Delta and SkyWest Air Lines have issued an apology to the Isola family who say they were mistreated when they tried to make sure their son with autism could sit beside a family member during a recent flight.
In a Facebook post now shared by over 6,000 people, Ayo Isola recounts the incident beginning when he and his family noticed his brother’s assigned seat was away from his family members. His brother, 21-year-old Tayo Isola, is on the autism spectrum, is “essentially nonverbal” and suffers from OCD and sensory overload. He has difficulties with air travel, Isola said, so it was important for him to sit close to his family.
Isola goes on to say a woman was willing to switch seats so Tayo could sit next to his sister, but the problem was not solved then.
After the matter seemed resolved, a flight attendant told Tayo to return to his original seat without clarifying why. At that point, the Isola family explained Tayo needed the accommodation because of his condition. However, according the Isola, the attendant “continued to raise hell” about the issue because she was “upset that she didn’t get her way,” to the point where the dispute delayed the flight.
Isola said after 45 minutes past what should’ve been the departure time, passengers started speaking up to defend the family and said forcing Tayo to move would be discriminatory. The attendant went to the pilot and pushed to kick the Isola family and the woman who switched with them off of the plane. Finally, the pilot announced that all of the passengers had to disembark.
Despite airline management and airport security saying it was safe to fly with the accommodations for Tayo, the entire crew refused to operate the plane and left the terminal, Isola said. Then, the passengers had to wait three hours for a new crew to take over to finally take off.
“Im posting this story to highlight the ignorance, bigotry, and blatant discrimination that unfortunately exists in people today,” Isola’s Facebook post said. “It is not right to treat people with special needs as if they are unworthy of your time or effort. Especially when a simple accommodation or a tiny bit of compassion can be the difference between them being successful or unsuccessful in life.
Isola said he filed a complaint with Delta and plans to take further action.
SkyWest, the regional carrier that operated the Delta Connection flight from Detroit to Houston is reviewing the incident, and has suspended the crew members involved.
Both Delta and SkyWest issued statements about the incident. Delta simply said, “Delta has reached out to the Isola family, apologized for their experience and resolved the matter.”
SkyWest’s statement begins by apologizing “for any inconvenience following an issue regarding seat assignments during boarding.”
“We are committed to ongoing training for all of our employees to ensure we provide a consistent welcoming and positive experience for all of our passengers,” it said.
SkyWest’s employee code of conduct explicitly outlines a commitment to “human rights” and pledges to not tolerate discrimination based on disability and other protected categories.
“We respect each individual’s human rights and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national ancestry, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, national origin, religion, medical condition, disability, pregnancy, age, military status and/or any other status protected by federal, state, or local law nor will we commit other violations of human rights,” it reads.
However, this is not the first customer service bias controversy Delta has caused. In 2017, a Black man who was removed from a flight for using the bathroom right before takeoff filed a bias suit against the airline. In 2018, a woman who said a man sexually assaulted her mid-flight accused Delta of taking no action against the alleged perpetrator.
Though the code of conduct states the airline has the right to terminate and otherwise discipline employees who do not uphold it, Isola told the Washington Post he is not trying cost anyone their job, but rather wants to raise awareness and encourage airlines to do better. He said Delta contacted him to apologize and that the company was working on handling the matter internally.
“I want to see the airlines raise their standard and assess their standards of how their employees treat people and how they are trained to work with all kinds of people, no matter what their differences may be,” he said to the Washington Post. “I just kind of want to use my current platform to make some change for the future.”