Delta Airlines is apologizing for a “misunderstanding” that occurred on one of its partnered flights when a black Harvard-educated doctor was repeatedly asked to explain her credentials—even after showing her medical license—to flight attendants as she was trying to assist a passenger.
The apology comes after Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford spoke out about her treatment earlier this week.
As Boston 25 News reports, Stanford was flying on a Republic Airlines flight—the company is one of Delta’s connection carriers—from Indianapolis to Boston last Tuesday when a nearby passenger began shaking and hyperventilating.
Seeing the passenger needed help, Stanford presented her medical license to one of the flight attendants without being asked. She told Boston 25 News she did this because she had attended a conference on medical bias just two weeks ago, where she interviewed another black doctor who was also asked for their credentials on a Delta flight.
But apparently, her license wasn’t enough for the flight attendants.
“She looked at it, walked down to the back of the plane. Then the second flight attendant approached me and asked, ‘Well, can I see your license again?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Stanford told the local news outlet.
As Stanford continued to try to calm down the passenger, who later told Stanford she was having a panic attack, the first flight attendant returned and questioned Stanford’s credentials again.
Stanford recalls the attendant saying, “You’re not really a doctor. You’re just a head doctor,” implying that Stanford was a therapist.
“I said, ‘Excuse me, what do you mean by that?’” Stanford told Boston 25 News. The attendant responded, “‘Oh, so you’re not really an MD, are you?’”
In fact, Stanford practices obesity medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital as a physician-scientist. She’s also works as a policymaker at the hospital and teaches at Harvard Medical School, according to the Huffington Post.
The incident recalls another instance of alleged profiling on a Delta-affiliated flight from 2016, in which Dr. Tamika Cross says she was rebuffed by flight attendants from offering help to a sick passenger. The Delta personnel instead let a white male doctor treat the passenger. On Twitter, Stanford expressed disappointment that Delta hadn’t seemed to make improvements on its policy.
A Delta spokesperson, Anthony Black, told the Huffington Post that Delta doesn’t require doctors to show their medical credentials to in-flight personnel to help sick passengers. Black also emphasized that the flight was technically a Republic Airlines flight, with their personnel and operating and training procedures.
Delta gave a similar defense to an incident this summer when a black woman was kicked off a Delta-Skywest flight over an airplane mode dispute.
The airline also got in hot water in September, when one of its employees called the cops on a black passenger who had the gall to ask to speak to a manager.
Both Delta and Republic Airlines thanked Stanford for her medical assistance on the flight.
“We’re... sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred during her exchange with our in-flight crew,” Republic spokesman Jon Austin said in a statement to the HuffPost. “Moving forward, we are working with Delta to ensure our employees understand and consistently apply all applicable policies. Dr. Stanford’s care for the passenger remained uninterrupted throughout the duration of the medical issue.”
Still, the apologies don’t erase what Stanford experienced on that flight.
“It’s quite disconcerting that, here I was trying to help a fellow passenger,” Stanford told Boston 25 News, “and my value and worth in that situation (were) questioned.”