Delta Airlines Issues Apology, Policy Change After Black Doctor Was Blocked from Helping Passenger

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Behold the power of social media: Two months after a black Houston doctor’s viral Facebook post alleged discriminatory treatment aboard a Delta Air Lines flight, the company has apologized and announced policy changes.

As of Dec. 1, Delta flight attendants are no longer required to ask for a physician’s credentials during in-flight medical emergencies. In addition, the airline is requiring that all employees receive inclusion training, part of an effort to combat the unspoken bias that led a white flight attendant to reflexively assume that a young black woman wasn’t a doctor.

“I commend Delta for doing this,” Dr. Tamika Cross, the 28-year-old Houston physician who sparked the changes, said in an interview Wednesday.

Cross was on a plane traveling back to Houston in October after visiting family in Detroit, when a woman a few seats ahead of her began shouting for help. Her husband had passed out. When Cross, a fourth-year resident at UTHealth’s McGovern Medical School, stood to help, she said a flight attendant told her to sit down saying: “Oh no sweetie … We are looking for actual physicians.”

At that point, Cross said, nobody had asked to see a credential proving she was indeed a doctor. The flight attendant asked that question only later, after she’d already escorted another physician, a white man, to assist the ailing passenger. Further, in an age when medical licenses are easily verified online, most doctors don’t carry printed credentials.

Cross vented her frustrations in a Facebook post that has since been shared more than 48,000 times, prompting a flurry of national news stories and igniting a social media movement. Across the country, untold numbers of black, female doctors have posted photos of themselves with the hashtag, #WhatADoctorLooksLike.

Days after the posting, Delta executives invited Cross to meet at their corporate headquarters in Atlanta and, although she was initially hesitant, she finally made the trip earlier this month.

“I felt like I needed to follow through,” Cross said Wednesday between appointments at Lyndon B. Johnson hospital, where she’s an obstetrician and gynecologist. “I had all of these supporters behind me who’d made this a national issue, and I felt that by not going I would be letting this die and letting them down.”

She brought along Dr. Wayne Riley, a mentor and past president of the American College of Physicians. Riley, who’s taught lectures about assisting passengers during in-flight emergencies, told executives that he’d been called on to help on several Delta flights over the years and had never been asked to prove he was a doctor.

Delta announced the policy changes in a statement this week, a couple weeks after the meeting with Cross. Airline officials acknowledged that the company’s requirement to check for medical credentials was dated and not mandated by any “legal or regulatory requirement.”

“Our flight attendants were following standard procedure during this incident and the feedback Dr. Cross provided gave us a chance to make flying better,” Allison Ausband, Delta’s senior vice president for in-flight service, said in a statement. “We remain grateful to the medical professionals who are willing to assist us in an emergency at 30,000 feet.”

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Source: Houston Chronicle | Mike Hixenbaugh