Southwest Airlines is conducting an internal investigation after one of its pilots reportedly said a phrase used in right-wing circles as a stand-in for swearing at President Biden over the plane’s public address system — apologizing to customers and insisting it does not condone employees sharing personal political opinions while on the job.
The airline faced turbulence on social media over the weekend after an Associated Press journalist was on a flight from Houston to Albuquerque on Friday when she heard the pilot use the phrase “let’s go Brandon,” writing that it brought on “audible gasps from some passengers.” Audio of the pilot’s greeting, which The Washington Post could not independently verify, was separately circulating widely on social media.
“Southwest does not condone Employees sharing their personal political opinions while on the job serving our Customers, especially when comments are divisive and offensive,” the Texas-based airline said in a statement to The Washington Post on Sunday.
“Southwest is conducting an internal investigation into the recently reported incident and will address the matter directly with any Employee involved,” the statement continued. “The airline apologizes for this event — an action that was not reflective of the Southwest Hospitality for which we are known.”
The phrase has been used as a “code” by conservative critics of the president since a chant of “F--- Joe Biden!” broke out among a crowd at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway in early October. An NBC Sports reporter, who was interviewing NASCAR driver Brandon Brown live on air at the time, said “You can hear the chants from the crowd, ‘Let’s go Brandon!’”
That incident went viral, as some Trump supporters claimed journalists sought to censor anti-Biden sentiment, and since then many Republicans have used the phrase as a “G-rated substitute for its more vulgar three-word cousin,” the Associated Press reported.
Rep. Bill Posey (R-Fla.) ended an Oct. 21 House floor speech with a fist pump and the phrase. South Carolina Republican Jeff Duncan wore a face mask with it at the Capitol, while Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) has posed with a sign featuring the phrase at the World Series.
Many users on social media, where the airline was trending on Sunday morning, threatened to boycott Southwest.
Harvard professor and CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem tweeted that “every passenger on that flight has standing to file a complaint with the FAA,” over the incident, urging Southwest to investigate the pilot. While former Democratic California congressional candidate Regina Marston went further, calling for “a firing right now of the pilot.”
The story also became a rallying cry for those defending the pilot’s purported remarks — with some saying the purported incident would in fact encourage them to fly Southwest.
Since the cryptic phrase spiked in popularity in right-wing circles, former president Donald Trump’s Save America PAC has begun selling a $45 T-shirt featuring a picture of Biden above the phrase.
When Trump was in office, he deployed public profanity at times, which his supporters saw as truth-telling and his opponents as vulgarity and sometimes racism. He railed against immigrants from “s---hole countries” and tweeted that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) was a “pompous ass.” Sometimes he was also the target of obscenities from Democrats.
After more than nine months in office, Biden has increasingly been the target of vitriol among many Trump supporters. The backlash partly reflects Trump’s own repeated baseless claims that Biden is a usurper, depriving him of his claim to the presidency, and partly stems from Biden’s actions that Republicans deplore, from his spending plans to immigration policies.
Earlier this month, when the president visited Scranton, Pa., he was greeted at the corner of Biden Street by a woman holding a handmade “F--- Joe Biden” sign, with an American flag as the vowel in the offending word.
Boos, jeers and profanities are nothing new for politicians, especially those who reach the White House. Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, as well as Trump, were all heckled, weathering protests along their motorcade routes and at events.