Delta Air Lines Policy Changes as a Result of Perceived Discrimination Against Doctor

“Effective Dec. 1, Delta flight attendants are no longer required to verify medical credentials. They can now secure a medical professional’s help based on the volunteer’s statement that he or she is a physician, physician assistant, nurse, paramedic or EMT.”

This policy change was announced in this article which was posted at Delta News Hub as the result of perceived discrimination against a doctor during a medical emergency greater than two months ago.

Delta Air Lines Policy Changes as a Result of Perceived Discrimination Against Doctor

Tamika K. Cross is an obstetrician and gynecologist chief resident at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston who volunteered to assist when a male passenger was experiencing medical difficulties aboard an airplane which operated as Delta Air Lines flight 945 from Detroit to Minneapolis back in October.

Despite giving her credentials to members of the flight crew, her volunteering for assistance to help the man was denied because two other medical professionals responded to the call.

The problem was that the other two medical professionals were white and male. Tamika Cross is black and female. What one member of the flight crew said had her “blood boiling.”

In Her Own Words

Details of the incident were imparted by Cross in her own words at her Facebook Internet web site on Sunday, October 9, 2016:

I’m sure many of my fellow young, corporate America working women of color can all understand my frustration when I say I’m sick of being disrespected.

Was on Delta flight DL945 and someone 2 rows in front of me was screaming for help. Her husband was unresponsive. I naturally jumped into Doctor mode as no one else was getting up. Unbuckle my seatbelt and throw my tray table up and as I’m about to stand up, flight attendant says “everyone stay calm, it’s just a night terror, he is alright”. I continue to watch the scene closely.

A couple mins later he is unresponsive again and the flight attendant yells “call overhead for a physician on board”. I raised my hand to grab her attention. She said to me “oh no sweetie put ur hand down, we are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you” I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.

Then overhead they paged “any physician on board please press your button”. I stare at her as I go to press my button. She said “oh wow you’re an actual physician?” I reply yes. She said “let me see your credentials. What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit?” (Please remember this man is still in need of help and she is blocking my row from even standing up while Bombarding me with questions).

I respond “OBGYN, work in Houston, in Detroit for a wedding, but believe it or not they DO HAVE doctors in Detroit. Now excuse me so I can help the man in need”. Another “seasoned” white male approaches the row and says he is a physician as well. She says to me “thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials”. (Mind you he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the “description of a doctor”) I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling. (Man is responding the his questions and is seemingly better now Thank God)

Then this heifer has the nerve to ask for my input on what to do next about 10 mins later. I tell her we need vitals and blood sugar. She comes back to report to me a BP of 80/50 (super low, to my non medical peeps) and they can’t find a glucometer. We continue down that pathway of medical work up, but the point is she needed my help and I continued to help despite the choice words I had saved up for her. The patient and his wife weren’t the problem, they needed help and we were mid flight.

She came and apologized to me several times and offering me skymiles. I kindly refused. This is going higher than her. I don’t want skymiles in exchange for blatant discrimination. Whether this was race, age, gender discrimination, it’s not right. She will not get away with this….and I will still get my skymiles….

Response From Delta Air Lines

The policy change became effective after the conclusion of an investigation was conducted by Delta Air Lines — an airline which is committed to diversity with both its employees and its customers — into the incident in question.

“We are troubled by any accusations of discrimination and take them very seriously”, according to this article which was posted five days after the aforementioned Facebook text was posted. “The experience Dr. Cross has described is not reflective of Delta’s culture or of the values our employees live out every day. We are in the process of conducting a full investigation. We’ve reached out to Dr. Cross to speak with her directly, talked with our crew members and we’re reaching out to customers who were on board to gather as much information as we can.”

As part of the review, Delta Air Lines “found that there is no legal or regulatory requirement upon the airline to view medical professional credentials. And, as it becomes more and more common for medical licenses to be verified online, physicians and nurses often do not carry a license with them and some states no longer issue wallet versions.”


The members of the flight crew had explained that they were merely doing their job — and that may very well be true.

In general, discrimination against anyone — regardless of race, gender, age, religion, nationality, sexual orientation or other factors — should never be tolerated…

…and that goes both ways: I have never believed in diversity simply for the sake of diversity. Being selected for anything based on criteria other than his or her qualifications, talent, hard work, passion and experience as five of many factors would be potentially insulting.

I was fortunate to attend a special high school in New York in which prospective students were required to exceed the standards set for admission, from which a selection committee chose the most qualified applicants. Despite the incredible diversity which comprised the student body, everyone who attended that high school was there because each person wanted to be there and had met the appropriate stringent qualifications — and proof of that was in the work, passion, commitment and attitude demonstrated by each person. I truly enjoyed my experience in high school because of the many friendships created with incredibly talented people.

That Tamika Cross — who is as much of a volunteer and advocate as she is a doctor; and who seems to simply want the same respect which other doctors who earned it receive — was able to effect change in the medical professional credentials policy of Delta Air Lines is a positive step towards mitigating perceived discrimination in future medical emergencies aboard flights.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

10 thoughts on “Delta Air Lines Policy Changes as a Result of Perceived Discrimination Against Doctor”

  1. Mser says:

    This whiny doctor has COSS. Chip On Shoulder Syndrome.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      There is supposedly a report floating around on the Internet of a different account of the incident as told by another doctor, Mser, which accuses her of wearing “sloppy and unkempt” attire and that her behavior during the incident was less than professional; but I cannot verify it.

      I do believe that there are at least three sides to every story — one of them being the truth…

  2. Joe says:

    So, in a post about Delta doing the right thing, you needed to add an anti affirmative action statement, casting doubt on whether this woman should have been allowed into medical school. Then you had to add a comment on rumors you’ve heard that she wasn’t dressed appropriately as a doctor in her off time. This is definitely one to share on Twitter. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      Twitter away, Joe — despite the fact that you misinterpreted my thoughts.

  3. Ryan says:

    Cross didn’t help herself by calling the FA a “heifer” in her original post, IMHO. Juvenile name-calling of (presumably) overweight people is no better than dismissing someone over race, sex, or age. Of course that doesn’t mean she wasn’t in the right as to the incident but in a he-said/she-said situation it doesn’t help her credibility, absent corroboration from third parties.

    I agree about the “at least three sides”! I suppose we’ll never know the unvarnished truth. If I had to guess, based on what I’ve read (including Cross’ FB posts and comments thereto), I’d speculate that Dr. Cross didn’t present as a credible professional due to a combination of youth, attire, and behavior/demeanor – but not race or sex. The FA made a gut instinct call at the spur of the moment and, having already identified a doctor with physical credentials, went with the more certain choice. Just my armchair speculation though.

    I also think that Dr. Cross blew it way out of proportion. For one thing, even in her original post, Cross states that within 10 minutes of the initial incident, the FA(s?) were seeking her input on a few questions regarding the man’s condition. So Cross was brought in to help despite the initial rebuff…so why the fuss?

    Moreover, as a medical professional shouldn’t her only concern be that *some* medical professional was assisting the person in need, whether her or someone else? Other than a need for stroking her ego, what difference does it really make? Dr. Cross was not harmed (other than her pride) and the passenger in distress was properly assisted.

    I guess the arguments are that “what if no other doctor had been on board and Delta allowed someone to be seriously incapacitated or die because they dismissed a young, black, female doctor?” and “FAs shouldn’t discriminate based on race, sex, etc.” The latter is true but again the facts aren’t totally known or clear. The former is a straw man in the incident in question.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I completely ignored the heifer comment, Ryan, as personally I agree that stating that about a flight attendant was clearly unprofessional…

      …but I would rather that the content of what was posted on Facebook be left to the interpretation of the reader — especially when concerning matters of an issue as sensitive as that of race…

  4. Jen says:

    Obviously the previous commenters are all white-males – going after a colored female doctor who has caused a positive change in the airline industry.

    Also, @Brian, in regards to what was said by the other doctor, regardless of what she was wearing, “unkempt” or not that does not make her less of a medical professional. I’m a platinum Delta member and I frequently get upgraded to first class. If i am not flying to or straight from work, I look like a hobo but that doesn’t make me bad at my job.

    @Ryan, if you read her post all the way through, she did say that she did not refuse to let the other doctor work. She gave way to him and did not interfere until asked for her advice and opinion. Her concern was for the patient, just because she was insulted does not make her less concerned for people in need of help. She posted the patient’s condition too, just in case you need evidence of that as well.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I completely agree that what attire she was wearing has nothing to do with her experience or knowledge, Jen.

      With the preference to wear a T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, I am no “fashion plate” myself.

      Unfortunately, we do live in a society where first impressions tend to have significance; so let’s say two people of the same race, age and gender are doctors and need to tend to you should you — hopefully never — experience a medical emergency. One person is wearing professional clothing and well groomed; the other in a torn and ripped T-shirt and shorts with messed up hair. What would be the very first thought which would come to your mind?

  5. Bill says:

    Well, that is not good. The comments are missing the key message of the article. Delta, to avoid the potential of racial discrimination will stop checking for medical credentials. Now, according to Delta’s new policy, anybody can claim they are a medical expert/doctor and provide medical assistance. Last time I checked that was illegal in all 50 states. Now it is legal in the skies above those same 50 states.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That is an interesting point, Bill: does the new policy now in effect by Delta Air Lines potentially put passengers in medical distress in danger?

      I cannot imagine that that would be the case. Delta Air Lines is usually quite careful regarding its policies…

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