Delta Refused a Black Woman’s Help Because Flight Attendant Didn’t Believe She Was a Doctor

Update: Delta has released an official statement regarding the incident. 

Delta Air Lines is under fire for a recent incident, where a flight attendant allegedly refused an African American physician’s assistance during an in-flight incident, because the flight attendant didn’t believe the passenger was a doctor.

A Delta Air Lines 777-200LR. Photo by Adrian Pingstone, used with permission.

A Delta Air Lines 777-200LR. Photo by Adrian Pingstone, used with permission.

Tamika Cross MD, was on flight DL 945 from Detroit, when a woman screamed for help because her husband had become unresponsive. Cross jumped up to help, but was told by the flight attendant to “stay calm” because it was just night terror.

After the man became unresponsive once again, the flight attendant decided to call for a doctor onboard via the PA system. Cross raised her hand to offer assistance, but was allegedly told, “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.”

The flight attendants formally paged for a doctor, and Cross pressed the button again to offer assistance. A flight attendant apparently demanded to see her credentials, and asked a string of questions, including her specialty, associated facility, and reason for being in Detroit. Meanwhile, another (male) physician arrived to offer help, which the flight attendant accepted without further questions.

Later during the flight, the flight attendant asked Cross for input regarding the ill passenger’s medical work up, and apologized for the incident. Cross also reported that the flight attendant offered SkyMiles as a gesture, but Cross refused and decided to escalate the issue.

Cross’ Facebook post now has over 25,000 shares and 66,000 likes. Over the past few days, Delta’s Facebook page has been flooded with visitors’ comments regarding the incident. Delta has not made any official press releases regarding the incident, other than respond to selected post with this statement:

Discrimination of any kind is never acceptable. As soon as this was brought to our attention we immediately reported this to the Leadership team and made a public statement later on that day. We have been working non-stop to address this internally with the highest priority and have been in contact with Dr. Cross. One of our senior leaders has reached out to assure her that we’re completing a full investigation. We appreciate your attention to this, and look forward to serving you in the future.

Cross appears to have been a OB/Gyn resident physician at University of Toledo Health, but is now a resident at the University of Texas Health Science Center. You can read Cross’ full account from Facebook here.

As with every story, I am sure there are more to what meets the eyes, and there are so many factors at play here. As someone whose appearance often leads to patients questioning my credibility, I can absolutely personally sympathize with the frustration in offering sincere help but being shot down.

Ultimately, I don’t think many passengers will knowingly offer unqualified medical help. If Cross’ account is accurate, in an emergency situation, the flight attendant should probably have accepted the help first. Cross’ assistance could have been life-saving, and if she wasn’t actually capable, it would likely have become evident immediately upon her assessment of the situation.

But by the same token, in an emergency situation, there’s also not a whole lot of room for mistakes. This is, of course, not my questioning of Cross’ credentials and ability, but may have been the flight attendant’s. Where exactly the flight attendant’s doubts about Dr. Cross’ ability came from likely lies the the crux of the problem.

tamika-cross-fb-post

I’m sure many of my fellow young, corporate America working women of color can all understand my frustration when I say I’m sick of being disrespected.

Was on Delta flight DL945 and someone 2 rows in front of me was screaming for help. Her husband was unresponsive. I naturally jumped into Doctor mode as no one else was getting up. Unbuckle my seatbelt and throw my tray table up and as I’m about to stand up, flight attendant says “everyone stay calm, it’s just a night terror, he is alright”. I continue to watch the scene closely.

A couple mins later he is unresponsive again and the flight attendant yells “call overhead for a physician on board”. I raised my hand to grab her attention. She said to me “oh no sweetie put ur 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” I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.

Then overhead they paged “any physician on board please press your button”. I stare at her as I go to press my button. She said “oh wow you’re an actual physician?” I reply yes. She said “let me see your credentials. What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit?” (Please remember this man is still in need of help and she is blocking my row from even standing up while Bombarding me with questions).

I respond “OBGYN, 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”. Another “seasoned” white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me “thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials”. (Mind you he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the “description of a doctor”) I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling. (Man is responding the his questions and is seemingly better now Thank God)

Then this heifer has the nerve to ask for my input on what to do next about 10 mins later. I tell her we need vitals and blood sugar. She comes back to report to me a BP of 80/50 (super low, to my non medical peeps) and they can’t find a glucometer. We continue down that pathway of medical work up, but the point is she needed my help and I continued to help despite the choice words I had saved up for her. The patient and his wife weren’t the problem, they needed help and we were mid flight.

She came and apologized to me several times and offering me skymiles. I kindly refused. 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. She will not get away with this….and I will still get my skymiles….

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    • Doesn’t surprise me, a Delta flight attendant accused my mother of groping her when my mother was literally just trying to hand her trash. When we departed the plane another attendant who witnessed was very apologetic and gave my mother the name of the flight attendant and the customer care number to report the incident.

    • This is about race. Subconsciously.
      White 40 yr old male here. I get tired of dumb people( not saying I’m the smartest). A flight attendant and the first post. The only thing I’m trying to figure out is a black thing or a women thing that the FA subconsciously thought wasn’t capable. Lord I hope my kids generation doesn’t have to deal with this type of ignorant people anymore. Read some history people. Learn a few things. Don’t repeat bad things in history.

      • No need to choose. It can be both. I lean a little more to the race side since the FA also dismissed the idea that she could be a nurse (when looking for medical personnel) and that is stereotypical woman’s work

  1. Lufthansa has a “doctor on board” program where you pre-register as a physician. The flight attendants know if they have doctors on board and where they are. Credentials are submitted ahead of flight. No one carries credentials with them. That is a ridiculous request for a flight attendant to make. Unfortunately, I have had a black female physician tell me this happened to her in the past. It makes me wonder if the airlines instruct the flight attendants to try to determine who is a medical professional and who is not.

    • Exactly what in this article indicated to you the age of this woman? Residents are not always young at all. It depends on when they can get started in medical school. Some need to work for a while before they can afford medical school. This case is under institutional racism, pure and simple.

      • It is due to her face book posts.. have you read them? She looks young, the law would ID her for alcohol… maybe it is a sexist thing? This Tamika calls the flight attendant a “heifer “… maybe tamika is racist and sexist..

        • This is bs. A good samaritan will come n help to save life no matter what race or any colour. You question this lady who is a doctor where they have oath taking to do their job. This is America don’t judge a book by its cover. So shame that this is still exist in this culture. God Bless this Doctor n more power n gift God give you

    • Actually it’s not a ridiculous question to ask a doctor. That is what the crew is required to do, otherwise you have the potential for an under qualified person or a wanna be help. It happens.

      • She didn’t ask the white male Dr all those questions..witnesses said that when he came forward and stated he was a Dr, she let him thru without questioning him at all. She knew what she did was wrong and that’s why she tried to offer flyer miles and apologize.

  2. Unemployed flight attendant collecting benefits….
    Have fun working at Hooters
    Hope no one chokes on a chicken wing bone in your new job and you wait too long for a doctor

  3. It is sad if the flight attendant spoke to the doctor in that tone. Totally unacceptable. But we do have to see credentials before a passenger claiming to be a doctor can touch another passenger. It’s just the rules. And if you don’t think that people jump up and say, “Hi… I am a doctor,” and then you find out they are not a doctor but an Xray technician. It happens. Trust me.

    • Those ‘rules’ are frequently broken then. As a nurse practitioner who has offered help about 5 times when flying both internationally and domestically I have never been asked my credentials prior to helping. I have later filled in paperwork with my info.

    • As an x-ray technologist at a level one University Trauma center for 20 years I still don’t understand why people think we are the bottom of the barrel in the hospital. Most of us have 3.5 years of college and over 2000 hours of clinical practice before even being elligible for a license to practice and many of us where I work have advanced degrees as well. It is far more training than is required to be a RN or Reapiritory Therapist or OR/surical tech or flight attendent for that matter. We then spend most of our time in th Emergency Department assisting with Trauma patients of all sorts as they roll in off ambulances and then in the OR as people are being put back together. So while we aren’t doctors, you can bet we have more advanced first aid training and have been the first responders to more people found down or unresponsive patients and have been the ones who initiate the steps that will save a life far more often than say…oh I don’t know… a flying drink server. Being a technologist is a 6 figure job in many states, making 150K doing CT scans wouldn’t be unusual in a place like California for example. I’m a pilot too, but stayed in the hospital because it paid more than the flight job I was offered after graduation, go figure. I thought I would make more as a bus driver in the sky but the unions have kind of ruined that.

      • Bitter much? Before you make Assumptions of this career I’d go ahead and do some research. Most people dogging this profession couldn’t handle the job.

        • No not really. The OP called out a specific job title as an example of who he considers to be an unqualified person offering to assist him in time of need. You pretty well restated exactly my point. I do quite well thank you.

  4. My wife is a doctor, and 5 years ago we were flying Alitalia over the Atlantic and they called for a doctor. Pax wasn’t feeling well. We are Hispanic (if that matters to anyone) and the FA asked for her credentials. My wife didn’t have them on her. Another doctor volunteered and he saw the passenger. Not sure if he showed credentials. Asking for credentials is possibly a liability issue. My wife noted that they possibly asked for her credentials because it wasn’t a life and death emergency but simply a pax not feeling well (turned out to be low sugar). If the passenger would have been in cardiac arrest they would have probably been more lax about asking for ID. We did not feel like Alitalia was discriminating against my wife. Maybe FA did and we just didn’t notice. We don’t go walking around accusing everyone we interact with of being a racist.

    • The point you missed is that a white doctor was allowed to help the patient without showing or explaining credentials yet this woman was assumed to be unqualified. If she wasn’t qualified to help in the initial process why was her expertise later acquired by the same flight attendant? So no there was discrimination at play whether it was because of age, race, gender or all three.

      • Where did you read that the other Dr. was white?
        STOP TURNING EVERYTHING INTO A RACE ISSUE!
        It’s a disrespect issue, maybe even an ignorance by the FA issue.

        • Here you go, since you clearly didn’t read the full article:

          “I respond “OBGYN, 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”. Another “seasoned” white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me “thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials”. (Mind you he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the “description of a doctor”) I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling. (Man is responding the his questions and is seemingly better now Thank God)”

          Read twice before being so dismissive.

        • If you read the initial statement that was given you’ll see where it was stated the male doctor was white.
          No one is turning it into a race issue. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it must be a duck, Ms Bianco.

    • As long as people continue to pretend racism doesn’t exist in a major way, we will not treat the issue and will continue to have the problem.

    • Dear Mike,
      I understand how you feel and what you are saying but this flight attendant was clearly being condescending,
      disrespectful and blatantly judging this doctor based on her skin color! Let’s call a cow a cow and see it for what it is! Especially, since when the white male physician got up to help, he wasn’t asked for his credentials or questioned at all! This man could have died while this flight attendant was going through a battery of unnecessary questions. The one and only question that should have been asked was can you show me your credentials? I do understand that for legal reasons, if something had happen to this passenger, this could have quickly turn into a liability for the Delta. The other questions were none of the flight attendants business! We have to work on race relations in this country and stop judging people by race, age, creed and religion and start appreciating each other for our differences!

  5. It does not matter how anyone try to word it to make it seem politically correct it is simply because she was a black women. If a white women or man would have offered help there would not have been any questioning as simple as that.

    • And how exactly do you know that? Right, you don’t. Just trying to make everything and every white person out to be racist. You’re disgusting.

      • We all know that because when the white male showed up and announced he was a doctor he was allowed to assist, no questions asked. You’re a bigger racist idiot pig than the flight attendant.

      • McCrakerson it states that the guy she allowed to help without questioning him was a white guy. We need to stop all this hatred and name calling. We shouldn’t treat each other like that. Learn to communicate with one another without being so angry. Your not helping the problem, your building it. GOD loves all of us despite the color of our skins, some of you should doing the same thing

  6. This is absolutely crazy as there are all sorts of ethnicities of doctors. The flight attendant should be fired or at the very least reprimanded for automatically thinking this black woman could not be a doctor and putting the passenger’s life at risk.

  7. the black female should have produced her ID depicting her as a doctor. BTW no body braggs about being a doctor or pretends to be doctor. Thanks to her she offered her help.

  8. I’m sure it was because she is young, not everything has to be turned in to a race thing!!! If anything to worse case is also she’s a young woman. So please let’s not turn it to a whole lot more .

    • What in the article verifies she’s young? There is no evidence of her age but you are sure she is young . Not every doctor starts medical school right after graduating college. Many need to work a few years before they can afford to go to medical school. The only thing we know about this person is she is black and she is a woman. Take your pick about how she was discriminated against. Age has not been mentioned so it cannot be age. Did you read what the flight attendant said to her? Although not everything is race, face the fact that this case is because she is black. Wake up.

    • Or it could be all three. Considering all of the factors isn’t making it more than what it is, but your comment is very dismissive of the very real possibilities! The gentlemen was white/male/older. Juxtapose that against her as a black/woman/young and yes, all factors are indeed possible.

  9. If a man/women is UNRESPONSIVE..(the key word). you ask for a doctor, and she raised her hand the last thing that should have been said was Oh no honey..ect. I don’t know what the flight attendant was thinking at that time, but by my wife being in the medical field and me seeing how hard it was for her to get her BSN. That was like a slap in the face to the doctor. Instead of trying to judge off appearance she should have been more concerned of getting help from the Doctor she asked for!….. Don’t judge a book by its cover no matter what color it is….

  10. That is very sad, that Dr Cross had to experience a situation like that. Trying to help someone that was very sick, and a unprofessional flight attendant drilling questions at the Dr. According to the flight attendant Dr Cross was not even a nurse. But the (male) physician and we can imagine, was not asked any questions. Who played the card? Like my mom used say “enough is enough”.

  11. Did anyone click the Facebook link? It’s all religion, sexism, race and gov’t posts since Jan 2015… Seems odd to me that this would be the one person you decide to jack with on a flight! Any witnesses that say this actually happened? Jump to your own conclusions, cause I’m not even sure why I read or posted on this story…

    • Did anyone click the Facebook link? On the original poster’s page, It’s all religion, sexism, race and gov’t posts since Jan 2015… Seems odd to me… Where’s Dr. Cross’s original FB comment? Any witnesses that say this actually happened? Jump to your own conclusions, cause I’m not even sure why I read or posted on this story…

  12. A good friend of mine had the same thing happen to him. He is family medicine – young, white male. But wearing baseball hat and t-shirt. They refused to let him help. the doctor that they “let help” was an ophthalmologist and gosh, not an eye emergency!!

  13. Happened to us on a delta flight. They asked for a doctor, my father who is an orthopedic surgeon came up to help but was turned away because he couldnt produce credentials. He’s asian. Whereas, the pretty blonde nurse practioner was welcomed with open arms. I’m a physician myself but I don’t carry anything that advertises. I’m on vacation, why would I carry my badge. Because of that incident, I’ve become hesitant when they ask for help, unless someones dying, of course. But really, who wants to be humiliated like that in front of the other passengers. Incidentally, I wrote a scathing letter to Delta. That was four years ago. I see nothing has changed.

  14. This was clearly an act of discrimination. Just the way the flight attendant spoke to Dr. Cross as if she was addressing a young child. And even a child deserves redspect.all the integration of questions the doctor was asked even why she was in Detroit. What did that have to do with assisting the patient. Wow things need to change

  15. NOBODY carries “credentials” with them. If by credentials you mean my medical license, it’s in my desk at home. If by credentials, you mean my hospital ID badge, that’s in my white coat…which is also at home. Think about it, would you expect an Apple employee to have his/her Apple ID/access badge on him when on a non-work trip? Do police officers carry their badge with them on personal trips? I’m sure that after these encounters, you have to fill out some paperwork and submit your license number. You think that someone impersonating a doctor doesn’t suffer consequences when they are unable to proeuce a license number l, especially of there was a bad outcome? This has definitely happened to a colleague of mine who was wearing what most of us wear when we travel (sweatshirt and sweatpants…because doctors are normal people too), and the flight attendant refused his help because she didn’t believe he was a doctor.

  16. Some people are downing racist and others just stupid. Hard to tell the difference at times. I believe this woman was a racist because of the way she talked to the doctor as if talking to a child. I probably would have told her where to put it if I had been in the same situation.
    Airlines should weed these people out, and throw them it the basket of deplorables.

  17. There are many facts to this incident
    1. Racism, clearly the FA didn’t believe that a person of colour could be a professional and a Doctor at that..,
    2. Ageism: The woman appeared to be two young to be that profession. FYI… there are a lot more young professionals out there, we finish high school @ Age 18, 2-3yrs in university and some of us are blessed to get our position of choice within 2-3yrs at age 25. A lot of my friends are residents at age 28, therefore society needs to recognize that professionals are getting progressively younger… unlike our parents who have started their careers at an older age… n.b. There’s nothing wrong with starting your career at an older age as well…

    3. Sexism: discrimination against someone against her gender…

    I do understand validity of asking about credentials as this would’ve been a different discussion if someone was allowed to assist who wasn’t really a doctor and worsen the situation. My issue is the request for credentials should be consistent and not based on the above stated factors. If you asked one person, then the same should be posed to the other…

    There’s no need for name calling ‘heifer’ however I do understand the frustration of having this re-occur more often than not…

    This could’ve gone differently if done appropriately and in a professional manner…

    We need to change and stop these behaviors…

    The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. Edmund Burke

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