An Anonymous Airline Pilot Comes After Me In A New ‘Live And Let’s Fly’ Post

I hope the anonymous airline captain who authored the latest post at Live and Let’s Fly demanding more respect never happens to be flying an aircraft I’m ticketed on because he’s threatening to make things worse for passengers if pilots are criticized, even when the criticism is justified – as the anonymous captain admits that it is.

He takes issue with my post about the Delta captain who kicked a woman off a flight over her F-12 hat, which she took off as he instructed.

  • The captain came out into the passenger cabin to instruct her over her attire while he wasn’t wearing a mask as Delta rules require, potentially creating a less safe environment for both passengers and crew.

  • He compared dealing with her to dealing with his kids, and started ‘counting’ waiting for a response as you might do with a child.

  • She took off the hat, which she thought should be enough, but he insisted on additional promises about not putting it back on. When she wouldn’t quickly acquiesce, she got kicked off the flight.

The Anonymous Critic Admits I’m Right, Then Attacks A Straw Man Out Of Confusion

The pilot writing at Live and Let’s Fly concedes, “Yes, the captain should have been wearing a mask. And yes, he could have handled this better.” And that’s the point of my article. He has a beef with what I’ve written, even though he agrees with my conclusion, and he simply makes an error as well:

He brings up that you can wear an F-12 shirt in a courtroom, implying that Delta should allow it as well.

I didn’t suggest at all that Delta should allow a passenger to wear an F-12 mask because you can wear one in a courtroom. I drew a distinction, saying there’s a clear right to wear something like this in a courtroom but not on an aircraft.

I wrote: “the airline doesn’t have to allow the passenger to wear the hat. You can clearly wear an ‘F-12’ shirt in a courtroom, but not on a plane.”

He’s Offended I Brought Race Into A Dispute Over A Hat Highlighting Racial Injustice

So what’s his issue with me? The title of my post was, “Delta Captain Kicks Black Women Off a Plane, But He’s The One Not Wearing a Mask” and the author is bothered that “by telling us the customer was black it implies that race was a factor.”

Race was a factor, though I’m not claiming that Delta’s pilot was racist. Instead if you want to understand what happened you need to understand that the woman was wearing a hat that provocatively calls attention to police abuses (such as the murder of George Floyd).

She’s wearing a hat that makes a point about race and abuse of power. The pilot, who was not wearing a mask (the man in authority, for whom rules don’t apply) infantilizes the woman as he exercises his power over her. So she’s in a very awkward position as he doesn’t just insist she remove the hat, but that she further ingratiate herself for permission to remain on the plane.

The pilot author of this piece doesn’t understand this dynamic, and Delta’s pilot who kicked the woman off didn’t either. That doesn’t change whether she should be permitted to wear the hat on board. And it doesn’t change that – if she isn’t going to be allowed to – that the captain wanted to make sure he wouldn’t have the situation come back up once they’re in the air.

Still we can step back a bit and try to better understand where other people are coming from when it’s outside our own experience, and why in this case a condescending approach was inflammatory.

If We Criticize Pilots, Even When Justified, We Should Be Prepared To Suffer For It

Matthew Klint’s anonymous pilot then takes umbrage and threatens that other pilots will punish passengers if their behavior is questioned.

[I]f you want to see more people being kicked off airplanes who do not deserve it, perspectives (and articles) like Gary’s make it far more likely. Sadly but undeniably, the more incidents like this that happen, where a captain is burned at the stake for trying to give a customer a break instead of just kicking them off the moment they so much as look strangely at a flight attendant, the less likely we as pilots are going to be willing to ever get involved.

He sees himself and other pilots as doing this woman who was kicked off a favor, as helping her, and he’s offended that for this trouble they get criticized.

Yet the anonymous author admits the Delta captain handled things badly, and wasn’t wearing a mask – which is worse than wearing a hat that says “F-12.” Our anonymous critic dismisses this as an ‘oversight’ which wearing the hat was ‘intentional’ but but one endangers other people, the other does not.

If he doesn’t want to get involved because he knows he’s going to handle things badly, fail to wear a mask, and antagonize the situation – turn it over to the co-pilot, or a customer service agent. But don’t threaten that criticism – which he admits is justified! – will be met with a failure to do his job, which includes customer service, as the person in command of the aircraft.

Delta, for its part, was concerned about how the incident played out – as I was.

I Don’t Blame The Delta Captain (Aside From Lack Of A Mask)

The Delta captain is telling the woman he has to enforce the rules while breaking them himself. I do have a problem with him failing to wear a mask when Delta’s rules require it to be worn in the cabin for the protection of both passengers and crew.

But I don’t blame him for the way the situation escalated. He didn’t understand the context of what was going on, or why his condescension would so hurtful and offensive.

I’m a middle aged white guy. The photo Matthew Klint chose to attach to the post criticizing me was of an old white guy in a cockpit. I’m hardly the most woke guy on the block. But I thought it was telling that Matthew’s original post on the incident did not mention the word ‘police’. It treated the hat as having just a naughty word on it without understanding why the incident may have escalated the way that it did.

So that’s easy to do, but also seemed worth pointing out precisely because it’s something so many seemed to be missing.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. See what you get from Trump supporters?

    And you try to play both sides?

    What do you think now?

    I’ve seen many a post from you Gary where you tried to denigrate Dems, to seem impartial or something.

    You should get woke. Right friggin now.

    You’re getting from all sides huh? Pick one.

  2. You hit it on the head Gary (particularly the part about race). Clint and the anonymous pilot are similar to two white guys discussing and determining the “correct way” for black people to protest for their equality. The majority have no idea what it is or how it feels and don’t include anyone in the conversation that may have a different opinion or experience with it. That’s why there’s a problem, they can’t understand the response, and the cycle continues.

    You say you’re “hardly the most woke guy on the block” but if you disagree with what they are saying, imagine how others feel who go through this everyday…

  3. Andy, best not to assume. TYIA.

    Second, I did not bring up the police in my original post because I saw no “12” in the controversial hat, just the silhouette and the f-word. I thought it was Lenny Kravtiz and the f-word from his 1991 single, “What the f*** are we saying.” I guess that silhouette could also be Malcom X and thus a more political statement, but I still think what the captain asked — for a simple affirmation — was not unreasonable.

  4. Calm down Gary. You are off base.

    The captain was responding to an offensive hat worn by a disruptive passenger. Race was not a factor in his response. After giving her multiple opportunities to confirm she was not going to cause trouble on the flight he had her removed. This is what should have happened and this is what I would want to happen on a flight I were on.

    And regarding one of his comments that you believe treated her as a child I would claim she was acting out like child so the response was justified.

  5. Gary,

    You have missed the point entirely.

    I’m not going to rebut your post point by point because clearly you don’t see anything wrong with what you wrote originally. You think the issue is the pilot and I think the issue is a passenger behaving badly. I do think it’s worth noting that he doesn’t “infantilize” her, to use your term, until after she repeatedly refuses to answer a simple question.

    Remember he’s back there because she has refused repeated requests to remove the hat. Delta could easily have just removed her at that point and I suspect the FA’s wanted to. But he’s obviously decided to try one more time to get her to comply so they don’t have to remove her.

    I’ve not suggested that pilots are going to make things worse for customers when you criticize them. Saying that implies action that’s going to be taken to make the customer experience worse which isn’t true.

    I’m saying that when travel blogs and the like are unfair in their criticism (as you manifestly were in my opinion) of a pilots actions when we get involved in a customer service issue we are going to stop being involved. Because it will become clear to us that we won’t get a fair shake no matter what we do.

    In the end this is going to result in more people being kicked off airplanes. People who should not have been. Is that what your looking for? You’ve complained on many occasions about FA’s on a power trip. Are you really saying you’d be happier if the Captain simply refused to involve himself in those situations? Even when his involvement would have meant the customer didn’t get removed from the flight?

    If your goal is to ensure that pilots never ever get involved in a customer service dispute no matter what then by all means keep publishing stories like these.

    Side note there is a vast difference between someone who could have done something better and someone who did something badly.

  6. Andy, who wants to be on the antiTrump side when they pepper spray Jewish children in New York? Are you proud of your leftist thugs? Go woke yourself!

  7. @121Pilot – I never suggest that wearing the hat is a good idea in a metal tube at 36,000 feet. She may have an important point to make, but it also may not be the time or place. I’m suggesting that it’s tough to lecture on appropriate attire when the pilot wasn’t wearing a mask. And that he handled the situation badly because it likely didn’t occur to him how his words exacerbated the situation. He probably didn’t realize the situation he walked into was about race. So it seems important to point out that it was.

    You seem to be reading a whole lot into my post that isn’t there (like your odd claiming about my defending her wearing the hat because she’d have a right to wear apparel with the phrase in court, when I said the opposite). You also seem to think that the pilot who kicked the woman off was somehow *helping* and that passengers will be worse off without that ‘help’. Every time a pilot goes back into the cabin they can assume now they’re being filmed, it’s not my pointing out the underlying narrative that’s going on that’s going to drive any behavior change.

  8. AlohaDave… haha… you conspiracy theory moron. Wow you guys are superrrrrrrr dumb.

    I almost feel sorry for you. It’s never too late to get an education though?

  9. instead of making this a “pinkie-swear” moment with hat lady, it seems more appropriate that the pilot would have laid out the options if she chose to wear it again in-flight.

    cops at arrival. diversion. whatever.

    insisting she agree with something of unlikely compliance appears to be the issue, to me.

  10. “The pilot, who was not wearing a mask (the man in authority, for whom rules don’t apply) infantilizes the woman as he exercises his power over her. So she’s in a very awkward position as he doesn’t just insist she remove the hat, but that she further ingratiate herself for permission to remain on the plane.”

    Yeah. This is what happened. I’m pleased that you have called it what it is. This is what happens to people of color and especially women of color every single day. And then we make it about the hat. Whatabout the hat? Oh, noes, the f word!

    I applaud this entry, Gary. A quibble though: You are generous to give him a partial pass for not understanding the dynamics of the situation. Maybe too generous. Reckless racism is not as bad as deliberate racism. But it’s time to start holding people to a higher standard.

  11. Why does everything today has to involved RACE? I was once sitting in 2c a late arriving passenger was sitting next to me, he moved around another passengers bag in the overhead the person who’s bag he moved ( Shoved is a better word) objected , a war of words ensued then the late passenger who sat next to me played the “Race Card” I looked at him and simply informed him I heard nothing about race. The Caption was called out as well as the gate agent causing the late departure. I said the the agent and captain there was nothing regarding race said and if anyone should leave its the guy next to me. What Crap FOR THE RECORD I am a minority as well.

  12. Please just stick to writing about things you know. Racial injustice and politics is not one of them.

  13. So tired of everyone pulling the race card all the time. This is essentially about basic civility to others. It is completely inappropriate to wear a hat with those words. That kind of foul language is not acceptable despite people trying to pretend it is. There are other ways to make a point that are focused and get to the specifics of police misconduct such as peaceful marches, editorials, voting, community organizing, etc. etc. A generalized F*#* 12 hat in a public and multigenerational setting is not one of them. It is incredibly offensive to law enforcement and draws away from
    civil and productive discourse. But civil and productive discourse is not the goal of the wearer. Of course it drew attention. I appreciate the pilot although this whole episode wasted everyone’s time and shows a great disrespect for others on the part of the wearer. Unbelievable that the airlines and others in authority have to pander to this nonsense.

  14. Can’t justify the offensive political message on the hat or the mask less airplane pilot. There are problems with both.

    What I can say is that white people never see situations as being about race. It is when you are in those situations, that it becomes about race. I can’t tell you how many times, I’ve been treated differently than the person sitting next to me, whether it is on a plane, or in a restaurant despite the fact that I am the privileged one.

    It is discrimination, and it is very apparent when it is happening, to the person to whom it is happening even if it is not to the person doing it. It is time to for people to wake up.

  15. @Gary Leff,

    In response to your comment:

    He wasn’t lecturing her about her attire. He was there because she would not comply with crew instructions. Not once in the video does he comment on the hat other than to ask that she affirm she won’t put it back on.

    The situation he walks into has nothing to do with race. It has to do with her refusal to comply with requests made of her. She could have been white wearing that hat and it wouldn’t have mattered here. Her decision to wear the hat may be motivated by race but 1.) we don’t really know that since we never get a full view of the hat. and 2.) It’s got nothing to do with what happened between her and the Captain.

    It’s certainly possible you had no intention of implying the Captain was racist. But that’s how it came across to me.

    With respect to his helping her imagine this goes a bit differently. The Captain gets told there is a customer with an offensive hat who refuses to remove it. Since she is non compliant the FA’s want her gone. He goes back and she agrees to remove the hat, keep it off, and comply with crew instructions. She stays on the flight. Is she not better off because the Captain got involved?

    Of course we know we are being filmed. That’s a given. But when we get attacked in the media even when the customer is clearly in the wrong and we are clearly trying to give them a chance to do the right thing that’s a different story. This Captain didn’t have to come back and talk to her. He could just have had her removed after she refused to follow FA instructions. But instead he tries to give her another chance and ends up with people like BLM demanding he get fired. With his own company throwing him under the bus with a twitter response that implies that racism was present in the encounter. With blogs like yours attacking him.

    What do you think is going to happen if something like this occurs on one of his flights in the future? Do you think he’s going to look for a way to keep the customer on the airplane? Or do you think he’s going to sit in the cockpit and call to have her removed as non compliant immediately. Is this really what you want to have happen?

  16. She took off the hat and it was damn clear she wasn’t going to put it back on for the duration of the flight. It was also clear that the pilot was on a power trip and wanted to put the lady in the place that he thinks she belongs. And the lady was having none of it and so refused to answer his question directly except to say the hat was in her lap. She was clearly implying that there would be no further problem but did not want to cave and submit to the pilot’s infantilizing her. The pilot is a paid employee of Delta. The lady is a passenger. We should demand more of the pilot, which doesn’t preclude recognizing that the lady could have behaved better.

    Kudos to Gary for his balanced view.

  17. God, I remember the days when we all, as strangers, watched Seinfeld together on Thursday nights in the airport lounges and laughed our asses off. I have no idea what that has to do with anything. But just throwing it out there.

  18. @Gary: The article criticizing you is written by someone who refuses to be accountable for their statements (i.e. reveal themselves as your accuser). The entire contents should therefore be considered devoid of value. We don’t know if this is a pilot, or the truth of any claims of fact in the piece.

    For your part you did not point out that this obstinate, self-centered passenger did not agree to keep her hat off — your video shows that. The captain should have worn a mask, but that is a misdemeanor compared with 300 passengers being delayed by one person’s fat head. She should have been ejected from the plane by security.

  19. As a former airline pilot, the Captain has the final authority on his plane & if the passenger did not follow crew member’s instruction they should not be allowed to remain on the aircraft…end of story!

  20. Gary don’t you realize you can no longer have a logical, peaceful discussion with the left. It’s they’re way or the highway. There is no middle ground. They are a bunch of extremists trying to ram they’re ideology down our throats. If they can’t convince you to follow their agenda they accuse you of being a racist, try and get you fired and basically make your life a living hell on their favorite social media platform.

  21. Thank you Gary for calling this out initially, and further elaborating on your position.

    The problem with race in this country is that it can be really nuanced. Few people are deliberate racists, but the many who refuse to understand the problem compound it and make it worse. Imagine a color blind person insisting that pink and purple are the same thing, even when you try to explain the difference. Then imagine that person being in a position of power, like your wedding planner.

    Our common love for travel should be about the desire to see more of the world and understand it better. It’s not about being “woke” but understanding perspectives, especially the points of view less obvious to us. Gary’s analysis did an excellent job at dissecting the situation and calling out the deeper issues than what meet the eyes. We can all learn a thing or two from it.

  22. My question is more basic – why would the gate agent let ANYONE (regardless of race) board a plane wearing a hat or shirt with the F word on it? Seriously?! Grow a spine and tell the passenger they can’t board as the hat (or shirt) is offensive and not in compliance with the airline’s policy. This isn’t a question of whether a woman is showing too much skin (some of those have come up) but there are words (many in the old George Carlin bit about the 7 dirty words – google it) that should prohibit you from public transit (especially on a private airline – maybe doesn’t apply in the subway).

  23. Gary you are completely on the wrong side.

    If I would have been the pilot I would have done the same thing. When you see someone who wasn’t complying with the FA, and they just take off the hat, and put it on their lap, I would not think even for a second that they will put it back on once I go back to the cockpit. And this pilot wanted just her WORD that she would keep it on her lap for the whole flight, and she couldn’t give her WORD.

    Can I ask you would you as a pilot let her stay on the flight? And where does race come in? When you do something wrong you should get the punishment you deserve, if you’re white or black, it doesn’t make a difference.

    I need to be in isolation here in the UK because I arrived yesterday. And today I got a call from the home office asking me if I’m in isolation, THEY JUST WANTED MY WORD, and I said yes, so they were happy with my answer. Now if I would’ve played with them going in circles, and they would give me a fine for not being in isolation, would that be called racism or anti-Semitism as I’m Jewish? Absolutely NO, because I know that I need to comply and answer the question from the person in charge, if not they wouldn’t believe me.

    This pilot was ready to take only her word, and believe her. While I wouldn’t believe her at all, especially now.

    Well he should have gone with a mask, but from 1-10, the mask issue is maybe a 6 (because a pilot doesn’t need to go with a mask in the cockpit, and it could just be that he forgot to put it on, and if someone would’ve reminded him he would’ve put it on), and the not compliance with the crew is a 10.

  24. Offensive clothing of any kind should not be allowed!!! It is not a race thing!! It’s a RUDE thing/

  25. Gary I agree with you about 95% of the time, or more, even on topics where others break (e.g. civil forfeiture), but I think you got this one wrong.

    Perhaps let’s reframe this as a question of intent. I think it’s clear that the woman was trying to make a statement (perhaps even provoke a reaction) and regardless of whether it was a worthy message or not, she was not going along to get along. The captain was trying to be helpful and I think that’s the point of the criticism directed at your piece. He could have saved himself a lot of grief by just letting her be removed–let’s be honest, the gate agents/FA’s probably were hoping for it–instead he tried to give her a chance. I normally detest the position that “no harm done” when authorities push boundaries, but I don’t think this was boundary pushing. He asked for her word, nothing more, multiple times which is certainly more leniency than many others would give and, I would argue, she was entitled to in that moment.

    So regardless of any racial baggage present, what is the point of criticizing a well-intentioned captain not being on his A game with a badly intentioned passenger? Sure he didn’t wear and mask (not sure if that was worse or not honestly than her behavior) and wasn’t fully sensitive to the racial overtones, but so what? He meant well and she didn’t.

  26. @gary thanks. I looked at the previous post and beyond the relatively minor faux pas of not wearing a mask, nothing seems too unreasonable. Ignore flight crew instructions, get kicked off the flight. End of story. A delta ban would not be unreasonable for the woman due to her behavior.

  27. It is sad companies nowadays automatically include the race lines in every response when people make false claims and bring up race. Companies are then pressured to go out of their way to excuse and accommodate bad behavior for fear of appearing raycis. These companies should stick up for themselves and ignore the false claims. Every time they give in they set an even bigger precedent to bow down to troublemakers and bad actors. Citing racism is often just an excuse for poor behavior. Ironically, this poor behavior would justify actual racism if it is coming disproportionately from one group which we all know it always does.

    Flight attendants regularly abuse their power. Captains are no different. They are very eager to blindly listen to flight attendants. There should be repercussions for pilots who abuse their power. Race complaints, however, are almost always false. Workers are always on edge and give blacks special treatment because they are afraid of being called raycis. When they take action, it is usually in response to an overwhelming issue. Political persecution is perfectly acceptable for workers, though.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *