Delta Drama: Passenger’s Bold Stand Against Crew’s Indifference Leads to Unjust Removal

A woman on board Delta flight 2178 from Newark to Atlanta confronted a flight attendant who refused to help an older Black woman who was struggling to put her carry on bag in an overhead bin. The crewmember refused to help, saying it isn’t her job.

To the passenger, that’s precisely her job. The flight attendant responded by saying the passenger was harassing her, and had the captain remove her from the aircraft. She was embarrassed and inconvenienced for stepping into what she saw as both poor service and discrimination.

To be clear, though:

  • A flight attendant isn’t required to assist a passenger in stowing their belongings.
  • Ideally if you cannot lift a bag you shouldn’t bring that bag.
  • Your best bet is to ask passengers for assistance. Many are happy to help.
  • Stepping into the middle of a situation between a passenger and crewmember will usually end badly for you even if you think you’re right and even if you are right.

I wrote recently about pioneering travel blogger Daraius Dubash (“Million Mile Secrets”) being kicked off of an American Airlines flight for speaking out against racism when a flight attendant kicked off two black passengers who were confused about where they were seated.

He was removed after telling the crewmember he intended to file a complaint about what had happened, with the pilot bringing the aircraft back to the gate and half a dozen officers being called. The officers apologized. (For those curious, Daraius was also arrested and jailed in Houston for the content of his speech in a city chartered park recently and has filed a civil rights lawsuit.)

I respect Daraius for what he tried to do, but it didn’t wind up helping the other passengers and was personally costly. Fortunately law enforcement who responded were highly professional, as the video I’d shared of the incident demonstrated. The better approach may have been to get names and descriptions, take contemporaneous notes, and follow up with the airline (and generate publicity online, ideally) afterward.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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 »

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Comments

  1. I suspect that airlines train FAs not to do this for insurance reasons. (Largely an excuse but there is some truth to it).

  2. @ Gary — Flight attendants like this should be reprimanded and sent for customer service training. This hateful attitude is unprofessional and should not be tolerated. The FA might consider asking a passenger to help rather than going directly to the captain for an ejection.

  3. Well I was on a Delta flight this past week, from ATL to LGA, where a single flight attendant specifically helped almost every single passenger place their bags in the overhead bin as the plane filled up from front to back. This FA actually slowed boarding significantly, in my opinion. When passengers see this, no wonder that passengers will expect FAs help elderly people stow their bags. The issue is arbitrary rules for service that no customers know ahead of time, and are inconsistently applied…

  4. @Solucia: if it is officially part of the FA’s duties to lift bags and they get injured, then there is a workers comp claim and potential liability. If an FA chooses (against policy) to lift a bag and gets injured, the workers comp claim would get thrown out for the employee violating policy. I have heard FA’s on AA, DL, and UA explain to passengers that they are not allowed to lift a bag which is of unknown weight to them and weight may shift while they are lifting it. They are allowed to assist with positioning bags once they are in the bin. FA’s on ANA and Korean are more proactive with storing carry-ons probably due to different workers comp laws in Japan and Korea. As a passenger I have lifted others’ bags, though I am younger, taller, and stronger than the average FA and can see how some of these bags could injure a smaller person.

  5. @Gary- You are correct that flight attendants aren’t required to help stow bags and if your bag is that heavy it should probably be checked. And not every flight attendant is any more physically able to help than the passengers they serve.
    As far as the removal, it’s impossible to determine the tone of this conversation from written words. The Captain has to make a decision based on the information received and make an educated guess on whether this situation will continue or escalate in flight. If I were to intervene, I would make sure I did so as un-confrontationally as possible. Often it is better to send a well-worded complaint to the airline.

  6. Immediately it’s the race card

    If the passenger that intervened wanted to help THEY could have stowed the bag

  7. People who know they will struggle with pulling a bag through the airport and lifting it choose to do so in order to avoid checked bag fees. If only Congress would go after bag fees instead of credit card fees…

  8. One of my pet peeves about traveling are short women with carryon who need to ask others for help to put their luggage in the overhead bins.

  9. According to the X feed on this, there is a screenshot of the actual DL FA duties, as outlined in DL job description as of 2023, which include ‘assisting passengers with stowing of luggage’. So either it IS in the written job description, or it isn’t. Clarification would be helpful.

  10. Even in jobs that require lifting there are often weight limits (like 35 pounds) above which they aren’t required to lift. FAs are not required to lift bags and I’m willing to bet the woman that got thrown off didn’t simply ask if the FA could help but likely verbally assaulted her for, of all things, not helping an old “woman of color” store her bag. Then of course the race card gets pulled. Yes there are bad FAs (or FAs that have a bad day) but, overall, the DL FAs are more tolerant than AA/UA FAs so if a DL FA requested the captain to have someone removed rest assured it went beyond a simple, civil request if the FA could help the old woman with her bag.

  11. Indeed, flight attendants are not required to put or assist putting bags into the overhead bin. I recall “Hanoi Jane Fondue” (sic) refusing to put her bag in the overhead bin. I guess that she thought she was entitled. I’m a Viet Nam era Vet…uh… NO. She could walk as far as I’m concerned. However, the FA rightfully insisted that she put the bag in the bin. After the third warning, “Fondue” put her bag in the overhead bin as she was about to be tossed off the jet. If you can’t put the bag in the bin yourself, then you shouldn’t carry it aboard. In this particular incident one would have to hear the entire conversation to get the truth. Because the flight attendants are the first line of defense and offense for the safety of the aircraft, most captains well tell the flight attendants that, “…if you are uncomfortable with a passenger, then I’m uncomfortable too.” The captain will then have to make a crucial call…carry or remove a passenger.

  12. According to some in here, short people, elderly people and more shouldn’t fly.

    Can’t wait for some of you to get older. Or maybe break a few ribs on a trip that precludes you from lifting an item.

    The airline tells me what I cannot check, then goes all sparky if I might need a bit of help getting the items over my head.

    I yhink the funniest one of all is not to out personal items in the overhead. But when AA insisted I HAD to gate check a bag, then I opened it to show all the items I had which by the own res CANNOT go into checked, they handed me several bags to out all the stuff in. And checked an empty bag while I drug 3 bags full of items on board.

    Yeah, just brilliant

  13. Only racists in here are the blacks bringing race in to it. Wasn’t about race until you made it so.

    And Patti – not our problem. If you can’t lift it, don’t bring it.

  14. If the passenger that got tossed felt the older woman needed assistance, she should have assisted. I suspect it was more about how she treated the FA. In my experience, to get tossed from the flight one’s attitude and tone must be pretty aggressive.

  15. As a healthy tall and muscular male passenger, I emphatically refuse to assist any other passenger with bags; because, I am a target for lawsuits and social shame. I recall a young female in the economy row ahead of me, upon landing with seatbelt sign turned off, struggling to get her big carryon bag out of the hatrack. A young male in the row behind me shouted to me, “Dude! Help her with her bag!” I shouted back very loudly so everyone around me could hear: “I am not touching her stuff.” I will not be victimized as a predatory creepy male, whether in a lawsuit or a tiktok social media. Welcome to The Golden Age of Travel 2.0, wherein chivalry is high risk behavior.
    As for the FA’s, I think there may be a difference between domestic and international, I don’t know, but I generally presume them to be weak, barely unable to lift a coffeepot, let alone ever a cocktail shaker, and I don’t rely on them for more than that.
    Given the entitled attitude of post-pandemic flyers, I’m not sure where the responsibility lies, these days. Best wishes and good luck to all the flying bag ladies…

  16. @Walter

    I fly all over the world, often for months at a time.

    The ONLY airlines who pull this are in the good old USA. I recently flew SA on a trip lasting several weeks and those tiny SA FAs because upset when I put up my own bag. Maybe because they have some respect for older people, unlike…..you.

  17. Basically all everyone is saying is don’t bother to help , what a grand society we are building

  18. Patti – I call BS. You’re here whining. If you can’t lift it, don’t bring it. Use a shipping service.

  19. Ignorance is bliss. When an FA offers to assist with your overhead bag, that’s great. Obviously, they’re not supposed to. Repeated motions like lifting heavy objects over your head result in rotator cuff injury. If you see someone struggling on a plane, help them stow their bag. Don’t berate the FA, it’s none of your business. I doubt this has anything to do with black vs white. The FA was behaving pragmatically.

  20. I wonder if there is a discrimination claim if the airline won’t help disabled people stow luggage unless they pay money to have it checked.

    The suggestion of, if you can’t lift it, don’t bring it, is ridiculous. If a flgiht attendant isn’t capable of lifting a carry-on bag into the overhead bin, they’re not capable of performing the duties necessary to insure your safety either.

    As to this particular situation, we never know what any person actually said, especially when the story is being publicized by someone who was not even there, and comparing the perceived average customer service skills of FAs at one airline vs another doesn’t tell us what this one particular FA did or didn’t do.

    That said, absent documented egregious behavior, you should get ID compensation if you’re removed from a flight, and it should be on the airline to prove you’re not due the compensation.

  21. European airline flight attendants (not to mention Asian and Middle Eastern airline staff who are super-helpful) will help you and you usually don’t even have to ask. It’s rather outrageous that in the U.S. other passengers will help you more willingly than airline staff. One can understand that the physical strain of lifting bags repeatedly on multiple flights may be too much for some of the flight attendants, but that’s no reason for them to be so hostile, aggressive and even malicious with their refusals.

  22. @Marty-Your pet peeve is short women? Exactly how are they supposed to change their stature and reach the sometimes too high overhead bins? A carry on is almost always necessary and it would seem this is a perfect opportunity to be helpful to another human that has zero control over how tall they are or how high an airline bin is!!!

  23. Airline management has brought this nightmarish situation with carry-on luggage over the last two decades after deciding to charge for checking luggage, something that had been included with ticket purchase for 70 some years. Boarding and deplaning take much longer because of it. Include smaller seats and crappy in-flight service among the other changes that the analytics guys have instituted that have made flying an utterly miserable experience as well as the TSA drama.

  24. @Patti

    Assistance means “to assist” not “to do for you” FAs are required to assist as in showing a passenger where an open space is, moving items already in the bins, to gate check item, or to recruit fellow passengers to lift said item. Flight Attendants in the US are PROHIBITED from lifting and stowing passenger bags. I always offer help by saying I’ll ASSIST you but you have to lift it. A major legacy carrier trains us that if we have to use more force to assist than two fingers helping lift the bag requires, we don’t touch it.

  25. What have we become as a society. An elderly (black, white, green, purple) woman needs help with her bag. This person sees her struggling and rather than just helping that her like the compassionate human being we all should have been brought up to be, complains and says ” that’s their job”. All the excuses (lawsuits, don’t bring it if you can’t lift it, not my job) are more a indication of our selfish, lazy society, than whether a FA did her job or not.

  26. If the woman had a disability that prevented her from lifting the bag above her head– not unlikely in an elderly woman– a flight attendant doing it for her would be considered a reasonable accomodation under the ADA. The flight attendant was wrong. There are circumstances where it is necessary for them to assist disabled pasengers in ways they would not have to assist able-bodied passengers.

    All of you “if you can’t lift it, don’t bring it” people are discriminating, whether you realize it or not. Do you really want to be that kind of person? You never know someone else’s circumstances unless you’re living in their life.

  27. As an attorney that has spent 35 years defending employer/insurers in cases there is much more nuance than displayed in these comments. UA cases are litigated in Illinois because they are headquartered there. I suspect Georgia is home for Delta litigants. Nonetheless state statues and case law as to what is considered “in the course and scope of your employment” rules. One of the first things that a defense attorney will do is ask for the employment manual given to FAs as well as training manuals and films explaining what their job duties are as well as the dos and don’t s. If an FA injures herself/himself lifting a bag (and btw “assisting” is not necessarily lifting the bag) and it is shown this is against training and policy the claim would most likely be denied and depending on the injury it may end a career. Don’t be so quick to judge.

  28. More “flight attendants” who are absolutely convinced that their job is to get paid to take free flights and that customers are an inconvenience who should be arrested at the drop of a hat. Again, anyone who can’t be retrained to SHUT UP AND POUR THE DRINKS must be fired and replaced.

  29. And what are short women supposed to do? My wife couldn’t lift an **empty** bag into the bins even in her prime. Does that mean she shouldn’t be permitted to fly alone? (Can’t even bring a personal item because there’s always the chance of ending up in a seat lacking any underseat space.) Likewise, plenty of elderly people shouldn’t be lifting bags into the bins even if they aren’t too short to reach.

    So long as it’s of reasonable weight I’m always willing to help those who need it. If I started to lift and decided it was more weight than I was comfortable with I would say so, but that has never happened.

  30. @ Walter, you’re not a ‘predatory creepy male’ – you’re a creepy person. If you should ever have an injury while traveling, like a cracked rib or a broken arm, how would you feel if nobody assisted you with your overhead luggage? Whatever happened to do unto others and all that good ‘stuff’ we were taught when we were kids?

  31. I just don’t see the issue with politely helping another passenger who is struggling. Of course, I’m the guy who worked the AA ramp for 25 years part-time for the non-rev travel so I am literally an expert at moving heavy bags safely.

  32. I think Gary should edit the original post to either:
    -reinforce his assertion that “A flight attendant isn’t required to assist a passenger in stowing their belongings.”
    or
    -to make a correct that the above assertion is incorrect.

    I personally have no reliable information to know if a Delta (or any other) flight attendant is or isn’t required to assist a passenger in stowing their belongings.

    Also…

    I know that we all love to save money and some of us really hate to check our bags even if it is free. However, we all need to make a realistic assessment on how we are going to manage our bags, especially, carry-on bags, while flying. If you are unable to easily manage your carry-on bags, your best option is to consider checking it or make it lighter/smaller somehow.

    However saying that to someone who has already arrived at the gate unprepared for this reality is not very productive.

  33. @Marty- oh the horror, short women asking for help reaching overhead bins. As opposed to large men who overflow their seat and take up more space for the entire flight?

  34. I’m a five-foot 85-year-old female traveler who distinctly recalls a flight attendant having told me — with a smile — “you bring it, you sling it.” I agree with her. If a fellow passenger offers to help, I accept graciously; but if I bring a carryon it’s my responsibility to deal with it.

  35. I am a flight attendant and our role includes “assisting in lifting bags”. We do not lift bags but we can help you lift your bag, TOGETHER with you. Unfortunately people usually just dump the bags in the aisle, click their fingers and order us to lift it. That’s not how it works. If I help you lift it and we do it together, and I get injured, I’m covered by insurance. If I do it on my own, I’m not.
    Ultimately, only bring bags you’re able to handle yourself, unless you’re physically disabled. Then, the PRM team helping you board will help you.

  36. “Only racists in here are the blacks bringing race in to it.”

    Look into the mirror, dude.

  37. Boo hoo whiners. You brought it, deal with it. You’re short? Ship it. You need help? Pay someone to help you dint assume others will do it for free you entitled trash.

  38. I’m not lifting hundreds of bags every day and ending my career.

    I don’t know what you packed but if your bag is too heavy you should check it, not ruin someone else’s day with it, especially FA or fellow passengers.

  39. Since the airlines owns the FAA it doesn’t matter what they do, The Airlines is protected..
    The airlines is the worst industry in the world and it will only continue to degrade.

  40. BigTee says:
    “As a healthy tall and muscular male passenger, I emphatically refuse to assist any other passenger with bags; because, I am a target for lawsuits and social shame.”
    Really, BigTee? You sound like more of a BigA****** to me!

  41. @Win Whitmire: WTF does insulting Jane Fonda, as three-quarters of your rambling post does, have to do with this topic?
    OK, so you don’t like Ms Fonda, and apparently thought US participation in the Vietnam War, was OK, but don’t use this blog to air your personal opinions on that.

  42. I agree with the people commenting that race probably wasn’t a factor… the FA would have treated any other passenger just as badly.
    If a FA can’t lift a bag that an elderly woman managed to transport across the entire airport, I have to wonder what use they would be in an emergency. Don’t the airlines have minimum standards of fitness for their staff?
    Oh well, just another reminder, if any were needed, not to use US airlines if you can possibly help it.

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