A Delta frequent flyer who has racked up more than two million miles flying Delta jets over the last 30 years claims one of its flight attendants accused him of trafficking his special needs daughter and then called the cops to have him arrested during a recent flight between Minneapolis (MSP) to Dallas (DFW) as the pair visited family for Fathers Day.
Peter Espinosa wrote an open letter to Delta’s chief executive Ed Bastian which he published on LinkedIn accusing the Atlanta-based airline of racially profiling its customers and disregarding the needs of special needs passengers following the disturbing incident.
Espinosa was travelling in First Class with his 20-year-old daughter who has been diagnosed with Fragile X Syndrome. According to the Fragile X Research Foundation, the condition is the most common inherited cause of autism and intellectual disabilities worldwide and can cause extreme anxiety, and an inability to make eye contact.
Sufferers are also easily overwhelmed, especially when questioned, and can be reduced to tears when pressed into unwarranted conversations.
“During the flight our flight attendant noticed my daughter’s anxiety and became focused on interacting with her,” Peter Espinosa explains in the open letter. “He kept trying to ask her direct questions, only making my daughter Rachel that much more anxious.”
“I attempted to intervene, but he kept insisting that he needed a direct answer from her. As my daughter teared up I finally insisted and said “she cannot answer you”. His reply to her was “do you only speak Spanish?” I thought this was a curious question by him.”
“He then looked at a piece of paper in his hand and asked me if my name was Espinosa? I said yes. I am Pete Espinosa and this is my daughter Rachel. I asked why is he so intent with speaking with my daughter? and he replied he was simply doing random greetings of customers. He thanked me for being a Delta Million Mile flier and left.”
On landing in Houston, Espinosa says four cops boarded the plane and escorted him off the plane and accused him of human trafficking.
“Try to imagine the look on my FXS affected daughter when she was taken away by police officers and removed from her dad. I was taken to a nearby area to be interrogated. I now realize what it’s like to be a falsely accused minority parent, fighting for my freedom, fighting for my child,” Espinosa wrote.
The police officers sent to investigate the allegation quickly released Espinosa after it became apparent this wasn’t a case of human trafficking. One officer allegedly told Peter that flight attendants were trained to spot trafficking but “this set of flight attendants had not been properly trained.”
Peter says he and his wife were still trying to console their daughter more than two days after the incident. He fears Delta flight attendants racially profiled him because of his Hispanic heritage.
“It’s pretty clear to me this would not have happened if your flight attendant hadn’t viewed me as Hispanic, along with preconceived negative notions that accompany this,” Espinosa says in the letter.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for Delta said it had reached out to Peter following this “difficult situation”.
“There’s nothing more important than keeping our customers safe, and that includes creating a safe, comfortable environment for all customers – especially those with disabilities,” the spokesperson said. “While Delta people remain highly engaged in the ongoing fight against human trafficking, we remain committed to ensuring our customers with disabilities feel supported.”
“We are reaching out to the customer directly to better understand the difficult situation he described as part of our investigation,” the statement continued.
A 2017 report by the Trafficking Resource Centre identified over 8,700 possible cases of human trafficking in the United States alone – although the real figure could be much higher.
Delta has been training staff to identify possible human trafficking crimes since 2013 and more than 80,000 Delta employees worldwide have been trained. The airline has donated millions of dollars to anti-human trafficking charities and continues to speak against the scrouge of human trafficking.
In February 2017, Alaska Airlines flight attendant, Shelia Fedrick helped rescue a human trafficking victim on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. Fedrick became suspicious of an older, well-dressed man travelling with a young teenage girl who “looked like she had been through pure hell.”
Sheila left a note in the bathroom for the victim – when the young girl wrote a reply asking for help, Fedrick was able to get in touch with law enforcement in San Francisco who were waiting to arrest the perpetrator when the flight landed.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.