had contacted the airport’s operations center and asked that a police officer be dispatched to “escort passengers” to those ticket counters.
The airport issued a fresh statement on Friday, saying that airport officials were working with Southwest and other carriers to foster better communications.
“The extraordinary number of flight cancellations over the last week caused great stress for our travelers, and included an unfortunate incident involving a passenger, airline staff, and a BNA officer,” the statement said. “We are deeply sorry that this occurred and have taken this situation to heart.”
Ms. Morrison said she never made it to Cleveland that day and was still trying to track down her luggage after she checked it.
She said she had contacted airport officials about the encounter with the police but had yet to receive a response. She said she wants the officer’s behavior to be “addressed” and would like a public acknowledgment or apology.
“I merely asked questions,” she said. “There’s nothing that would suggest a single mom with her three kids was a threat, nor was anybody else in that line.”