Delta fired a customer this week

A week ago Delta Air Lines had the unfortunate pleasure of being the host to a rather ugly scene. A passenger was loud, rude and crude, more or less trying to pick a fight on board. And he was allowed to fly anyways. After a video of his behavior surfaced (believed to be orchestrated by him to “go viral”) the carrier was on the hot seat, forced to react and respond. Ultimately the answer was to ban the customer for life. CEO Ed Bastian issued a statement which, in part, notes “now more than ever we must require civility on our planes and in our facilities.” And that’s great, I suppose. Personally I think the civility should extend further than that, but I get that Bastian doesn’t have as much control in those areas.

But I also believe it is PR move, not a true change in tone for the company. I believe it is a response to massive pressure given that the video did, in fact, go viral. And I’m not at all convinced that anything will really get better. Bastian acknowledged that the staff was operating with insufficient information and so chose to keep him on the flight.

This individual displayed behavior that was loud, rude and disrespectful to his fellow customers. After questioning the customer, our team members made the best decision they could given the information they had and allowed him to remain on the flight. However, if our colleagues had witnessed firsthand what was shown in the video, there is no question they would have removed him from the aircraft.

And that’s the part that really irks me. Clearly there were enough complaints that the crew chose to talk to him pre-flight. Apparently those conversations were such that the complaints were not seen as legitimate. The movie was shot by a cohort so not too surprising it wasn’t shown to the crew, but I struggle to understand what the guy must’ve said – or the other passengers didn’t say – that he was considered reasonable to fly by the staff. And how does Delta justify this level of action when compared to prior incidents where passengers were removed for simply being, not actively harassing others?

Maybe this is truly a moment where Delta is turning over a new leaf. Maybe we’ll finally see the company own up to the challenges it faces with crew training and de facto policies that engender baseless fear and bias. But the lack of similar statements when the offending party was not a white man have me thinking otherwise. Which is a shame. Because civility is absolutely missing from many facets of society right now and airlines (travel in general, really) have historically helped break down barriers, not propagate them.

This was a cheap win for Delta. Truly changing its behavior would be a great step forward. Banning one schmuck from future flights is just noise.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Agree that the deference shown to the white guy at the time is outrageous compared to the quick yank minority folks got for simply minding their own business. I’m not sure what kind of crew training fixes that – problem is way deeper than a specific airline (or most any company)

  2. What happens if you get bumped from a flight? Does the airline refund your ticket or arrange for transportation on another carrier? If not, do you simply lose your money completely and have to pay a much higher last minute fare on another carrier? Is there any legal basis for this policy?

    1. Getting “bumped” from a flight is not what happened here so the rules are slightly different. Generally if you pick a fight with the airline and are removed from a flight they refund your airfare (legal obligation since they didn’t transport you) and you are left to fend for yourself. That can mean buying a full-fare ticket on another airline to get where you’re going.

      There are some interesting challenges with such bans and codeshare flights. I have an acquaintance banned from another airline but who bought a seat on one of its flights through a codeshare partner. He was ultimately denied boarding at the gate in line with the policy of the operating carrier but managed to recoup the cost of the walk-up replacement ticket through legal action. All very strange.

      As for a legal basis to block a person from flying, I’m not 100% certain but I know that there is a precedent for it happening and the airlines continue to do so. I’d bet that were they worried about the legal angle that would no longer be the case.

    2. If you get removed for inappropriate behaviour (also know as refusal to obey commands from the crew), you get nothing. And the legal basis is the airline’s Conditions of Carriage that you agree to at purchase, which universally say if you have to be removed from the plane, you get nothing. Typically, they also say you can be stuck with the cost of delay (if the airline wants to pursue it).

  3. I tweeted the following about this to someone (though this is quite a bit longer):
    I’m sort of playing Devil’s Advocate here. Does this not infringe the customer’s freedom of speech? Sure, you shouldn’t say “bomb” on the plane, but last I checked that could just get you questions for a long time (assuming you were just kidding) – but you won’t be charged with crime.

    Again, I’m not defending the man or Trump. It seems to me like a lot of the Left are afraid the Trump will take away the basic rights that one gets with living here. Yet Delta basically did just that to this customer. “We don’t like what you said so we don’t want your business anymore”

    I suppose Delta is pulling the “no shirt, no shoes, no service” card… “we refuse the right to serve anyone for any reason”. But people have said things, on and off an airplane, that is more damaging to the airline’s reputation without punishment.

    1. Freedom of speech is granted by the government, not businesses. A private entity absolutely can dictate policies that limit what you can and cannot do while on their property.

      If the US government said the guy cannot fly on Delta that would be a problem. But Delta is free to make that choice on its own.

    2. Seth is absolutely correct. People need to stop throwing around the phrase “freedom of speech” when they don’t understand what it means. Delta is not a government entity, and therefore freedom of speech does not apply on its planes. Delta may very well decide that it doesn’t want you to fly with them And has every right to kick you off at that point.

  4. Did they actually ban this guy for good? The way I read the statement, I thought the CEO simply said “had crew witnessed this in person, the passenger would have been kicked off the flight and never flown again,” and since crew evidently did not see this in person, nothing was done, and therefore passenger was not banned.

    1. Yes, he’s banned.

      Bastian’s statement was twofold. First was that if they’d known how bad he was they would have booted him that time before the flight. Second was that now they know how bad he is they’ll keep him out forever.

  5. On the other hand, Nov 12 flight from Ft Myers to Denver, drunk man made it past baggage checkin, Frontier agent said she feared for her safety. Same man at the gate entrance created a nuisance and once he was seated on the plane, pilot came to his seat to told him to behave.

    How did he bahave: he stole food and liqour off the beverage cart, he made verbal threats to sexually assualt people and commit lewd acts on himself. He made a verbal threat to tackle the pilot, open the plane door and stand up at his seat and yell, “I have a bomb.”

    We diverted to Memphis and FBI arrested him.

    I doubt this person is banned from Frontier. Frontier made an email apology and offered a $25 coupon. The Delta passenger yelling political statements seems less threatening that what I endured on the Frontier flight.

    1. See the post by ABDELRAHMAN ALY just below. Seth is referring to the implicit bias present when dealing with passengers. That is, passengers are treated differently based on skin color, even by generally non-prejudiced or non-racist individuals. If a brown-skinned Muslim had ranted about Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton in a similar fashion, do you think he would have a received a talking-to, but be allowed to fly? Are Eastern European individuals considered suspicious if reading native language (e.g. Cyrillic) texts, or does that only apply to those appearing Middle Eastern-appearing individuals reading Arabic-looking texts?

      The question is when, if ever, they will get over the “that Muslim-looking guy said something not in English makes me feel nervous, but that giant white dude raving like a madman is relatively harmless” bias. There is an inherent double-standard in the platitude of “making our customers feel safe and comfortable” in these specific types of circumstances b/c that inevitably comes at the expense of feeling of safety and comfort for other innocent, non-Caucasian customers.

  6. Sure, let the loud obnoxious white guy fly but kick off a quiet husband and wife minding their own business on their way back home from a trip just because they were Muslim.

  7. Curious about your comment that the video was shot by a cohort of his. The story I read said the video was shot by Emma Baum, a yoga teacher, who was quite displeased with this passenger, a stranger to her. Check out her FB page. She talks about her video going viral, having given many interviews about the incident and being pleased with the final result. I don’t know if she talked or showed her video to FAs prior to flight.

    I do agree the underlying issue was not addressed.

    1. That was based on some other things I read. I could definitely be off there. But that makes it an even bigger question in my mind. If she didn’t share it or wasn’t asked about it prior to the flight that is an even bigger challenge to the “if we had known we wouldn’t have let him fly” story.

    2. Agreed. That story is ridiculous for many reasons. They knew enough to take him off the plane and talk to him for 15 minutes prior to letting him get back on. It doesn’t wash that they didn’t know enough to keep him from flying in the first place.

  8. I doubt this would be in the press for two weeks if he were a Hillary supporter. The left thinks everyone who thinks the same as they do should have any right they want, even if it infringes others, but those who disagree are not smart enough to have rights.

    1. Well, your comment kind of proves your point about ignorance. Yes, were it handled the same way, it would still be in the press. Because Delta allowed a plane to depart with a known threat on board. That’s news.

      And this man was pretty staunchly infringing on other people’s rights, including Delta’s rights. And I thought conservatives were all about corporations having the same rights as people.

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