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Delta Flight Attendant Wrongly ‘Accused’ Frequent Flyer of Trafficking His Special Needs Daughter

Delta Flight Attendant Wrongly ‘Accused’ Frequent Flyer of Trafficking His Special Needs Daughter

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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.


View Comments (7)
  • So sad. The current Delta flight attendants are simply pretty bad. Cant be compared to the ones 15 years ago. I dont think they get paid as well either and it is reflected in the quality of people that Delta is hiring.

  • I was detained in public, by police, questioned with out given details of what the possible offense was. Asked my whereabouts, if I had witnesses to my timeline, etc. Luckly I had 7 witnesses, and had just, repeat …… just left them, and was re-meeting them at the actual location where I was stopped by the police.

    After providing and them confirming my whereabouts during the reported time of the offense (armed robbery of large grocery store about 7 miles away) was released.

    I suppose that I was racially targeted being white.

    Human trafficing is a horrific major problem in our country, the world. This unfortunate young lady exhabited some of the warning signs.

    I believe this father needs to attend a couple conferences on the horrors of this evil system. Then re-evalute his thinking of this event.

    • Hopefully this incident will not discourage flight attendants from voicing their concerns when they believe HST is happening. Flight Attendants are trained that when certain behaviors are present such as described by this customer about his daughter, that trafficking might be involved. As one commenter said, maybe it would be best to inform the airline of these situations to avoid this kind of thing. I’m sorry that this situation was a misunderstanding but I hope Delta and everyone else will see that it’s better to wrong about these situations and even face a little humiliation and discomfort than it really being a case of HST and saying and doing nothing which could happen in this case if Delta makes this flight attendant feel that they did something wrong by erring on the side of caution and not standing behind policies and training that the company has put in place to help it’s employees possibly spot HST.

  • I just love how it’s always a race thing. It was a man flying with a young woman who looked uncomfortable and scared. Because it IS a problem, perhaps it’s a good thing to prep the airline in advance when special circumstances exist.

  • The father should hope that his daughter is never targetted as an easy kidnapping victim and actually kidnapped. Be thankful someone cared enough about your daughter and it was actually you, the father, traveling with her. You, the father, could have found a way to explain the daughters unusual behavior to relieve the very concerned attendant. Be glad someone cares enough. Dont make it so people are too afraid to speak up with concern. You wont always be around to protect your daughter.

    • Airline workers need better training. This lady is probably traumatized and likely won’t ever want to fly again. And if she does manage to bring herself to fly, the already horrible experience for her is only going to be that much worse now. Why not simply ask for both of their IDs. They obviously had them if they managed to board a plane. And if somehow they got on the plane with false documents, then the airline and the TSA has already failed this girl multiple times by that point.

      I’m trying to imagine what this father could have told the airline, prior to the flight, that would have caused them to not somehow confront him and his daughter while on the plane. “Listen, my daughter has a condition that is going to make her seem like a kidnapping victim but I pinky swear that isn’t the case.” I mean, really.

      Would the airline even know what the condition was if he named it for them and would they even believe the explanation? It sounds like a cover story a kidnapper would make up to avoid confrontation. Is he going to bring a doctors note? If you can board a plane with fake ID you can for sure make up some false health records.

      • Airline personnel is trained to access these situations and use their judgment as to what to do. I understand that people may not like it but everything the Father of the young woman said about his daughters disability are pretty much the exact behavior airline personnel is trained to look for when HST is suspected. Once again,it is better to be wrong about these situations, than to say nothing and a HST goes unchecked!

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