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 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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  1. How many actual sex trafficking incidents have airline personnel actually uncovered?

  2. Someone always brings race into it. The FA was doing the right thing. It has nothing to do with race. What would the world be like if people didn’t have that poor excuse to fall back on?

  3. I understand that it must have been a horrible experience for the father and daughter, but the fault here is not with the flight attendant who as far as I am concerned was right to be worried based solely on external cues. One can argue whether or not FFPs should be repositories of health info (HIPAA constraints not withstanding), but the father requesting that FFPs should allow flagging of conditions / impairments tells me that this is not the first time it has happened to him, thus he shoulders a significant amount of blame for not traveling with a doctors note as he would have been clearly aware of how people may perceive and misconstrue his daughter’s behavior.

  4. This is what happens when you give poorly trained employees tremendous power. They have enough “training” and more than enough power to create major issues, such as this. Woke Delta might be better off pressuring states and cities to raid all the Asian massage parlors that are brothels and traffic Asian women around the country in the middle of the night. Everyone knows what happens in the “spa” with black windows and neon lights that stays open to 10 pm on a Tuesday.

  5. @armando letrado – don’t disagree with the overall message but do want to correct one thing for your benefit and hopefully others. Just like the 1st amendment (only applies to government mainly jailing people for speech against the government and doesn’t mean you can’t be fired or otherwise penalized for what you say which apparently is news to many who never learned anything about the Constitution), HIPAA is blamed for anything health information related. I was in healthcare IT most of my career (around 30 years), was CTO and CIO of several national hospital management companies, was on the original American Hospital Association HIPAA advisory board and was responsible for implementing most of the privacy, security and EDI requirements so I feel I’m well positioned to speak on what HIPAA is and isn’t.

    First of all HIPAA only applies to specific entities. They are basically providers (doctors, hospitals, etc.), health plans (insurance companies) and clearinghouses. There are also parties called business associates that are covered if they act in the capacity of one of these parties (like if a hospital outsources their IT processing). As a rule employers are NOT covered and neither are parties like airlines, hotels, etc. In addition, HIPAA only applies for the covered entities improperly disclosing protected health information. Individuals can ALWAYS volunteer that information. Therefore, if someone wanted to volunteer their medical status in a frequent flyer program (as is now done with service animals) or to a business (think vaccine requirements that many feel aren’t applicable solely due to “HIPAA”) that is perfectly fine.

    Sorry for the long rant but wanted to make this clear since there is so much confusion and it frustrates me to see HIPAA used as the catch all whenever there is a request for medical information. It simply isn’t that broad and never gets in the way of information an individual agrees to share.

  6. Stupid Flight Attendant…

    Nosy busybody…

    Perhaps SHE should be arrested for filing a FALSE police report.

  7. Ethnic minorities and “multiracial” families are far more likely to be subjected to these kind of awful prejudices than non-minorities and non-“multi/inter-racial” families.

    I hope Delta has to pay up big money for all this “see something, say something” nonsense and its grooming of their employees to become ultra-paranoid in a way that imagines way more criminal activity at airports and in the skies than there is. It’s too bad the police may have any cover of qualified immunity, for they too should be made to pay up in various ways for what happened to this father and his daughter.

  8. I’d imagine this would have been a traumatic experience for his daughter. Also, I wonder if the Delta flight attendant would have reported this had the daughter travelled with her mother.

  9. How do we all have such detailed knowledge of what was going on in the FA’s head? Everyone is just immediately positive the whole incident is because the FA was just a racists and her only motivation for any of this was race based and there’s no possibility that she just saw a situation that concerned her. If we still want to think of news as fact-based, unless there is actual proof this all becomes unfounded opinion. Did the FA make any racist comments? Did she admit the only reason she questioned the situation was because of race? If not, what evidence is there?
    When a white person does something to someone who is not white it’s always and absolutely due to racism but somehow then someone who is not white does something to someone who is white it’s just a regular, non-race based crime. We make a big deal about it because the FA was wrong about the situation, but what if the FA was black or also Hispanic, what if the FA was right?

    The other thing is that none of us were on the plane, none of us saw the situation, none of us personally know these people…maybe it was incredibly suspicious, maybe the FA is just dumb, maybe a thousand other things yet somehow it just has to be racism. The real sickening thing is all you people who weren’t there but think you have complete knowledge of the events because you read a few paragraphs on a blog and statements from a guy who may be motivated to sue Delta for employing KKK members.

    Racism shouldn’t even be a part of this conversation unless there is some actual proof of it. Let’s talk about the real issues like FA training and obligations when they see something on a plane.

  10. No apology from Delta.That shows how low Delta has sunk as a service organization. Isn’t Bastian a corruption of the word ‘bastard’?

  11. This sounds like the government outsourcing law enforcement harassment and unreasonable searches to Karens in the private sector.

  12. Delta’s response is class B.S. They must think people are pretty stupid to take such babbling nonsense seriously…. What is scarier is the “homeland” (a sick term) department trying to make hotel employees into little Stasi spies. I’m sure this sort of thing is only the tip of the iceberg. Give a little person a little power and suddenly there’s no end to their excuses for using it. Or, as the old saying goes, “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.”

  13. The biggest culprit here is the police. Ultimately, if police arrest or detain someone for something false, they are 100% responsible for doing so. I wish more conservatives realized the illogicality of supporting the police. Conservatives: the government can’t be trusted. Conservatives: we support agents of the government called cops who enforce a system we find abusive/evil/tyranny. Just like with the car rental arrests for false reports of theft, cops are the ones making the conscious choice to use physical force to detain someone without checking to ensure claims are substantiated with ample evidence (or asking themselves if laws they enforce violate fundamental freedoms)

    This is also what happens when flight attendants are turned into government agents. Rational people would dismiss any prompts by their supervisors/their training to be detectives. Unfortunately, most U.S. flight attendants are not rational. Mandatory reporting is a very dangerous concept that violates privacy rights. Freedom of speech includes the right not to be compelled to speak. Unfortunately, judges say otherwise and conservatives keep supporting the cops who enforce their rulings instead of denouncing them and mobilizing against them. We don’t live in a country of innocent until proven guilty. Mandatory reporting and turning people like flight attendants into detectives/investigators means thousands of people end up falsely accused every year.

    Of course, a parent being a different race than a baby or child is suspicious. Of course it is. It goes against the most very basic rule of nature. I don’t blame flight attendants for paying special attention to those who are most conspicuous as having an abnormal relationship. If we didn’t have government pushing flight attendants to be detectives, flight attendants could mind their own business (while of course thinking what we all should be thinking when seeing that sad thing).

    MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS is something that is forgotten in 2021.

  14. This story is an example of not minding your own business. Overzealous FA MIGHT could have checked the manifest (they all have hand held computers) for the names of pax first if there was suspicion. Corporations like DL have to “stay in their lanes”. DL’s business is to fly people from A to B, not to profile pax. The two were in First, same last name most likely, both high level Medallion. And a FA profiled them?

    Dumb.

    I sense a VERY large lawsuit coming, along with bad publicity, for DL. All because of misguided interpretation of “keeping passengers safe…”.

  15. My comment above was written by my husband who is top level Delta flier and a shareholder.

  16. Did the FA check the manifest to see if they shared the same last name? They would have shown ID at TSA as well. If you I seriously doubt human traffickers travel with the person being trafficked in first class. While I am not against FAs keeping their eyes open, they need to first be able to think.

  17. Disappointing scenario where better processes and training are required, but for those calling out Delta or the police — If it truly was a human trafficking, would it look any different?

  18. This is what happens when corporations dictate their employees follow a new policy with a written document or worse, a powerpoint presentation.

  19. @L3, you clearly have a toxic mix of anger and emotional-stability issues. I suggest you seek therapy

  20. @Jason Alino

    To answer your question about why people assume this is race-based: because Delta employees are trained that trafficking victims are disproportionately POC, so basically being non-white should be considered a risk factor. Look at the stories about people being falsely accused or suspected of trafficking. See many involving all-white families?

  21. @Matthew

    It probably wouldn’t. You’re right to point this out. If we know certain groups are more likely to commit certain things (whether it’s a particular race committing a disproportionate amount of crime everywhere they are in the world/a profession like flight attendants known to abuse power or priests who disproportionately molest), it’s understandable to keep more focus on them.

    However, there are very few cases of flight attendants stopping human trafficking. The best way to stop it is to promote border security/build a wall/stop cops from enforcing the war on drugs that allows a gang element to flourish (turns something worth $10 in the store into something worth $300 on the street) and refocus their efforts on stopping actual crime with victims. A trafficked person who is being brought through an airport and airplane filled with hundreds of people has the opportunity to blurt out for help at anytime. The ones trafficked this way are unlikely to be spotted.

    Delta is at fault for not ignoring a ridiculous policy and the cops are at fault for being robots who blindly follow orders and who blindly follow accusations instead of being thinking people who can discern.

    Certainly, if people didn’t throw away thousands of years of common genetic ancestry to go wooly bully, this problem wouldn’t exist.

  22. Somewhere between the ignored indifference of the Spirit flight attendant re: a potential sexual predator and the overreaction of the Delta flight attendant here, there are some common themes that are being missed.
    – It is not a crime or being nosy to ask for the police to investigate potentially illegal activity whether it is someone sitting on your front lawn without invitation or potential human trafficking.
    – Flight attendants and esp. in this situation need to have a live resource available to them that is off of the plane to whom they should explain the situation and ask for assistance with handling. Nearly all commercial planes have air to ground connections available which flight attendants can use. Those backup resources must be used and if they aren’t then the employee needs to face disciplinary action.
    – There is no need for health information in passenger files. A simple notarized copy of a note from one of the parents or caregivers with details about the condition and any accompanying personnel etc. carried by the passenger and accompanying family members. If a flight attendant or ground staff refuses to accept that kind of documentation – regardless of whether it is a person with mental or medical (physical) needs, they need to face discipline.
    – While there was a close family member that was accompanying, there are too many cases of people that send people alone on planes that have needs that are not compatible with individual air transportation.
    – Air transportation is tough as all get out right now. Airlines need to learn from mistakes like this and put in place processes to keep from making further mistakes.

  23. I commend the flight attendant for his observance of something unusual! He was doing his job. My sincere regret to the father and daughter for the experience. However, as a parent I would appreciate someone checking into a suspicious situation. Would flight attendants have access to customer information if it had been in his file? Something more thorough does need to take place, but until it does, let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water!!!

  24. Delta brakes guitars and now they have FAs that have passengers arrested because the gay male FA is on a power trip.

    Oh, I think it’s United that breaks guitars. Delta breaks wheelchairs.

  25. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. See story on Spirit FAs allegedly ignoring molestation complaints.

    Make up your mind on which side you want to be on – intervene or mind your own business?

  26. First of all the attendant wasn’t focused enough. Most people can tell if someone is special needs. 2nd the Father’s profile should have been checked. And he should have listened to the father when trying to explain why his daughter was struggling. Shame on Delta.

  27. Last year – I was on AA flight, sitting behind 2 unaccompanied minors that FA upgraded to First. One of the UMs (kids) dropped a dark vial that rolled to my feet (along w an iPad chord). I handed both items back. When I departed, there were Police surrounding me in the jetway. (I have NEVER been accused or arrested – mother of 3, married, employed). Turns out FA had Capt radio ahead because she observed me passing out drugs. She never said anything to me inflight. (I’m Exec Platinum)…. They interviewed UMs (11-13 yrs old) who verified that the dark vile was a homeopathic remedy their mom gave them. All I could think of was – what if the kids were scared and didn’t tell the truth? Didn’t get arrested but goes down as my “worst flying experience” ever. Ruined my day and I missed my connection (CLT).

  28. The only thing worst than the FA actions was the non response by Delta. Management should be ashamed. Admit that you made a mistake and apologize Ed or is that too much for your ego.

  29. Gary,

    You are a troll. If you can find a way to make something about race, you’ll try to inflame.

    But tearing us apart for more clicks is worth it! Those first class flights to the Seychelles won’t pay for themselves!

  30. I don’t get why he’s playing the race card. Why do people always assume that for every single situation ever without any proof? Every single person in the world isn’t racist‍♂️. I’m sorry for what happened to him, but I don’t see evidence of racism, I see am assumption. I’m not saying he’s wrong, I’m saying it’s a pretty major accusation. I see an FA who saw a fidgety anxious female with an older defensive man who wouldn’t allow her to speak. What I want to know is the following 1. Do they share the same last name? I assume they do? 2. Did the dad tell the FA she has this medical condition? It seems to me he got defensive when the FA asked her questions but perhaps didn’t share pertinent information to de escalate? I didn’t read that he told her of her condition? This is where people start yelling it’s a privacy issue. But why ? It’s no secret the daughter has an issue, it’s just not known what, may as well share why to avoid more. I appreciate that this FA takes trafficking seriously. Once I made a purchase but forgot my receipt. I came back to the store and as I entered I pointed to the person who checked me out minutes earlier so when i went to buy a 2nd item, I didn’t look funny walking out with my big first item without receipt. I didn’t have to do that no, but I wanted to make things easier for the staff to not wonder. The FA has limited time to be researching while working too. Make her life a bit easier. We don’t have the FA’s side, let’s not jump to conclusions till we hear his side, though I’m not sure he’s allowed to speak publicly. I think this sending of his fancy cards to the CEO was unnecessary. He clearly wants to make a statement but if there was wrong doing, it should matter just as much even if he sat in coach, wasn’t a medallion member, didnt have all these delta credit cards. But, I get it, companies care about his business because he has $.

  31. We don’t know enough of what exactly happened on the airplane.
    But what we DO know is the the police arrested the father.
    And they were wrong to do so. Whatever investigation the beat cops did it was clearly inadequate.
    I wonder what happened to the daughter when they took her father away.
    Many that must have been a bad sceen.

  32. @OlderWoman

    Do we know they arrested him? That’s what he said, but that’s different than a detention and it’s easy to confuse the two. I won’t even pretend to know we have all the facts here to come down on either side. But it’s more likely he was detained until they could resolve the situation. Both are unpleasant, but arrest is much more so.

    https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/arrest-vs-detention-how-tell-whether-you-ve-been-arrested-simply-detained.html

  33. I mean, how does this seriously happen. These must have been really bad cops to arrest this guy, or we don’t have full story. Seems like a pretty easy situation for them both to pull out IDs, show pictures from phone or other easily proven info. Re: the flight attendant. If you accuse someone of something, ESPECIALLY something as egregious as human trafficking, you better be sure that it is true. Otherwise you have all the blame. Sounds like this FA should have some serious repercussions.
    Or we don’t have the full story.

  34. @pat – agree, see my comments.

    @latches – I was speaking more in generalities regarding racism, but if trafficking victims actually are disproportionately POC (don’t know the actual stats) why would it be wrong to operate on that data?

    Also, love how people keep saying this is “Delta” – does anyone here work for a company? does anyone who does feel they are accountable for every action of every person at their company? Why can’t this just be one employee making the wrong choice. Gotta love all this hindsight insight from people who have no clue what actually happened on the plane. What if she had been a trafficking victim and the employee did nothing – then the blogs would be about how Delta is awful because they didn’t do anything. Oh yeah, and we all know she was special needs way after the fact and treat that issue like the FA should have just magically know that all along (or known some other way even though none of us were there).

  35. Hi Jason
    I agree with your points as well and I say this as someone who is well aware and disgusted by FA’s that do power trip. I just wasn’t convinced that was happening here. With the pandemic, the FA’s have it insanely hard. I didn’t get the impression that the dad was forthcoming about his daughter’s situation, which *may* have prevented further aggravation for everyone. His seemingly defensive nature questioning her back (tho I get he was trying to protect her) may have made the FA more concerned & suspicious too. Wish he had filmed it. If he did provide the info, then absolutely she’s in the wrong. Yet he was not quoted that I see as saying anything to the FA about her condition(not the media, not in the open letter but to the FA). Thus FA felt better safe than sorry I guess. We weren’t there to be able to say well clearly this girl has mental health issues or clearly this girl is being exploited.

  36. A Japanese-American friend of mine with a Caucasian wife was driving in California with his daughter in the back of the car. The girl who was maybe 5 years old and looks more Caucasian than Asian wrote HELP with her finger on the foggy rear window. Next thing, my friend was pulled over, handcuffed and put in the back of a police car while the police questioned the girl. They didn’t explain anything to him at all until about 15 minutes later when they finished their investigation and let him go on his way. Would the situation have been any different if the daughter looked more like him? I guess there’s no way to know, but on the other hand I never heard of anything like this happening to any other friends, even ones with mischievous children.

  37. Sorry to burst your PC bubble Sean, but if I see help from any human of any age or color with any color person in their car, I’m calling authorities and expect everyone else too! How can you even think to ignore that!?!? That’s insanity. The only issue here is disciplining the little kid to not do that again. There is serious racism and then there is stuff like this. This misplaced focus allows real racism to thrive while people become too scared to report actual crimes for fear of the PC police. This HELP in 99% of situations would be a real call for help and no way would I risk it.

  38. Delta did a great job Please don’t stop questioning passengers.Somany if our girls are missing.Please lets find them

  39. The thing is that human trafficking is a really big problem, and there are indicators that suggest checking things out. I think there is room for reflection on what is an acceptable rate of “false positives”, and the procedures when a problem is suspected also need to safeguard the rights of all concerned. Checking IDs is one thing; getting the police to arrest someone on a hunch is another. More work needs to be done in this area and I don’t have all the answers. The gentleman has asked repeatedly for a way to identify his daughter’s special needs in a record that could be noted and checked. Saving a person from actually being trafficked is worth a few false positives, but when a case is merely suspicion it needs to be handled discreetly, and with sensitivity. The “we are trying to understand” formulation is corporate PR talk for “We probably messed up but we aren’t going to say so.”

  40. This is a monstrous outrage. I hope the father sues Delta. I imagine that Delta will offer some sort of confidential settlement to make this go away and I hope the father has the intestinal fortitude to refuse any settlement and demand a jury trial. I’m not as hopeful that a lawsuit against the police will get very far due to qualified immunity which has morphed into near absolute immunity.

  41. There are two reasons to be outraged. One is about the actual story. The second is the lack of empathy in the comments when people say the flight attendant did the right thing. Excuse me motherfuckers?

  42. You can’t just sue that easily Dale. People lose their limbs, people lose their lives, and still they can’t sue for some reason or another but have every right to when they’ve been harmed. He’d have to prove long term mental distresses that has cost him financially (time off work) or ptsd leading to counseling. Only an ambulance chaser would take such a case but likely lose.

    Having said that, if he truly told the FA his daughter’s situation and if there was easily accessible helpful information that she didn’t access before contacting authorities, then absolutely he deserves some form of compensation from Delta, but not many thousands of dollars, it should be reasonable. My understanding is he was *not* arrested either but questioned by authorities which is of course stressful for anyone.

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