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,
- An African American social service worker was traveling with a white baby and accused of kidnapping by an American Airlines flight attendant as a result.
- Armed Port Authority police boarded an American Airlines plane at New York JFK because a flight attendant saw an Asian American woman follow her hispanic husband to the lavatory (he was feeling unwell) and saw that they shared an orange juice. The flight attendant called for a sex trafficking investigation. It found their drivers licenses displayed the same home address because they were married, just different races.
- Southwest Airlines demanded to see Facebook posts when a white mother checked in with her mixed-race son, claiming this was ‘federal law’.
— Lindsay Gottlieb (@CalCoachG) May 26, 2018
- 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.