Can you please just leave the redheads alone?

redheaded family
© K Martinko (taken by Melanie Cooper Photography)

A pale-skinned redhead was told she couldn't board a flight earlier this month because she look unfit for travel. Odd, but not too surprising. People are weird about redheads in general.

A Scottish family’s dream holiday got off to a rocky start on July 8, when they showed up at the airport in Manchester and were told they couldn’t get on the flight to Abu Dhabi, from which they would fly to their final destination in the Maldives. The reason that Etihad Airways gave was that their daughter, 14-year-old Grace Wain, was “too pale.”

Grace is a natural redhead with the usual pale complexion that goes along with having red hair. Etihad employees, however, said Grace looked unwell and was unfit for travel.

Grace’s father Paul said to the Daily Record: “I told them, ‘We live in Scotland. That’s just the way she is.’ One of the Etihad check-in girls then made the decision that she wasn’t fit to fly based on the fact she was pale in colour and was leaning against her mum.”

The Record also reported: “The Etihad staff insisted on written confirmation from a doctor that Grace was fit to fly – even after an airport paramedic gave her a check-up and told them she was fine.”

Fortunately the Wains managed to get a letter emailed from their family doctor to the Etihad duty manager just in the nick of time. They were allowed on the flight two hours before departure. Although they arrived at their destination on time, the Wain family then lost their luggage. They spent “three days of misery dressed for 13 Celsius weather in the 30 C heat,” according to mother Sheena. It was “the holiday of a lifetime [that] has been a disaster from the start.”

As a natural redhead myself, I can relate to the social weirdness that seems to go along with being a ‘ginger.’ People say odd things, such as the woman buying plants at the nursery who saw my three sons shopping with me and said, “Three redheaded boys? Oh, how could you do that to them?” I stared at her in astonishment. Replace “redheaded” with any other adjective and you would have a highly inappropriate or racist comment that would not be acceptable under any circumstances.

Then there’s “Kick a Ginger Day,” an unofficial event started by the controversial adult cartoon show South Park and organized through Facebook. The problem is, many kids take it seriously and there have been accounts of bullying occurring on school playgrounds as a direct result. I’ve had people make jokes about it to my face, saying I’d better keep my kids home on that day.

At the same time, there’s a strong undercurrent of curiosity. People tell me they want red hair, used to have hair like mine, or had a great-uncle with red hair. They wish their children had been born with it; they give spontaneous lessons in genetics; they tell me I’m a dying species (I’ve heard that a thousand times) and praise me for passing on the genes. Like I said, it’s can be weird, even awkward.

I hope Grace doesn’t let this bizarre discrimination against her looks affect her self-confidence; it’s hard enough being 14. I hope she realizes that what makes her different is precisely what makes her awesome. I also ask all you non-redheads out there to be a bit more sensitive when making comments about someone’s appearance. It’s a touchy business at the best of times.

Can you please just leave the redheads alone?
A pale-skinned redhead was told she couldn't board a flight earlier this month because she looked unfit for travel. It's odd, but not too surprising. People are weird about redheads in general.

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