Flight attendant tells black doctor trying to help that they need an ‘actual physician’

In this photo taken July 22, 2011 a Delta airlines jet takes off at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan.
In this photo taken July 22, 2011 a Delta airlines jet takes off at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan. AP

Medical emergencies occur on one out of every 604 flights. While uncommon, they can become dire situations, and flight crews typically call on physician passengers to help.

So you would assume when a doctor jumps out of their seat to offer assistance, staff would typically make way. But that didn’t happen in the case of Dr. Tamika Cross, and she said it’s because she’s a black woman.

Cross posted on Facebook on Sunday that she was on a Delta flight out of Detroit when she heard a woman screaming for help two rows ahead because her husband was unresponsive. Cross said she “jumped into doctor mode” and unbuckled her seatbelt to help, but a flight attendant said the man was having a night terror and told everyone to calm down.

Cross said she continued to monitor the man from afar and soon he was unresponsive again. When the flight attendant called for a physician on board, Cross said she raised her hand to get her attention.

“She said to me ‘oh no sweetie put ur (sic) 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,’” Cross wrote. “I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks.”

When they paged for a doctor, Cross said she then tried to push an overhead button to indicate she was qualified.

“I stare at her as I go to press my button. She said ‘oh wow you’re an actual physician?’ I reply yes. She said ‘let me see your credentials. What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit?’” Cross wrote. “Please remember this man is still in need of help and she is blocking my row from even standing up while bombarding me with questions.”

Cross answered the attendant’s questions, saying she was an OB-GYN, worked in Houston and was in Detroit for a wedding. When she tried to get up to help the man again, a white man came up saying he was a doctor.

“She says to me ‘thanks for your help but he can help us, and he has his credentials,’” Cross said. “Mind you he hasn’t shown anything to her. Just showed up and fit the ‘description of a doctor.’ I stay seated. Mind blown. Blood boiling.”

Luckily, the previously unresponsive man appeared to recover, according to Cross. The flight attendant followed up with Cross about his health and progress for the remainder of the flight and offered her sky miles, but Cross said she didn’t want them.

“She came and apologized to me several times and offering me skymiles. I kindly refused,” Cross wrote. “This is going higher than her. I don’t want skymiles in exchange for blatant discrimination.”

When asked for comment, Catherine Sirna, spokesperson for Delta Air Lines, emailed that the incident was under investigation and Delta had contacted Cross.

“Discrimination of any kind is never acceptable,” Sirna said. “We’ve been in contact with Dr. Cross and one of our senior leaders is reaching out to assure her that we’re completing a full investigation.”

Cross did not immediately respond to questions about her communications with Delta.