Delta Air Lines has issued a formal apology to Tamika Cross, a physician who offered to assist another passenger during an in-flight emergency but was denied by flight attendants. The airline also announced training and policy changes.
"When situations like the one described by Dr. Cross arise, we have a responsibility to our employees and our customers to review the circumstances and our policies for opportunities to listen, learn and improve," Allison Ausband, senior vice president, In-Flight Service, said in a statement released on Monday.
Cross, along with her mentor, Dr. Wayne J. Riley, met with Ausband at Delta offices. She also spoke with Delta's CEO Ed Bastian following her visit.
In October, the resident OBGYN physician shared a post on Facebook expressing concerns of discrimination during a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis on her way home from attending a wedding. The post went viral.
Cross said that when a man fell ill on the flight "she jumped into doctor mode" and raised her hand to get the attention of a Delta flight attendant in order to assist. She 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."
Cross also wrote, "Whether this was race, age, gender discrimination, it's not right."
Black female doctors who have had similar experiences stood in solidarity with Cross. They began posting pictures of themselves on social media using the hashtag #WhatADoctorLooksLike.
Currently, Delta's leadership team is astoundingly not inclusive, executives pictured on their "leadership committee" page are 89 percent white and 89 percent male. The one (white) woman pictured on the leadership committee was not the one put up to speak with Dr. Cross. There are no Black or Latinos pictured. Delta has never participated in the DiversityInc Top 50 competition, which is free and independent of business conducted with DiversityInc.
Delta said it has launched inclusion training for Delta leaders, and flight attendants will receive the training next year:
"As part of Delta's ongoing diversity and inclusion efforts, the airline launched inclusion training three months ago for Delta leaders. Next year Delta will roll the training out broadly to leaders and will begin rolling it out to frontline employees, with some of the flight attendant groups being the first to participate."
Medical Credential Verification No Longer Required
As of December 1, Delta flight attendants are no longer required to verify medical credentials. Delta said it found that there is no legal or regulatory requirement upon the airline to view medical professional credentials.
The company said Cross' feedback "influenced the outcome of a review Delta's In-Flight Service training team was already conducting of its medical documentation policy, streamlining the process for both flight attendants and customers."
"And, as it becomes more and more common for medical licenses to be verified online, physicians and nurses often do not carry a license with them and some states no longer issue wallet versions," Delta stated.
In a Facebook post on Monday, which included a link to Delta's statement, Cross said Riley, her mentor, is "well-versed in 'in-flight emergencies."
Riley is immediate past president of the American College of Physicians, and a former president of Meharry Medical College, where Cross earned her medical degree. Meharry is one of the nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
According to The Washington Post, he told Ausband and other Delta executives that over the years, when assisting during in-flight medical emergencies as a Delta passenger, he has never been asked to prove he was a physician.
Cross also said in the post that she is pleased with Delta's policy changes:
"Glad that this unfortunate situation has brought about change in a major corporation like Delta Airlines. I am pleased with how the executives at Delta Airlines have responded to this important issue.
Thank you to everyone who has supported this issue by raising awareness, keeping the conversation going, and understanding the prevalence."
In her October Facebook post, Cross said when she offered her medical assistance a second time to help the ill passenger, who fortunately survived, Delta staff 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.
"I respond, ob-gyn, work in Houston, in Detroit for a wedding, but believe it or not, they DO HAVE doctors in Detroit. Now excuse me so I can help the man in need," she wrote in the post.
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. Delta flight staff said that he did so.
Cross said that about 10 minutes later, when the ill passenger's health began to improve, a 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 eventually apologized several times to her, even offering her SkyMiles.
"Our flight attendants were following standard procedure during this incident and the feedback Dr. Cross provided gave us a chance to make flying better," said Ausband. "We remain grateful to the medical professionals who are willing to assist us in an emergency at 30,000 feet."