Justin Cho and his family were preparing to board Delta flight DL937 from Los Angeles to Cancun on Friday. They tried to board the flight during priority boarding and were told to wait.
The father had his boarding pass scanned first. Since the rest of the family were several people back he waited for them before entering the jetway. And he got into an altercation with a Delta gate agent as a result.
[Gate agent] Isabel told my dad “you have to walk in, go inside” and my dad responded ” I am waiting for my family”. Isabel then told my dad very sternly, as if he were a child “you can’t wait here, go inside”. My dad again told her ” I am going to wait for my family” by this point both my dad and Isabel were irritated with each other, then to my surprise Isabel snatched my dads passport and ticket out of his hand and shouted “that’s it, you’re not getting on go back in line”. Imagine looking at your father and seeing him being treated like a child in front of a huge group of people. He literally did nothing wrong and just wanted to board the plane together with his family for our vacation.
As adult son Justin Cho explains it the whole family then got into an altercation with the agents. He says he “started getting frustrated” and asked the agent “who do you think you are?” His mother didn’t like the look on the agent’s face in response, and ordered “don’t you look like that at my son.”
The Delta agents at the gate then decided the family wouldn’t be flying. Airport police were called. Snippets of the family’s interaction were shared by video:
The family notes that Delta had been soliciting volunteers during the check-in process in case the flight wound up oversold. So kicking them off could have saved the airline money (although there’s no indication that the flight was actually oversold at the gate). And they’re Asian indeed the only Asians in the boarding line at the time of the altercation (although not the only Asians on the flight). So as Mr. Cho says “I feel discriminated against.”
I generally believe that airline customer service agents can do a much better job at customer service, understanding a customer’s needs and providing empathy. I don’t blame individual agents most of the time. Airlines don’t give them the resources they need to do that job. And the culture of security that’s developed since 9/11 means that airlines are quick to call the police to handle customer service issues.
Airline personnel have an issue with passengers videotaping but it’s often the only way to document legitimate customer service problems. Here a Delta agent goes over to the police to try to get the family to stop videotaping their interactions. There Delta does cross a line in my view.
While Delta can be petty and self-serving to the point of dishonest I’m not prepared to judge this incident primarily about race. While there may have been a cultural misunderstanding, it seems notable that other Asians successfully took the flight. Am I mistaken or out of line?