Delta Falsely Accuses Frequent Flyer Of Trafficking His Special Needs Daughter

Peter Espinosa flew first class from Minneapolis to Dallas on Delta with his 20 year old daughter who has genetic disorder Fragile X Syndrome. They were headed to visit his son – her brother – for Father’s Day.

People with Fragile X Syndrome have anxiety and tend not to make eye contact. They “can also be easily overwhelmed, especially when questioned.”

A flight attendant noticed the woman’s behavior and “became focused on interacting with her,” and started asking her questions. She became anxious in response.

Espinosa, who is CEO of a mortgage fintech and a Delta million miler, tried to intercede “but the flight attendant insisted his daughter answer.” The flight attendant had the flight’s captain report them to police, and four officers met the plane on arrival. They arrested Espinosa for human trafficking.

“I now realize what it’s like to be a falsely accused minority parent, fighting for my freedom, fighting for my child,” he writes.

He explained to the police officers who he was and the person he was flying with is his daughter, asking the police to ask Delta to look him up.

…Espinosa said the entire situation could have been avoided if Delta cared about special needs travelers or if the flight attendants hadn’t racially profiled him. …An anxious 20-year-old girl. Accompanied by a Hispanic male, old enough to be her father. He must be a human trafficker,” Espinosa writes.

Espinosa says he’s been asking Delta for years to flag special needs customers in their SkyMiles profiles, to identify them for employees. He believes their systems should be able to see that his regular travel with his daughter over years should help guide the airline’s employees to a less suspicious place, and that the airline should make this information available to people who need it.

According to Delta,

There’s nothing more important than keeping our customers safe, and that includes creating a safe, comfortable environment for all customers – especially those with disabilities. While Delta people remain highly engaged in the ongoing fight against human trafficking, we remain committed to ensuring our customers with disabilities feel supported.

For his part, Espinosa says he’s mailed his Delta Platinum American Express card, his Sky Club membership card, and his Diamond Elite card back to airline CEO Ed Bastian.

Airline and hotel employees are taught to use their prejudices to spot and report human trafficking, and this often works out badly. Flight attendants are told they need to be on the lookout, and you have to sympathize with the position that puts them in. Imagine if they didn’t say something when they could have stopped a bad situation? That would haunt them. So better to raise the accusation or flag innocent people for law enforcement to sort out. And that gives you situations like,

Hotel staff are trained by the Department of Homeland Security to report guests with too many used condoms in the trash, as well as:

  • frequent use of the “Do Not Disturb” sign (you’re tired and don’t want to be bothered)
  • guests who avert their eyes or don’t make eye contact (you’re tired and don’t want to be bothered)
  • people with “lower quality clothing than companions” (no one ever accused me of fashion)
  • people who have “suspicious tattoos” (which just means you’re from Austin or Portland)
  • having multiple computers, cell phones, and other technology (you’re a blogger)
  • “presence of photography equipment” (you’re a blogger)
  • refusal of cleaning services for multiple days (you ‘made a green choice’ or ‘fear Covid’)
  • rooms paid for with cash or a rechargeable credit card (you have to unload your gift card purchases somehow)
  • guests with few personal possessions (you refuse to check a bag because you’re a frequent traveler)

See something, say something, when you’re encouraging amateurs to do it, leads to so many false positives that real cases of sex trafficking seem likely to get less attention. Employees think they are ‘trained’ when they’re really using their prejudices.

(HT: Jared)

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 »

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  1. If it takes the FA or police more than two minutes to figure out that the challenged female passenger was the daughter of the male Delta passenger in this internet nearly everywhere era and digital photo albums galore, the incompetence of the confrontational, uniformed persons in this situation is beyond excuse.

  2. Airline employees are the problem, they are given absolute power over passengers and the power goes to their heads. If you question anything they say you are considered a threat to said power and accused of being confrontational. I would like to see monitors of all airline personnel.

  3. Better safe than sorry. If she was being trafficked, thank God someone would have caught it and saved her.

  4. If the airline staff were not proactive than they would be blamed for what they failed to do……I SAY GOOD LUCK PASSENGERS YOUR ON YOUR OWN ,WE THE MAJORITY ARE NOT YOUR PROTECTOR SORRY BUMMER…..

  5. @Kathy, let’s have you arrested and jailed immediately, right now. If you commit a crime in the future, then we would prevent it, and save your victim.

  6. @GUWonder “If it takes the FA or police more than two minutes to figure out that the challenged female passenger was the daughter of the male Delta passenger in this internet nearly everywhere era and digital photo albums galore, the incompetence of the confrontational, uniformed persons in this situation is beyond excuse.”

    As you are undoubtedly aware, people lie. Some people lie exceptionally well, and can talk themselves out of numerous situations. Some people expect to get get caught lying, and build preset alibies, like fake documents, digital photo albums, Facebook or Instagram pages. And I am quite sure the human traffickers, scum that they are, are quite capable of either terrifying, drugging, or brainwashing their captives into doing virtually anything they want by threatening them or their loved ones, so they back up their captors story.

    You think you can crack them in two minutes with a Google search? Great job, you just let a trafficker go when you had them in your grasp.

  7. HONESTLY I truly believe this happens because 1 because individuals who are white / pinkish color need to stop racial profile of other’s who are. different skin tone 2. When someone travelling should Have form from they’re doctor filled out stating individuals. Name address date of birth and parents name & phone number address doctor information important of diagnosis of child or an adult proper ID not to much information just stating diagnosis .3 special badge to wear like yellow color or special seating area 4 special need care individual who works with autism children and adults to train flight attendants and staffing as well to know the difference stages 4 or saliva swab test to test for narcotic drugs trafficking individuals results immediately before one aboard there flight . this will stop racist profiles from from throes who lack knowledge on handling this serious situation just one can be sued both ways company and the individual we don’t need that we’re trying to build trust in all human beings of all beautiful skin tones not one just all in this world let’s stop it now my own personal Opinion

  8. I say THAT it is unfortunate however, what if it HAD BEEN human trafficking? Though it was an inconvenience for this man and his daughter, that is NO COMPARISON to the horror of a family and a child forced into prostitution and drug addiction and torture.

  9. Was there documentation that he could have presented? I didnt read anywhere in the article that he asked thebflight attendant to review his profile, to rectify his situation.

  10. Better safe than sorry? Ok, then it’s better to lock up all you open and hidden apologists and advocates for racist profiling in this incident too before racism — often hiding behind the cover of something like “think of the women and children”, “it’s for your/everyone/our safety” and such — gets even more people harmed or even killed than already takes place because of what your system-privileged racism does directly and indirectly to targeted ethnic minorities and/or their near and dear ones.

  11. Way too many readers here who have vivid imaginations (or maybe watched too many ludicrous TV dramas). Seriously, if you were trafficking someone across the country you would do it sitting in the front of a plane, under the watchful eye of flight attendants, after going through multiple security checkpoints, having to show photo ID, not being able to carry a weapon with you, surrounded by 100s of strangers for several hours? Or would you do it using a van, only stopping in out of the way places with no CCTV, paying cash the whole way etc.

  12. So Andy, what you’re saying is that there are no brazen nor stupid criminals out there? Only smart ones that are super careful? Not to mention if it needs to be done quickly for whatever reason, flying is the only way.

    This is what bothers me, I never read the dad say anything beyond she has X condition. If it were me I would be providing everything I could to show proof because perception is reality sometimes. We do unfortunately have to sometimes do extra thanks to the crimes of others. This doesn’t mean being publicly shamed of course.

    There is this phenomenon in which an innocent person sometimes intentionally doesn’t provide all the facts & documentation allowing the situation to escalate so they can then reverse shame the person who accused them or in this case just has suspicion and concern. They then only provide their proof to the higher up yet never do so to the lowly employee (in their eyes), thereby trying to show that employees incompotence.

    Having said that, without any of us hearing the interaction, we can only speculate and naturally we lean in a certain direction. But if it were me, I would only have written an open letter after my private letter went nowhere. I don’t try to shame individuals or companies unless I absolutely have no choice after trying to work with them.

  13. Delta Airlines is scum and known for discrimination at this point. I had an incident three days ago where the profiled me and tried to call the red shirts because a female passenger had started to harass me and because I’m male they thought it was my fault. Gotta love when they hire people who are just there for diversity. Fuck delta don’t hire people based on their gender or sexual preference. Hire motherfuckers who know how to handle upset passengers instead of discriminate. If I see that fuck again I’m going to go off on him and I don’t care if they call the cops I’m tired of being treated as less of a human because of what the worst of my race does. This is bullshit.

  14. He tried to explain on his and his daughters behalf because she couldn’t explain. You have special needs or elderly people that can’t talk for themselves and people who don’t understand. At least not at first. They start out insisting they speak for themselves. I’ve been there with an elderly mother.

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