Delta Accused of Bias Against Black Female Doctor

Tamika CrossA sick passenger needed attention on a Delta flight from Detroit to Houston, and a doctor stepped up to help. But, according to Dr. Tamika Cross, her help wasn't appreciated. A flight attendant questioned her credentials, saying, "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, an African-American, said she continued trying to help and rang her attendant bell when flight staff asked, again, if someone on the plane was a medical doctor. But the attendant questioned her: "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?'

Meanwhile, a White man stood up, and the flight attendant seemed to accept his help without question, according to Cross:

"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."

At some point, the flight attendant may have realized her mistake; Cross wrote on her Facebook post, "She came and apologized to me several times and offering me skymiles. I kindly refused."

Delta issued an apology on its website that included a different explanation of what transpired. The company says the investigation is ongoing, but we see an explanation and their practice:

"Three medical professionals identified themselves on the flight in question. Only one was able to produce documentation of medical training and that is the doctor who was asked to assist the customer onboard. In addition, paramedics met the flight to assist the customer further.

"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."

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • Google and other companies train employees about "unconscious bias." What does this mean, and could similar training help Delta employees?
  • How do you assess Delta's statement? What are the communication objectives at this point, and did the company achieve them?
  • Does Delta's explanation change your thinking about Cross's account of what happened? Why or why not?