Political Bias at 30,000 Feet? Delta’s Unequal Treatment of a Republican Passenger Caught On Camera

Does Delta Air Lines discriminate against Republicans? That’s what one SkyMiles Diamond member is wondering after a recent flight from Detroit to Chicago O’Hare, where he was forced to gate check bags while other passengers carrying just as much on board weren’t hassled at all. He was wearing a Republican Party pin on his lapel.

The gate agent for his flight told him he was “being denied boarding” unless he consolidated his bags. He had:

  • A briefcase (personal item)
  • Standard-size carry-on
  • Plus a plastic bag that included the meal he’d picked up in the airport, and a garment bag with a piece of clothing he’d purchased from a shop in the airport. The clothing bag was strapped onto his carry on.

Technically, the carry on and personal item are all that you can have. I’ve never been hassled over airport purchase extras myself, although I’ve seen gate agents tell passengers they had to put newspapers in their carry on in order to be permitted to board.

He stood his ground, and the gate agent called over a Red Coat (supervisor). He tried to stuff his food into his briefcase, and the garment bag in as well but it wasn’t working.

He didn’t want to leave the food behind, and he couldn’t check his briefcase. So the Red Coat finally said he could gate check his carry on bag, and bring on his briefcase, clothes purchase, and food – ‘three items’. That worked for the passenger.

However there were plenty of passengers and nonrevs carrying on just as much as he was. But he was the only one wearing a Republican elephant pin on his sport jacket. He writes to me,

I counted passengers having three or four bags plus a coat that they were not wearing. …The gate agent and red jacket refused to acknowledge the blatant hypocrisy and double-standard, even after I showed pictures and visibly identified passengers who were more egregiously in violation of the purported rules than me. I counted at least 12 passengers who had more carry-on items than me. Again, some had three, four and even five bags.

Delta, like other airlines at major airports, earns a slice of revenue from retail sales. Airlines don’t usually stop passengers with airport purchases clipped onto their carry on bags, and don’t usually object to a bag of food on top of allowable carry ons. But the agent wasn’t exactly wrong that the quantity of items technically exceeded the passenger’s allowance. Here the issue was singling out just one passenger for this, and what the passenger viewed as an aggressive and unhelpful tone.

And what was different about this passenger than all of the others? His Republican pin. In our hyper-politicized environment, it certainly felt like Atlanta 1988.

Once he was finally on board with his briefcase, food, and clothes purchase, he placed his bags in an overhead bin above his seat in first class. A nonrev flight attendant behind him began moving his items. He asked her not to move them back behind him. He relays that she said, “I am flying with the company and can do whatever I want.”

After another Delta employee chose him for selective enforcement of carry on rules, you can imagine that went over well.

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. Isn’t the job of the flight attendant, by defintion, to selectively apply rules?

    Not that I’m contending there was bias here, but just like when you get pulled over by a cop while speeding 3 miles above because your car is flashy, as long as you are technically breaking the rules you don’t really have any recourse.

    Personally I would love it if figures of authority in these kinds of situations were held more accountable, but I don’t thinik that’s the country we live in…

  2. And I’m sure that guy would be the first to call out someone using the race card as an excuse for why something they didn’t like happened to them when it wasn’t that at all…. this is his version. The reality could well be the carry on areas where full when he boarded and he was simply the passenger with the most unstored carryons so he was chosen. Obviously he had a lot because he couldn’t consolidate what he had. The employee likely didn’t even notice his pin in the rush to get loaded and off the gate. The fact that he has politicized this would indicate he could be a bit of a jerk and made the situation worse by his behavior.

  3. Give me a break. When will the Republican Party stop playing the victim card. Grow up and take responsibility for following the rules, even if they aren’t evenly enforced.

  4. So some Eagle-eyed gate agent just happened to spot his pin and punish him? That seems pretty unlikely.

  5. I’m sure his Republican pin causes all sorts of issues such as longer hold times in phone queues, ATM’s refusing to work and and people occasionally speaking Spanish around him. We must stand up for these victims!

  6. I do not think this is political at all. I would guess the agent didnt see the pin, didnt know what it was etc. I know we live in a different world these days, and little things can trigger. Sometimes you hit a gate agent who is a total jerk. That definitely happened to me a few times, but once I really remember. I did not have as many pieces but selectively there was some issue with what my wife had. Back to the same thing as this situation where others had the same or more but one of the gate agents decided to give us a hard time. This was a big flight and there were several gate agents. This was an overseas flight and we were in First class. (Not that It matters) But i mention that since there is plenty of bin space in that config anyway. Often I think abotu any shopping bag we may have on a return flight. Nobody has ever given me an issue with that.

  7. also the fact that he “says” he counted passengers with 3 and 4 carry on’s plus a jacket sounds like he may be using the Trump version of reality…I.E blatantly lie to make your case if you feel so inclined…the Republican Party is in fact now the party that has taken brazen lying to a new level….

  8. Who among us hasn’t had unprotected sex with a porn star & playmate while wife #3 (the one you had sex with while still married to wife #2, the woman you slept with while still married to wife #1) was home nursing child number five?

  9. If only he were wearing a ” From the river to the sea…” lapel pin, he would have been allowed to drag as much shit aboard as he wanted. I’m going all in with Oneworld and Star Alliance next year.
    In fact, I’ve already started and it feels pretty good. AA and UA aren’t perfect but they’re really not too far behind the “new” Delta (post covid).

  10. Gary, I can not belive you let this be published on your site.
    It’s disheartening to see inflammatory and divisive statements like the one above by
    AI C. Engaging in political discourse is crucial for a healthy democracy, but resorting to extreme generalizations and name-calling only serves to deepen divides and hinder constructive conversation.

  11. I like this a blog a lot. I simply overlook the usually subtle political spin which is not uncommon. Knives were already sharpened for this chance encounter.

  12. Huge
    Pieces of information left out.

    Why was this person taking pictures of other passengers prior to this event to prove that they got on with more bags than he had?

    How do we know that they didn’t get in first, which then lead to there being a shortage of storage for later passengers?

    How do we even know that the other passengers pictured above even got on the plane without gate checking?

    Most of them appear to have a carry on and a backpack OR purse with a coat (2 items).

    Only one of them had 3 for sure.

    So in other words
    He took pics of people with 2 items and a coat which is LESS than what he had. .

  13. This is where Delta and other airlines get it wrong. Instead of charging for checked bags, they should charge for carry-on bags. By not charging for carry-on, lots of passengers avoid checking and bring way too much on the plane.

  14. All you loser libs get over it. You time is past. POTUS is a stumbling senile embarrassment. We need a President again that doesn’t cater to the fringe elements of society, enforces our laws/borders and focuses on growing the economy for the benefit of the majority of real Americans.

    BTW look at what happened in Argentina and the Netherlands. Even Charleston SC elected the first Republican mayor since the 1800s. The world in general (and most Americans) are sick of crime, immigration and social justice warriors

  15. There could be many reasons. Some Vietnamese do not like Vietnamese and discriminate so white on white racism is possible.

    With gate agents, I try to be polite because they have power.

    The man might have worn his garment like some African fighters do, then stuff the garment bag in his carry on. Reasonable amounts of food that will be consumed on the flight is exempt from the carry on allowance as is an umbrella, breast pump, CPAP, etc.

  16. @FNT Delta Diamond – I have been advocating for this for years! Everyone should get free checked bags! With elite status or credit cards, we should get free carry-ons. Otherwise, you pay for the carry-on. The problem with this is like United found out: people can make it all the way to boarding before someone stops them and tells them they have to pay. At least with this process, the checked-bag is free. But I’ve always been confused why the more time-consuming and frustrating option is the more expensive one. Yes, there’s some convenience to bringing whatever you like, but there’s even more convenience in having overhead space and not having to wait to check your bag, and then wait again to retrieve your bag.

  17. @Ken M – comments post automatically, and I can’t be checking them real-time when electronics have to be turned off for landing, I will look at the comment you are referring to

  18. Ah, yes, the all important Delta gate agent.

    I had one small backpack,regulation rollerblading and had taken my very small travel purse out of my backpack to put up my phone after displaying my boarding pass in the app.

    She got in my face and said I had better put that up.because only TWO items allowed.

    I just looked at her and said, if you get out of my face,I can put it up like I was going to do. She swelled up about twice her size but decided not to make a further issue of it.

    Geez, all total the purse and the backpack were smaller than what most people were bringing on. I only had the purse out of my backpack to use the phone app then was going to put it right back in.

    Traveled around the world on many different airlines and this is the only one I’ve ever had get pissy about it.

  19. I have sometimes been hassled for having a wheeled carryon bag + backpack + shopping bag, but it’s been uncommon for the shopping bag to be the tipping point in my encounters. And I’m certain it had nothing to do with my being disliked by Democrats or Republicans.

  20. Years ago when flying AA out of MIA, a group of women in their twenties or thirties had way too much cabin baggage in the way of shopping bags at the gate. The gate agent made a fuss and then they started asking if some people in line with less cabin baggage would carry on board with them some of their Florida shopping on the way back home to their NY or NJ ultra-orthodox community. The gate agents weren’t being antisemitic or aggressive. They were seeing an insane amount of cabin baggage from the female travel party and knew it was way beyond the pale of what is allowable or even easily ignored.

    I did help, but I would hope they haven’t repeated it in the years since.

  21. Sounds like Gary is suffering from DDS = Democrat Derangement Syndrome.

    Get used to it – Americans are sick and tired of #GOPNazi indoctrination !!

    #StopTheBookBurningGOPNazis – #VoteDemocrat 2024

  22. @Boca
    So uh……the people chanting Kill The J**s in Washington Square Park and in front of the Manhattan Bridge are really GOP nazis? Care to explain?

  23. Who are we kidding? My experience says that the gate agent just doesn’t like white people, nothing to do with a GOP pin. This is the only power she has in her life and she’s going to exercise it. I’ve seen it happen so many times with gate agents, worst is at LAX. I observed a gate agent once deny pre-boarding to a white mom and her baby while she let others go by who had WAAAAAAY more carry-on stuff. And if you say anything, you get the “he harrassin’ me!” bit.

  24. I doubt there was bias involved. Airlines are much like drill sergeants in basic training. They hate each and every customer equally.

  25. There probably was some bias going on, but once it started there was no way they were going to back down. People with moderate authority who are on a power trip are not going to admit they’re wrong.

  26. Republican discovers what it’s like to be on the receiving end of unequal treatment. If not being able to carry on 4 items causes him this much grief, he’d have had a really rough life getting pulled over for being in the wrong neighborhood, having his bags searched whenever flying out of Atlanta, being pulled over for being in his own neighborhood, being passed over for jobs, potentially being complimented as “articulate”…

    What a snowflake.

  27. One man’s version based on speculation and conversations taken out of context. Victims alway embellish.

  28. Yes, airport purchases are usually acceptable beyond your normal allowance. Note, however, that he had **two** airport purchases–much more likely to be challenged.

    As with all allegations of discrimination look to see if there’s another reasonable explanation–because most of the time it’s not actually discrimination. In the absence of direct evidence of it discrimination should be a diagnosis of **exclusion**. Disparate outcomes do **not** prove discrimination! It’s usually the left making this mistake–but that’s only because the left cares more about discrimination.

  29. I’m glad he got flagged. The article should have been about all of the others who didn’t get flagged. Since Delta is paying their flight attendants before the door closes, they can do the job that they are paid for. There would be enough room for carry-on items most of the time if the rules were strictly enforced and the luggage was stowed correctly.

  30. Really? Maybe it wasn’t the pin, it just as likely could have been the elephant print whitey tighties that set the agent off.

  31. There it is — yet another whataboutist GOPer who believes that the rules just don’t apply to him. Even the inconsequential ones, like a one that says “put your sandwich in your bag.” I wonder which pathetic whiner play-the-victim multi-thousandaire GOP former President taught him this trick?

    Why didn’t he just say that his carry-on was “perfect,” and that the plastic bag and the garment bag were already inside it, as many, many people had said to him. That’s what DJT would do.

  32. Last time I flew delta I was told I had to consolidate my bags when I tried to board so I put my small purse in my small backpack and we were good (I also had a carryon suitcase). I doubt it had anything to do with his pin. It probably had more to do with his reaction to being asked to follow the rules and arguing with the gate agent.

  33. A garment bag looks like luggage, not like an airport purchase. So he looked like he had two carry-on items, plus his briefcase, plus the food.

    And we don’t know what he did or said when he was questioned. But for people who have only one form of power, the choice whether to enforce a rule or not, challenging that power will make them more likely to use it against the challenger.

  34. It might have something to do with the color of everyone’s skin, not politics. Racism doesn’t feel very good, eh buddy?
    Something POC have to deal with everyday.
    We also don’t know what his attitude was like.
    This story is his version and I don’t trust republicans, they lie too much…..

  35. Ugh. Typical Republican snowflake nonsense. They melt down faster than Chernobyl, Gary included

  36. This comment section is pure gold.

    It sounds like the guy was just looking for a reason to get outraged.

    I’m glad I don’t have to have Thanksgiving with him. That’s all I can say.

    And why is this worthy of an article?

    “Entitled Rich Guy Acts Entitled”

  37. Is there a Republican who doesn’t have a persecution fetish? He tried to bring on 4 bags, but sure…it must be the tiny pin that caused the trouble.

  38. This doesn’t pass the smell test:
    1. Who takes pictures of other passengers of other passengers prior to boarding proving they have too much stuff? The pictures weren’t taken after talking to the gate agent. They were clearly taken before
    2. Where are the people with “4 bags”? I see 2 people with 3 bags in the pictures above. One is a CPAP, which is classified as a medical device and excluded from the 2 bag limit
    3. Seems unlikely a non-rev would speak that way to a first class passenger. They could be fired for doing so. Given his willingness to take pictures, why didn’t he take one of the rude non-rev and report them?
    4. Where is the link to the original post?

  39. To JRMW: The comments on which you based your conclusion about the Republican being prone to lying or exaggeration were not made by that passenger. The author of the post made those observations. Read the post again.

  40. View from the “right” wing. Repub snowflake perpetual victim. Playing the MAGA card.. t love the random pictures around the terminal – NOT of people actually trying to board.
    Start your own airline where you don’t have to be triggered by things like rules.

  41. Most people, even the politically inclined, aren’t savvy enough to notice a pin. If he was wearing a MAGA hat, sure. I suspect he just dealt with regular, standard issue, mediocre customer service.

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