A retired Delta Air Lines pilot claims the carrier deliberately cancelled an international long-haul flight from Seattle to Amsterdam and told passengers that it didn’t have any pilots available even though she was sitting on standby just 10 minutes away and available to operate the flight.
Karlene Petitt, a veteran First Officer for the Atlanta-based carrier, retired from Delta shortly after winning a lawsuit last year in which a judge ruled that the airline had unlawfully discriminated against her by ‘weaponizing’ mental health rules.
The lawsuit dates back to 2016, when she underwent a company-sanctioned mental health evaluation that deemed her mentally unfit for duty and effectively grounded her for an indefinite period of time.
Pettit claimed Delta had fabricated the reasons for the mental health evaluation to silence her over safety fears that she had raised internally within the company.
During the trial, the court heard how Delta had hired a psychiatrist at a cost of $74,000 who diagnosed Pettit as suffering from bipolar disorder. Under Federal Aviation Administration rules, Pettit had to be grounded.
At the culmination of the lengthy legal battle, the judge ruled that it was “improper for [Delta] to weaponize this process for the purposes of obtaining blind compliance by its pilots.”
Delta was ordered to pay Pettit half a million dollars in compensation plus legal expenses. The carrier initially said it intended to appeal the verdict before claiming that it had made a “business decision to settle the matter rather than appeal a decision that we disagreed with”.
Last week, Petitt took to Twitter to share another critical anecdote from her time at the airline.
“Roll my eyes! Delta cancelled Seattle to Amsterdam on 1/16/2022, & told the Passengers there was no FO (First Officer). I was 10 min away & expecting a Greenslip with conflict. To further retaliate against me they cancelled that flight instead of taking care of our customers.”
Pettit told us she was only the pilot on reserve on the day the Amsterdam-bound flight was missing a First Officer, and she knew she was the only pilot available to assist. She says she even called managers to offer her help, but Delta cancelled the flight.
Petitt was responding to comments recently made by Delta chief executive Ed Bastian about a proposal from the Biden administration to force airlines to pay compensation to passengers in the event of a significant delay or cancellation.
Bastian claims the proposed legislation would not only increase airline costs and, therefore, ticket prices but that there isn’t any need for federal rules because Delta already takes care of its customers and pays compensation in the event of a delay.
The full details of the Department of Transportation (DOT) compensation scheme are expected to be published later this year, but it could mimic a similar program in Europe, where airlines must look after customers when a delay or cancellation is within their control.
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.