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 »

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  1. I feel for the FOs that have to spend three days locked in the cockpit with this bloviating boomer.

  2. I’m sure the video didn’t capture the bad behavior on the part of the passenger or passengers that provoked this captain in the first place.

  3. This guy should not be allowed to fly. He clearly think the cheap hat and polyester shirt and clip-on tie makes him a military aviator or some sort of extraterritorial law enforcement officer. The guy needs a serious attitude adjustment. I also think the braided leather belt is not compliant with Delta uniform policy.

  4. I disagree with the last correspondent.
    Some passengers are rude, flights get delayed and the pilots, responsible for the flight , have more important things to do than deal with bad behavior. If passengers do not have the ability to be civil, off the flight. Affects flight safety and the entire cabin. The pilots say what they say because obnoxious entitled passengers have forced them to.

  5. The way he says “commands”. Dude is on a power trip and needs to evaluated. I agree with the flight staff 99% of the time. Not this time. If a passenger is an actual problem remove them. But there was probably a plane full of people who had been jerked around with rolling delays and poor gate information and he didn’t want hear they weren’t “premium”.

  6. What a tool. Why stay at my “Regional” making just a 1/4 mil? One big reason is I don’t want to commute to fly with tools like this. A personality like that makes things LESS safe in the cockpit. Would you speak up if you weren’t quite sure about something if you were his FO?

  7. Good for him. I wish my airline had pilots with the balls to stand up.for us. Thank You.

  8. Having been a gate (ticket lift) agent and supervisor on the ticket counter and gates — from the Vietnam era and now as a gold – platinum flyer things are quite different. I side with the four stripers. If yo momma didn’t teach you manners and consequences, I WILL

  9. He sounds more like a Greyhound bus driver at the beginning of the midnight Bus from Newark to Philadelphia. I guess it’s finally come to this.

  10. He reminds me of the substitute teacher who comes into the classroom and lays down the law before any student gets the idea to start acting up. I always disliked those types of teachers, but they were pretty effective at crowd control.

  11. Good on him. His responsibility for everyone aboard.
    Any screw up on his part, paperwork, interviews, and maybe
    even dealing with the F.A.A.
    I would for sure fly with him.

  12. This pilot sounds like a psychopath. Based on his statement he seems to be a danger to flight safety and his license should be taken away. Calling himself a “servant leader” on the face of it means he has no business flying a commercial airplane. He seems to be operating under the color of law by saying the instructions and commands of flight attendants are to be followed. Only legitimate and lawful commands regarding flight safety are to be followed. People have a right not to follow illegitimate or unlawful commands or instructions. Using his authority over flight safety to allude to things that are not matters of flight safety as matters of flight safety is an abuse of authority which is a crime under certain circumstances.

    A passenger would be doing good to report him to the FAA. Calling himself a “servant leader” is delusional.

  13. I think the condescending tone is the problem here. Opening the diatribe by introducing yourself as a “servant leader” while not having any intention to act as “servant” is making intentional fun of the definition. That sarcastic introduction sets the tone for the remaining lecture. This pilot needs to be counseled.

  14. I had a flight with this captain the other day from LAX-DTW. Was not in response to anything, just a total power trip. Strangest thing I’ve seen a captain do.

  15. The captain did a great job by laying out what is expected. He doesn’t make $400k/year. The belt is in compliance, yes…one can confer “servant leadership” upon oneself. “Arnett” should fly on Spirit. No, the FAA has no jurisdiction over what the pilot says. What would one report him for that would be covered under the FARs? NOTHING. I’m sure the flight attendants appreciated the announcement. Those pilots who tell the flight attendants, during the first flight or crew change briefing…”We have your back. If you are unhappy, then we are unhappy. If you feel it necessary that the passenger should be removed then we will do so after consulting with the team and figure out the best course of action.” BRAVO CAPTAIN. The rest of you can fly on “Crashlandia” or “Transdebris” and put up with the crap.

  16. Hello CHRIS (above author) – (Far leap to $400,000 annually)

    Captain pay –
    Once a Delta first officer upgrades to captain, their pay will increase substantially. Like first officers, Delta captain pay depends on the type flown.

    Type Pay (first-year captain pay)
    Airbus 319 $182,000
    Boeing 777 $236,000
    Embraer 190 $122,000

    By the way, I think the Captain was out- of- line making such a stupid announcement to the passengers like he did.

  17. I fully support this Captain!
    It’s his ship and he is solely responsible for all passengers and crew onboard so he has the federal right to tell you that if you decide to cause a disturbance and interfere in his responsibility of getting his passengers to the destination that they paid for, then you off his ship! You cannot argue that his instruction are clear.

  18. I’m not a pilot but I’ve worked as a gate agent and supervisor and the real crappy part after a difficult exchange is that you still have to help passengers (and find them alternatives). They still have to be serviced; we can’t just send them out the door.

  19. @ Win Whitmire

    He could be reported for mental instability based on his delusional comments. Calling oneself a “servant leader” when one is a commercial airline pilot is delusional. Thats not up for debate. It’s delusional. Someone who says something like that as an announcement to passengers should not be flying planes as a matter of public and air safety. It points to a mental issue which is disqualifying for a commercial air transport pilot.

    Automatically having the backs of flight attendants no matter what they do is what bad cops do. The pilot works for a public corporation accountable to shareholders, not to flight attendants. That entails serving passengers who are paying customers and not automatically taking sides without being presented evidence by both parties.

  20. From the get go, when you hear pilot say they will make up time inflight, you know they are lying. Pilots are flying a cost-index value set by the airlines and they never ever speed up and burn more fuel just to catch up some delays.

    Your passengers would have more respects if FC and FA were not flat out lying to their faces.

  21. Like I’ve said, pilots get outsized deference, and they shouldn’t because they’re just your average Joe. This particular one is your average silly middle aged man who thinks he’s special.

  22. Honestly, all you victims. An aircraft is not a democracy. The captain has authority for a reason. Real life experience matters. Of course, a good captain incorporates all team members. I don’t think this guy is out of line, I think all you “play the victim” types are doing just that. Experienced captains keep you safe. Technology is not so far along yet that an experienced captain can be discarded. Jesus Cristo.

  23. What’s wrong with saying he’s a servant leader? It’s a leadership style/philosophy so yeah it’s definitely something you confer on yourself. You choose to lead in a way that embodies servant leadership. Of all of the contemporary leadership philosophies it is the absolute most reasonable one to follow as a pilot.

  24. Coming down a little harsh on the pilot are we? My word. Our society of “law abiding citizens” sure don’t like to be told how to behave, or anything else for that matter. He runs the show people. He is also flying your behinds to where you are going. Practice a little humility folks.

  25. I get it, supporting your crew and fellow employees during any incident or situation. A leader.

    I am not so certain, starting off a flight with such assertive and condescending behavior – anticipating an incident, is leadership nor the least bit helpful.

    The stage has now been set for the next several hours…..

    The poor FAs, the true customer service professionals here, have to now work in a full cabin with the customers, after such a diatribe…. each of the FAs working twice as hard, in an attempt to repair and diffuse the customer service damage done by this “servant leader”.


    It could and should be more encouraging and supportive words, as a team leader, with far less reprimand, ultimatum and demand.

    In this case, less would be more.

    One gets respect when one shows respect- not certain that goal was met here by our “servant leader”….towards either the customer or “my” flight attendants.

  26. Some real stupid comments unfortunately. I would love to see you guys jump in the flight deck & just attempt to do a single task.

    The captain said nothing wrong here & I’m sure the context would be warranted. People need to stop being so sensitive about everything

  27. @Michael Waller

    It’s not a democracy regarding flight safety. However, on non flight safety matters passengers are entitled to complain about poor service. Passengers deserve respect. They should not be talked to by a pilot in that manner. They should not be made to feel that flight attendants are their slave masters. Flight attendants routinely lie and are abusive. Illegitimate commands and instructions not regarding flight safety are not to be followed by passengers. That’s cult territory the way it sounded. Pilots are supposed to follow the rules set for them by their employer when it doesn’t come to flight safety. Pilots are not Kings.

    Passengers also shouldn’t have a pilot who claims himself a “servant leader”. He’s a pilot. He might be a “servant leader” on his days off but when he is representing a public corporation and is a paid pilot of a commercial airline, he is a pilot. Based on his statement, this type of characterization he made of himself seems unsafe.

  28. You are an air taxi driver but in reality the computer is doing all the work. Stop your attitude, quit whining, and realize the people with their butts in these seats are paying your exaggerated salary. Rant over.

  29. I find it interesting the numbers of people who have no clue as to a pilot’s salary, the amount of training that goes into being a pilot AND a flight attendant. The ranting and raving, etc. about “what the FAA should do or not do, what the airline should/should not do, etc.” is comical at best. Unless one is an expert at FARs, airline policies, etc. then fly another airline, fly “Greyhound” or some other means of transportation. We don’t know but possibly the flight attendants had a bad passenger from a previous flight (they DO remember!) and alerted the captain that the passenger was aboard. He let it be known that he wasn’t gonna put up with any shenanigans. I’ll bet you that no one got out of line and he will not get any reprimand.

  30. Maybe the Greyhound comment is BECAUSE the rudeness and self importance of some passengers. Such as early boarders who don’t want or need that wheelchair when they arrive and in the process may be diverting resources (those wheelchair jockeys) from someone who might really need it! You are locked inside a metal tube for at a minimum one hour. If not 3-4 by the time you enplane and deplane. Bravo for the armrest comment too. If you have been on a flight with a problem passenger or group of passengers you can appreciate this Captain. Yes gate agent (remember I’ve been there) you have to deal with the irate who is standing in front if you. That is your job. We did not have the dedicated customer service rebooking desks and perhaps a member of management helping out when I was in your shoes. If They got the boot it was for a reason. Flight already late. Maybe the crew close to a time out making things even worse because of a possible cancellation. He bears the ultimate responsibility. Maybe he saw some potentially disruptive behavior earlier. No way to tell. I’d rather an announcement like that than have some idiot act out.

  31. talkin outta turn… thats a paddlin
    lookin out the window.. thats a paddlin
    staring at at my sandals… thats a paddlin
    paddlin the school canoe… oh you bet thats a paddlin

  32. On the one hand:

    It’s “his” plane, and he can set the rules.

    On the other hand:

    It’s Delta’s airline, and the verbal equivalent of “Get in. Sit down. Belt in. Shut up.” Is neither welcoming or customer service focused.

    Authoritarians may enjoy the regimented attitude… most folks would just like to relax.

    As for me, just my opinion, but I would find Mr. Self-important off-putting.

  33. So the Captain needs to be “evaluated” ? Some of you need to head to the bus terminal that’s your crowd.

  34. Imagine a bus driver gets up and makes an announcement to passengers that he is a servant leader. Do the same for a ferry captain. That would make me question his mental health and make me concerned for my safety.

    It’s one thing to say you are a servant leader if you are a ceo, a managing director, run a charity, or a Boy Scout troop leader. It’s another thing for someone to announce that to passengers when one is serving as a pilot who has typical pilot duties.

    If this does not warrant evaluation, I don’t know what to say.

  35. This captain needs to be reminded who the paying customer is. Certainly he’s responsible for safety, bit he’s still dealing with customers.

    His rant was utterly inappropriate.

  36. For the few silly enough to support this guy here in the responses…yes, I get his message to be respectful isn’t a bad one. But his delivery is terrible. Had he framed it with a little humor or just not like such a self important dictator it might be excused…he didn’t and this video indicates perhaps he should be evaluated by the Chief Pilot…potentially a tyrant in the cockpit with very poor CRM skills.
    The business has a few like that and they are weak pilots that in the past have actually caused accidents.

  37. @joanie adams…yes pilots are continually “evaluated” throughout their career. Sim rides, recurrent training medicals, etc…. and how well they do their job is always in the spotlight. It’s a cornerstone to how safe commercial aviation actually is, It’s also something that justifies why a pilot should be well paid. But with that salary comes a responsibility to the profession. He’s displaying a personality that causes accidents…My way or the highway Captains are potentially dangerous or at the very least weak pilots

  38. JohnW, When it comes to the safety and compliance, the Captain has every right to remind everyone that she/he will not tolerate noncompliance and interference. In this instance he is reminding what has already been stated in the safety announcement. We only know that the flight was late. We don’t know what the conduct was of the passengers on that flight but, he felt it was necessary to remind everyone of the federal regulations. His personality does not display that he would be a problem when it comes to crew resources management.

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