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. The FA stated: “I don’t have to take this from you.” What I want to know is, what was her mom’s criticism? Was it “Isn’t it your job to help me?”, or more like “You’re a racist, lazy witch!”
    It may wrong that the general public looks for any reason to blame us, but the reality is that they do. The best response to that reality is to be the adult in the room. Feel the emotions, but speak the facts.
    “I didn’t know it wasn’t your job to help with our bags. That’s fine, this nice gentleman is helping us. But why did you tell us with that tone in your voice? I asked you a question, all you had to say was ‘no’.”
    If we are going to defend against this kind of behavior in public, we need to behave perfectly so there’s no chance to blame us. Be a blank sheet of white paper, so the ink of their aggression is unmistakable.
    Yes, I know “it’s not fair, we shouldn’t have to” etc., but we can’t act on what should be, we have to act on what is.

  2. “white privilege” is something people who suffer from race envy and success envy say.

    Yes it is a privilege to be white

  3. I flew since 1993 plenty of domestic and international flights, mostly on Delta. What I nowadays see more and more: people become heroes of their own flight story, some not just wanting to take a flight, rather expressing their need to be using the captive audience of an airplane to prove their personality and of course their views. Plenty of videos from the Covid anti-mask rants on board of planes prove me right. This story is somehow similar, a self promoting customer making a big statement. Annoying, uninportant but in this case made it to the virtual world…. Next please.

  4. I have found several places on the Internet that say part of the job description for Delta FA’s is to “Assist customers in lifting and stowing luggage into overhead bins” as @Steve, @KimmeA, and @Patti above say. I think the key word here is “assist.” And there is this from the Delta website: “Delta Air Lines even addresses the issue on its website, reminding travelers that, when they pack, they should remember that flight attendants “are unable to proactively assist customers placing carry-on baggage into overhead bins,” with exceptions. Those exceptions include helping passengers with disabilities, unaccompanied minors or older travelers.” The passenger here was elderly. So in this case, the FA was WRONG. And in one more article I found, it said FA’s are reluctant to help passengers with their baggage into the overhead bin is because they are not being paid until the door closes, so if they get hurt their workman’s comp insurance won’t cover it. Well, now DL FA’s get paid during boarding period, so this excuse is moot. I fly Singapore, Cathay, Air Canada, Qatar, Turkish, Korean, and Delta, and it is only Delta where I see FA’s not helping passengers with bags in the overhead.

  5. Delta has gone from customer service to practically demanding that the customer service airline staff. But the issue this FA smacks of a combination of agism, racism, laziness and hubris. The only reason to want the bystander off of the plane is to avoid being visually reminded of her transgression of common courtesy and respect. She is identified in the post and Delta should be told none of us will willingly fly with her.

  6. I have always noticed that other passengers are more than happy to assist someone stow their luggage. Chivalry was once commonplace, are we now a bunch of wimps why is this story is even newsworthy?

  7. I’m surprised it came to this. In my experience usually in this situation a younger male passenger will step in and help. I can lift but I’m too short to push so someone in front or behind me helps me get the bag all the way in the bin and back out. I’ve never had to ask anyone for help, they just did it. Wow here’s another example of white privilege I didn’t even realize I had. Very sad that other passengers mouthed off instead of just quietly helping this lady as they would any elderly white woman . As for deltas advice about packing, how about really solving the problem and eliminating those grotesque baggage fees? Or as an interim step waive them for elderly/handicapped etc.?

  8. The fact that the writer would make it a point to reference the woman’s race discredits the article to my mind. Why not just say “older woman”, or “elderly woman”. Because he plays the race card for no reason, I say why read any more of this story?

  9. When i read some of the comments here im disgusted. Obviously being human is not in western values.

  10. @Fonzi what it tells you is that the concerns of those who point out racism are not, in fact, outlandish. Why, there is a comment right in this thread calling it “race envy.”

    Imagine how that person would treat a person of color that they had power or authority over? Betcha it’d be poorly because of their race.

  11. Common decency and related willingness to courteously help fellow passengers in need of help is just not around at airports and on airplanes as much as a given as it used to be. This isn’t just evident with passengers helping other passengers with overhead cabin baggage but also even on the buses used to go between terminals or get passengers to and from planes where people nowadays are less likely to provide their seats to the elderly and very visibly pregnant travelers than used to be the case.

  12. Todd,

    It wouldn’t be a surprise if the propensity of people to help or not help another person is not uniform across the apparent sex, age and ethnicity of a person in need of assistance. Empathy levels aren’t uniform, and that has consequences in who is less likely to get assistance and who is more likely to get assistance and from whom.

  13. @GUWonder:
    > It wouldn’t be a surprise if the propensity of people to help or not help another person is not uniform across the apparent sex, age and ethnicity of a person in need of assistance. Empathy levels aren’t uniform, and that has consequences in who is less likely to get assistance and who is more likely to get assistance and from whom.

    Probably, but I would expect how they ask is far more important than what they look like.

  14. Has this writer ever written about another carrier or do they pay him to be myopic in his writings?

    Amazing how “reporting” has become so subjective

  15. This tiny story is apropos of a much larger story: The refusal of airline staff to exercise compassion. I fly a great deal, and I have seen this coldness and sometimes outright hostility increase with each passing year. “Let me help you” is now replaced routinely with that’s not my job. On a United flight last week, we were delayed by five hours. Compassion from flight staff: Zero. And yet the delay was entirely United’s fault. They needed to replace a part and by the time that was done, the flight staff had timed out. We waited for about four hours for a new team to appear. This is entirely the airline’s fault: Why did they not have a backup staff readily available. We were in, after all, Denver. United’s hub. But it was easier for them to delay all of us — including a very sick woman who was on her way to Boston for special medical treatment for her illness. During that time we were moved from gate to gate at least five times. No one helped this poor woman, who was so ill she could barely walk. None of them reached out to this poor woman to offer help or even just comfort. After the requisite number of hours, one flight attendant said: We’ll do something for you. She said this to all of us who were waiting. What was done: A cart with free bottles of water and a few crackers. The airlines have become so bad that in writing this I’m wondering if I’ll be banned from all future United flights. It’s become that bad.

  16. I honestly think that if you need help you should ask for it and not expect anyone to jump to it.
    Madame senior citizen could have smiled and said “can one of you nice travelers help me put this up” and I’m sure more than one person would have jumped.
    As a comparison, I had surgery on my leg which was braced but couldn’t be seen under my clothes. I had specifically gone to the first stop on the line to get a seat. A women looked me in the face and said “Can you give me your seat?” When I said no, I have an injury the women next to me said all sorts of nasty comments out loud. Had the passenger just said “Can someone let me sit down”, none of it would have happened.

  17. Ageism? Racism? White privilege? Bull. The flight attendant isn’t required to assist a passenger who has more likely than not overstuffed their carry-on because they can injure themselves doing so. And of course if they’re doing something the airline doesn’t allow them to do they won’t be covered if they do get injured. Amazing how people can bring race and politics into such a simple matter.

  18. Seems like all the American air carriers are just horrible with their customer service. Next time the airlines want a bailout from the feds, people should contact their congressional reps and express strong opposition to any bailout at all.

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