Doctor says she was racially profiled while trying to help fellow passenger on Delta flight

Kristine Solomon

Fatima Cody Stanford was flying from Indianapolis to her hometown of Boston aboard Delta Flight 5935 when the woman sitting beside her started to shake and hyperventilate. So Stanford — a doctor and educator at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School — instinctively intervened to help the passenger in distress.

That’s when a flight attendant came by to ask if she was a doctor, she told CNN, and she confirmed that she was. When the flight attendant asked her to prove it, Stanford took a break from trying to stabilize the passenger to present her medical license. The attendant reviewed the license, then asked, “So, you’re not a head doctor?,” according to a Boston Globe report.

Physician Fatima Cody Stanford was assisting a passenger in crisis when Delta flight attendants questioned her credentials. (Photo: @fstanfordmd via Twitter)
Physician Fatima Cody Stanford was assisting a passenger in crisis when Delta flight attendants questioned her credentials. (Photo: @fstanfordmd via Twitter)

Stanford says the Delta employee then recruited a second flight attendant, who also asked to see the ID. She says both continued to question her identity and qualifications. Baffled by the line of questioning and trying to defuse the suspicion, Stanford says she attempted to befriend one of the flight attendants. “I was trying to talk to her like she was my friend,” she told the Boston Globe. “A lot of things were triggering for her, and my goal was to make her as calm as possible.”

Despite the interrogation, Stanford continued to tend to the sick passenger, who eventually told the doctor she was having a panic attack and felt claustrophobic on the plane. So she distracted her with conversation, according to the Boston Globe.

In retrospect, Stanford — who is black — said she believes the attendants’ reactions to her medical license were “100 percent” racially biased. The doctor took to social media to call out Delta on the fiasco, calling it an example of racism. “#BlackWomenDoctors do exist,” she tweeted.

The airline responded via its official Twitter account, apologizing for Stanford’s “frustration,” and tweeting, “Delta does not condone discrimination for any reason and we take your comments very seriously.”

Susanna Curtis, the executive assistant to Delta’s chief executive, even followed up with an email to Stanford that read, in part, “Please accept our apology for the events you described. We are grateful to our customers who extend kindness and care to one another and who offer to assist customers in need. The experiences you’ve described are not reflective of Delta’s culture or of the values our employees live out every day.”

Stanford felt the apology was “underwhelming,” and her account of what happened on the flight has sparked outrage on social media. Delta has contacted the doctor and confirmed that an investigation is underway, according to the Boston Globe.

Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to Delta Air Lines, which shared the following statement via email:

“We thank Dr. Stanford for her medical assistance and are sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred during her exchange with the in-flight crew. According to the flight crew’s account, they initially misread the credentials offered by the doctor and went to reconfirm her specific medical discipline. We are following up with the crew to insure proper policy is followed. Dr. Stanford’s care for the passenger remained uninterrupted throughout the duration of the medical issue.”

The Delta spokesperson also confirmed that Flight 5935 was operated by Republic, a Delta Connection carrier, and that “Delta and its connections partners do not require medical credential verification and will secure a professional’s help based on the volunteer’s statement that he or she is a physician, physician assistant, nurse, paramedic or EMT.”

The no-credentials policy was implemented by Delta in 2016, after another African-American physician, Tamika Cross, volunteered to help a screaming passenger in crisis on a Delta flight from Detroit to Houston but was passed over because the flight attendant did not believe she was a doctor. Cross posted about the incident on Facebook afterward, and the story went viral.

Yahoo Lifestyle has reached out to Stanford for comment and will update this story when she responds.

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