Black Doctor Asks to Help Delta Passenger, Denied by Flight Attendant

Delta Air Lines’ lack of diversity in senior leadership may allow for a culture of bias.


By Sheryl Estrada

Delta Air Lines a company with a nine-member executive leadership committee of eight men, one woman and no Blacks or Latinos said it is “troubled” by passenger Tamika Cross’ accusations of discrimination.Cross, a Black physician, said she was discriminated against when responding to the staff’s call for a doctor to aid an unresponsive passenger during a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis.

Cross detailed in a Facebook post that “she jumped into doctor mode” and raised her hand to get the attention of a Delta flight attendant. Cross said the attendant responded, “Oh no sweetie put your hand down, we are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you.”

Delta made a public statement in response to Cross’ October 9 social media post, which has gone viral and is receiving national attention. The company said it reached out to the doctor and is currently investigating the incident.

“As a global carrier with a diverse workforce, serving a diverse customer base, we are committed to treating all passengers with kindness and respect,” it stated.

But apparently, “diverse workforce” does not pertain to senior leadership, which sets the tone for a company.

Credentials Needed for Some, Not Others

Dr. Tamika Cross

Cross, a resident OBGYN physician at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, said when an additional call was made for a physician on board to “press your button” to assist, she did. The same flight attendant then asked to see her credentials and bombarded her with question such as, “What type of doctor are you Where do you work Why were you in Detroit” all while the man was still in need of help.

Delta said in its statement:

“Flight attendants are trained to collect information from medical volunteers offering to assist with an onboard medical emergency. When an individual’s medical identification isn’t available, they’re instructed to ask questions such as where medical training was received or whether an individual has a business card or other documentation and ultimately to use their best judgment.”

However, according to Cross, when a “‘seasoned’ white male approached the row and said he is a physician” the flight attendant told her “thanks for your help, but he can help us, and he has his credentials.” Cross asserts she didn’t see the man, who “fit the ‘description of a doctor,'” present any form of credentials.

Cross said that about 10 minutes later, when the ill passenger’s health began to improve, the flight attendant actually asked her advice about what to do next. Cross complied with the request and said vitals were needed and a glucometer to test blood sugar levels.The flight attendant eventuallyapologized several times to her, even offering her SkyMiles.

“I kindly refused,” Cross wrote. “This is going higher than her. I don’t want SkyMiles in exchange for blatant discrimination. Whether this was race, age, gender discrimination, it’s not right.”

What Does a Doctor Look Like

Cross explained in her post that the flight attendant shunned her because of her race. When a white male doctor approached the flight attendant, she was confident in his abilities, according to Cross. Many Black female doctors have had similar experiences when their abilities have been questioned due to appearance.Doctors who stand in solidarity with Cross began posting pictures of themselves using the hashtag: #WhatADoctorLooksLike.

Other hashtags in use are #TamikaCross and #WeDoExist.

Even before boarding a commercial flight, many Black women have experienced discrimination with hair searches.

In 2014 the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)filed an administrative complaint on behalf of Malaika Singleton, Ph.D., a neuroscientist, to challenge Transportation Security Administration’s discriminatory hair searches. Ironically, in 2012, a similar complaint was filed on behalf of Novella Coleman, a Black woman and staff attorney with the nonprofit organization; she represented Singleton.

Related Story: Hairstyles of Black Women: Cases of Discrimination

The ACLU announced on March 26, 2015, that an agreement was reached with the TSA. The agency agreed to conduct trainings for TSA agents throughout the country, with special emphasis on hair pat-downs of Black female travelers. TSA will also monitor all the airports “for consistent implementation of TSA and DHS policies and to detect the existence of a racially discriminatory impact.”

“I hope that this agreement and the proposed trainings will lead to a more equitable treatment of all travelers throughout the U.S., regardless of their ethnic or cultural background or how they wear their hair,” Singleton said in a statement.

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