A black doctor barred from treating an ailing fellow passenger on a Delta flight from Detroit to Minneapolis-St. Paul has won an apology from the airline and inspired a policy shift by the nation’s second-largest commercial air carrier.
Dr. Tamika Cross, of Houston, visited with Delta officials and received an apology, according to Allison Ausband, senior vice president for in-flight service, in comments posted on the airline’s website this week.
“While Dr. Cross and I were able to discuss the situation over the phone,” Ausband said, “we also invited her to visit Delta so we could discuss her experience face to face and apologize for how that experience made her feel.”
Ausband said Cross was also informed of a key change by Delta that took effect Dec. 1 in light of her encounter, most notably that flight attendants are no longer required to verify a medical professional’s credentials before allowing that person to assist with a health emergency during a flight. Cross also spoke with Delta CEO Ed Bastian following her visit to Atlanta.
Cross said Monday on Facebook that she is “glad that this unfortunate situation has brought about change in a major corporation like Delta Air Lines. ... It is great that this incident was able to produce change and hopefully make other medical professionals, regardless of who they may be, feel comfortable assisting when 30,000 feet in the air.”
During her flight in early October after attending a wedding in Detroit, Cross, a certified obstetrician-gynecologist, raised her hand to help the unresponsive stranger two rows in front of her, but she was cut off by flight staff members who questioned her credentials, Cross recounted soon after in a Facebook post that had been shared nearly 40,000 times within days.
When Cross offered to treat the man, a flight attendant told her, “Oh no sweetie put [your] hand down,” Cross’ posting continued. “We are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you.”
Cross, who is black, took that encounter as an example of blatant discrimination by Delta personnel.
A Delta spokeswoman said three doctors identified themselves on the flight and only one was able to produce medical certification — so that’s who was chosen to render aid.
As part of the review, Delta revealed this week, it found no legal or regulatory requirement for the airline to view medical professional credentials. The airline pointed out that licenses for medical professionals are becoming increasingly easy to verify online, and doctors and nurses often do not carry one.
“Our flight attendants were following standard procedure during this incident, and the feedback Dr. Cross provided gave us a chance to make flying better,” Ausband said.
In solidarity with Cross, black female physicians all over the world took to Twitter, posting photos of themselves in lab coats with messages such as #whatadoctorlookslike.
The flight attendant did eventually apologize for her comments, but only after returning to Cross later for advice on how to treat the passenger’s low blood pressure, Cross said.