Delta Investigating Crew Incidents With Hearing Impaired Passengers (On Two Separate Flights)

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I’m just gonna go ahead and say it…Delta is having a rough couple of weeks.

Recently, I wrote about an incident in which Delta removed a passenger for wearing an “inappropriate” hat. A few days later, they devalued their loyalty program. And now the carrier is making the rounds on social media (again), for all the wrong reasons…


The first incident apparently involves Kelli Duncan, the deaf sister of Elle Duncan, a well-known sports anchor at ESPN.

Kelli Duncan, who is deaf and uses sign language, was recently traveling to Hartford on Delta with her best friend. Upon entering the plane, the friend overhears the flight attendant ask, “Are you really deaf?” in reference to Duncan’s mask, which read, “Just Deaf, Not Rude.”

The friend takes issue with the callous question from the flight attendant and confirms that Duncan is deaf before relaying the incident to Duncan.

Duncan says the masks have often caused her communication troubles, so she was “very glad that my best friend was there.”

Although the incident ends there, Duncan said she “was very hurt to know someone would insult a disabled person who has had to deal with this my whole life.”

Elle Duncan then took to twitter to voice her opinion about the situation, saying:

WOW @Delta I’m so disappointed that my deaf sister — wearing THIS mask on your flight — was greeted by a flight attendant who said with disgust in her voice: “Are you REALLY deaf” as my sister struggled to understand her b/c of her mask. We mocking disabilities now? Not ok.

Delta was unable to confirm specifics of the incident citing privacy concerns but in a statement said it expects all of its “employees to treat all customers and each other with respect, and we do not discriminate against customers for any reason.”


The second incident involved Andre Hilton, an interior designer in Atlanta, who is also hearing impaired. However, this encounter ends with the Hilton being escorted off the Delta flight.

According to Hilton, he was having a conversation with his seatmate and his mask slipped down and was no longer covering his nose.

During this conversation, a flight attendant walked down the aisle of the plane, stopped at Hiltons row and said “for the last time” to keep the mask on.

Hilton, perplexed by the rude demeanor of the FA, claims there “was no first time” and the FA pointed two fingers just inches from his face.

Hilton explained that he is hearing impaired, apologized if he missed the previous warnings, and even showed the FA his hearing aids, at which point the FA continued to lecture him loudly in front of other passengers.

Instead of making a scene, Hilton decided to ask for the flight attendant’s name, and according to Hilton, the FA said:

“Nope, that’s it. You’re a problem, I knew you were going to be a problem. Soon as he stepped on, you got to go, you’re getting off the plane”

The pilot then approaches Hilton and escorts him off the plane and this is where the video begins.

For the next 11 minutes, you see Hilton calmly detail what happened on the flight. Here is an excerpt from the video:

Hilton: For him to label me a problem and call me a problem was out of line.
Pilot: Okay, work with me on this. We’re going to put you on the next flight, but you can get mileage or whatever like that when you get to Atlanta.”
Hilton: “I really don’t want to…. I want to get home just like everybody else.”
Pilot: “I know but the conflict resolution team has recommended we put you on the next flight.”
Hilton: “So basically I’m being kicked off this flight and being put on the next one, after being disrespected on this one.”
Pilot: “I can’t answer that part.”

And here is the video…

Clearly, we are only hearing one side of the story but Delta released the following statement:

“As part of our many apologies and exchanges with this customer about his very atypical experience last month, we fully refunded his airfare in addition to other gestures of goodwill. Our teams continue to be in touch with his attorney.”

I’m sorry….his attorney?? The fact that Hilton has hired a lawyer and Delta acknowledged they are communicating with him through his lawyer tells me this is far from the casual boot.


Again, it goes without saying that we don’t know the full context and in the second case, specifically, we do not know what happened before the video started. But I find these experiences fascinating and worth discussion. For example…

  • What kind of training do airline crew complete concerning persons with disabilities?
  • Are there repercussions for incidents like this? If so, why don’t we ever hear about it?
  • Is there merit in having a purser (or chief flight attendant) with training to deescalate and address concerns rather than a one-on-one interaction with a flight attendant?
  • Do flight attendants receive a “print out” of passengers that may need additional assistance?

And finally, I’ve had my share of micro aggression incidents in travel (including THIS ONE) and I can’t help but notice that ALL THREE incidents involved black passengers. Do you think race has anything to do with these incidents?

What do you make of these incidents? Have you ever experienced an unsettling incident on an airline?

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