On 9 October 2016, a doctor from Houston posted on social media that she tried to help a passenger during an in-flight emergency, but she was rebuffed by flight attendants who didn’t believe she was a physician because of her ethnicity. 

Tamika Cross, an OB-GYN resident from Texas (and a black woman), recounted her experience on her Facebook page as follows:

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.

Cross said the attendant then bombarded her with questions about her qualifications while the man was still in need of medical assistance. The flight attendant (who had previously asked Cross for credentials to prove that she was actually a doctor) then allowed a white man to intervene, although he had no credentials proving that he was a physician.

Delta sent us the following statement in response to our inquiry about the incident:

We are troubled by any accusations of discrimination and take them very seriously. 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. 

While there is much we can’t share because our investigation involves confidential personnel matters, we do want to share what we can.

Three medical professionals identified themselves on the flight in question. Only one was able to produce documentation of medical training and that is the doctor who was asked to assist the customer onboard. In addition, paramedics met the flight to assist the customer further.

Flight attendants are trained to collect information from medical volunteers offering to assist with an onboard medical emergency. When an individual’s medical identification isn’t available, they’re instructed to ask questions such as where medical training was received or whether an individual has a business card or other documentation and ultimately to use their best judgment.

We have not yet heard back from Dr. Cross, but a directory page at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston confirms that she is indeed a resident OB-GYN at that facility.