Delta Pilot Issues Pre-Flight Ultimatum: Comply With Respect Or You’re Grounded

A Delta Air Lines pilot came into the cabin of a delayed flight to Atlanta to let everyone know that he expected to make up time inflight – and get everyone to their destination on time – but that he had some instructions everyone was going to follow along the way.

He introduces himself as a “servant leader.” Now, I think that’s the sort of thing that others confer upon you… not something you dub yourself. But he lays out that his instructions are to be followed for safety, his rules are the rules, and the “commands and instructions of my flight attendants” are to be followed. And “be respectful of one another. Any questions?” There were none.

“My” flight attendants is a bit awkward here in his speech, I think. But he’s letting it be known up front the ground rules he’s got for the flight, and pilots have broad latitude under 49 USC § 44902 to refuse transportation to a passenger if they feel that passenger might be “inimical to safety.” And it’s a judgment that will rarely be reviewed.

Sometimes airline employees just lay it out there. Over the summer this American Airlines pilot dropped a lesson in inflight etiquette as part of his announcements: Be respectful; don’t intrude on the space of other passengers; wear headphones or ear buds to listen to your devices; and the passenger in the middle seat gets both arm rests.

Meanwhile, a couple of months ago a Delta Air Lines gate agent shut down a passenger who complained about being misgendered. They were just trying to get the flight out on time. The agent wasn’t focused on the passenger’s pronouns and had no reason to know what they were! And this agent handled matters with the pronoun of New Yorker.

I think that this gate agent pulled it off in the face of a difficult passenger (regardless of what the issue entailed). The American Airlines pilot was largely right in his rant, though I don’t need the lecture. This Delta captain? I’m not so sure.

(HT: Live and Let’s Fly)

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. Zebraitis, Delta has placed him in the position of Captain. He actually is acting in the interest of good customer service by reminding anyone that interference of the flight would be prompt removal. How many times has a flight have to return to the gate and/or passengers have to wait to get off the plane because someone decided to cause a disturbance and police were called. A crew can’t provide good customer service if the cabin is in lock down because someone decided he was above the rules.

  2. I love all the readers criticizing the pilot for commanding good manners on his flight. Don’t think they realize that the lack of hard-core leadership in this country is the reason we’re in so much trouble. The screamers get their way these days. It’s not good. Wake up and face reality.

  3. Hard core leadership? lol, it’s a plane and passengers are customers. That’s the problem , I think. Pilots and FAs, and often their employers, confuse this relationship and their role in it.

  4. Agree with Jake-1 above. He forgets he’s addressing the customers that are buying his product and paying his salary not a bunch of substitute students. A moderation in tone and words and a welcome aboard hope you have a great flight would have gone a long way.

    He comes off as an overbearing asshole.

  5. I can only think that the folks here being critical of the pilot either never fly or have been living under a rock some place for the past few years or are guilty of bad behavior on a plane themselves. While it may not apply to all passengers, there are some that truly have no business being on a passenger aircraft and anyone who has kept up with all the antics would know this since it’s been in the mainstream media for a while now. My response here is: It really tells a story of how society has devolved when the pilot needs to make this announcement and the old saying applies – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  6. Maybe if service and the experience of flying were better we wouldn’t have as many problems. Actually, the amount of REAL incidents (not instigated/exacerbated by flight attendants) is still relatively small.
    Did we have inflight disturbances 30 years ago when the airlines served meals, had inflight entertainment (even though it was in its infancy) and didn’t have surly, barely-educated, recent graduates of a 3 week basic first aid and button pushing class serving as flight attendants?
    We had pilots that thanked the passengers for their business….and MEAN it.
    Flying was enjoyable, crews didn’t have an overinflated sense of self-importance and everybody behaved themselves.

  7. Frustration is a predicate for aggression. We don’t hear reports of passenger disurbances in first and business class. Economy class passengers are squeezed into narrow seats with little room for comfort and nickled and dimed for seats with a few extra inches of space. Refreshments are insulting. Flight Attendants are overworked and obviously rushed to do their jobs. Presenly, flying, begining with entering the airport, is stressful and unenjoyable. Passengers are directed/commanded by one low level authoritative character after another. This captain needs to adjust his attitude, take a vacation, or quit.

  8. The Delta Çapt. could have put extra emphasis on his remarks by rolling some steel balls in his hand during his delivery

  9. Pilot and FAs just trying to do their job. Given the hordes of self-entitled DYKWIAs flying today, every airline pilot should make this same announcement on every flight. And especially on US air carriers.

  10. This is sad. He needs to realize that the passengers are paying customers (without which he would not have a job) and that talking down to them is not appropriate. And “My flight attendants?” Give me a break. I do realize that there are passengers that act badly but this is not the way to deal with it.

  11. CHRIS, I highly doubt your 8th grade class has dismissed for the day. Get to class young man and learn a little bit about life and manners.

  12. I’m personally offended he didn’t have the double breasted jacket buttoned up all the way. Must have missed that module in servant leader training!

    If you’re going to go the extra mile for customer engagement, here’s a free bit of advice. Lighten up, Francis, and stow the “look what a great leader I am” nonsense. I have a feeling YOUR flight attendants, crewmembers and customers will appreciate it. Worry about who’s on guard frequency and that pesky light chop instead.

  13. A lot of the comments here are reflective of the pilot’s error as well. Of course sometimes people are jerks. But to assume so before anything has happened is being a jerk in and of itself.

    Commenters are like, “ must be…” Um, no. Probably not. People are usually not the worst of the worst. Sometimes people are and then yes, you need to act, but to start off that way, that’s just bad form.

  14. @Minos – wrong. We change the cost index -all- the time, and may even plug in a fixed/faster Mach number if venturing out on the tracks. CI is planned/suggested – but we get the time value/fuel burn difference at the lowest and highest CI with every flight plan.

    Colorado charm school for boys is a highly underrated comment, by the way! Yikes. Wouldn’t be surprised if he wears his hat to the grocery store or while driving his car. After all, it is his ship and he’s responsible.

    Always Delta with this. SMH.

  15. Well the comments are easily predictable. Those that are fed up with the entitled attitude of other Pax, and those that shop for caviar on a Kraft Dinner budget.

  16. The Captain’s rules are law on an aircraft. The company and the Federal Government will back their decisions. I don’t care if we are paying customers, that doesn’t give you an automatic right to be disrespectful, belligerent or downright nasty. The flight attendants are there for your safety in case of an emergency. They are NOT your servant, your butler or your wait staff. The traveling public has gotten out of hand. Traveling on an aircraft is not a right, but a privilege. Govern yourselves accordingly.

  17. After thousands of flights he’s probably just fed up with the bad behavior.
    Passengers used to dress up and would never consider being unruly on a flight.
    Now we have fights, passengers opening doors in flights etc.
    For the complainers, do you want to be the latest CRASH statistic?
    Pilots need to concentrate without distractions to avaiate. Having all the interruptions does not contribute to a safe flight.

    How about some more respect and decorum and we will probably hear a lot less of these lectures and get to our destination safely.

  18. Federal regulations state clearly that the Captain is the “Person in Command” of his/her flight.
    That means the Captain can take any action necessary once those cabin doors close to ensure the safety of the crew and of the passengers on board. That includes restraining passengers if needed, cutting off their liquor consumption and any other actions, including a request for on the ground for cops to arrest you upon arrival.

    What YOU think, or what a passenger thinks is irrelevant.

    And that’s the “way it is”. You can look this law up if you’d like.

    So be nice to your Captain. And their crews.

  19. Totally agree with the majority of the comments here. He does come off a little a**holeish. That’s why I fly JetBlue, FAs are so much nicer.

    Let’s go everyone let’s fly JetBlue on the DL. LOL.

  20. My son is a flight annendant, he tells me horror stories all the time how rude passengers are. It’s about time someone says something. Not it probably won’t do any good. But I agree with the pilot does something. Passengers need to act like a human being. Appreciate what they say and do. Its their jobs and some take their jobs very seriously. In a fowl, stay home. Try saying Thanks for all they do. Treat them like you want to be treated. It goes a long ways.

  21. Servant Leader.
    Delta is enamored with the term. Former CEO Richard Anderson introduced the term to DL, wanted employees to be Servant Leaders.
    Now it is so overused at DL it has become trite.

  22. The pilot was absolutely correct in his lecture to the passengers. Unfortunately, he had to make this lecture because someone on the plane was not behaving appropriately. Flying on a major airline is not your right. It’s a privilege if they accept you.

  23. The whining, bitching, moaning, and groaning about the pilot is pathetic. None of us know what, if any, incident caused this Captain to leave the flight deck for the lecture. Since you can hear passengers still settling, and the Captain talking about making up time for passengers with connections, I assume someone got butt hurt and had a moment. Dry cries and tantrums dont work for public transportation.

  24. Kevin Fodor is spot on. The Pilot in Command is just that. He/She is the head honcho from the time the door shuts until it is opened at your destination. I would welcome a “speech” like that on every flight.

    Those whose “tender feelings” were hurt by the Pilot in Command giving his speech, can just deal with it. Traveling on an airline one has to comport with their rules and federal regulations.

    Those whose tender feelings were hurt need to go see a military recruiter. Once they are in basic training they will find out what hurt feelings really are and that nobody gives a rip what they think.

  25. To the flunky who wrote I’m the customer who pays his way, this is a ship and he is the captain. You follow the rules or you go down. Think he’s joking screw around and wait till you get on the ground.

  26. Those complaining about the Captain’s speech must not have ever been on a plane when this type of disrespect has taken place. You’ve probably never seen the tantrums at the airport or someone being duct taped in the cabin because of their behavior. You want him to be in charge in the sky and be totally focused. Grow up!

  27. Flying used to be expensive and the passenger’s behavior reflected a certain amount of the manners that went along with that life style. The current passenger seem to expect the kind elegance that they saw in the movies but that’s not what they paid for. They bought the cheapest flight they could find. Remember, fight attendants are there to save your ass, not to kiss it. All they want you to do is act like responsible adults.

  28. For years we never had to hear these type announcements. Now, it is necessary as it a reflection of the decay in decent behavior to each other and in public. If you don’t like the small seat, then upgrade or take a bus.

  29. I hate flying any Airlines in America…these people who work them think they are nazi commaders !! The friendly Skies my ass

  30. For those with positive feelings toward the captain’s unexplained and inexplicable self-indulgent rant, please indicate whether you identify as sheep or cattle.

    Truly remarkable efforts here to rationalize this obvious bad behavior by the captain. Maybe some passenger had misbehaved. Maybe the captain was coming off a flight when a passenger had misbehaved. Maybe the flight attendants asked him to do it. Maybe one of the passengers had a bad track record. Maybe the passengers just all deserved to put in their places, because they’re so spoiled by in-flight service. Maybe the captain had a dark inkling that something bad might happen, so it was prophylactic. Maybe the captain’s second cousin, twice-removed, had been traumatized as a child, by a large raven.

    Come on. The captain obviously has a screw loose. I’m just glad that that screw wasn’t is the plane’s fake door.

  31. @Chris Fen 28th: reread you last line “everybody behaved themselves”. That’s the key right there. There were not a bunch of self centered , privileged a-holes flying who thing that the world and everybody in it should bow down to them. Did you ever hear of the term “RESPECT”? Do you know what it means? Many in today’s society don’t which is why we are in the situation we are in. When people start respecting each other, respecting the rules then the Captains wouldn’t need to make announcements like that.

  32. @Teresa: most people don’t have extra cash lying around and can upgrade like you?

    @Tim Davis: if you don’t like flying in America DON’T. Take Teresa’s advise and take a bus.

  33. This is a serious situation. Selfishness and rude behavior endanger everyone in the plane. Understanding the rules upfront should leave no question of what is the minimum expected on an airplane. You can always walk!

  34. Stop selling cheap tickets and, lack of Boeing and behaviors related to cheap tickets will improve.

    And stop selling alcohol. And gate screen better and not pass along the problem to captain.

  35. His job and responsibility is to get you from point A to point B safely and if possible on time. not just you but everyone on the plane including the crew. I would believe something had occured to cause a delay which had possibly caused this situation. Good for you Captain, fly safely.

  36. Wow. What a bunch of childish comments. Like it or not an aircraft is considered the same as any other vessel. There is a legal chain of command. Aviation Law is based on Maritime Law which goes back through history for any civilization. There have been laws regarding command of vessels. No passenger or crew member travels on a vessel under way without the permission of the “Master” or “Commander” or “Captain”. That’s the law. Too spoiled and childish for this? Next time take a bus.

  37. It goes both ways. Yesterday I was at DFW where in a matter of a couple hours American Airlines changed the gate four times and the terminal once. The flight passengers were chasing this plane miles around the airport. One of the wheel chair transport assists was on the phone with gate management because he didn’t want to leave his handicapped passenger at the gate without gate services and support. There were no staff present. Soon three American Airlines staff showed up, one with a suit jacket. I took the liberty of asking him why the gate changed four times and even the terminal had changed. I explained that it is very hard for us older travelers to endure that and I asked him how to get the airline to stop the practice. He sneered at me and said, “contact customer service”. I asked him how to do that and he said “go to and look for customer service” over his shoulder as he walked away. This is why people get testy. If the airlines don’t want passengers taking these complaints to congress who will pass more laws making their life difficult they need to begin to learn how to explain things better and learn how to communicate with exhausted travelers who are putting up with seeming poor management.

  38. I think it is comical that you are critical of a person, the captain, who literally holds your life and all the other “entitled” customers in his hands! Yes we are receiving a service but I for one would like a calm, focused pilot, who is not having to deal with customer service issues, to be alert and focused on flying the plane safely! Get on, sit down, be kind and helpful to those who need it, and just try to be a decent human!

  39. Today we have to many spoiled, entitled brats thinking that they are special just because they paid for a service.
    What they are missing are parents that told them no and backed it up if they didn’t listen.
    There is Truth in the Proverbs. Spare the rod and spoil the child.
    I know that I am going to have a bunch of cry babies so called professionals cry, that is abuse. And most of them never had a child. Well I have children and have worked with the juvenile system. ( With very high success. And many thanks from them later on.)

  40. Thought: These issues are unique to this day and time and unique to the USA. What has happened? And heaven help you if you try to exercise your ‘entitlements’ in another country.

Comments are closed.