Doctor says she was racially profiled by flight staff who doubted her credentials

A black Harvard-educated doctor says she was racially profiled by employees on a Delta connection flight who questioned her medical credentials as she tried to help a fellow passenger in distress.

Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, who serves as an obesity medicine physician-scientist, educator and policymaker at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told Boston 25 News that she was flying from Indianapolis to Boston on Oct. 23 when a woman began to convulse and hyperventilate.

Stanford said she worked to calm the woman as she assessed her condition. A flight attendant approached and asked Stanford if she was a doctor. Stanford, in turn, produced her medical license.

“She looked at it, walked down to the back of the plane. Then the second flight attendant approached me and asked, ‘Well, can I see your license again?’ and I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Stanford recalled to Boston 25 News.

Stanford continued trying to calm the woman, who later told the doctor that she was having a panic attack, the Boston Globe reported.

Amid this, Stanford said the first flight attendant returned and questioned her ability to help. “You’re not really a doctor,” the attendant allegedly said. “You’re just a head doctor.”

“I said, ‘Excuse me, what do you mean by that?’ [She replied,] ‘Oh, so you’re not really an MD, are you?’” Stanford told Boston 25 News.

Speaking to the Boston Globe, Stanford said she believes the attendants’ suspicions of her credentials were “100 percent” racially biased.

A spokesman for Delta Air Lines, reached by HuffPost on Thursday, expressed the airline’s apologies for what happened and said that Delta does not require a passenger to produce medical credentials to help another passenger in a time of need.

However, spokesman Anthony Black pointed out, the plane in question was being operated by another carrier, Republic Airline. Though it works in partnership with Delta, he said, it has its own operating and training procedures.

Republic spokesman Jon Austin told HuffPost that the airline will make improvements so that its employees are better versed on the policies regarding medical identification.

“We’re grateful to Dr. Stanford for her medical assistance onboard our flight 5935 and are sorry for any misunderstanding that may have occurred during her exchange with our in-flight crew,” Austin said in a statement. “Moving forward, we are working with Delta to ensure our employees understand and consistently apply all applicable policies. Dr. Stanford’s care for the passenger remained uninterrupted throughout the duration of the medical issue.” 

Delta echoed that gratitude to Stanford in a statement to HuffPost, adding: “We are following up with our connection carrier partner to ensure their employees understand and consistently apply the policy.”

Delta changed its policy on medical credentials in 2016 after another black female doctor, Tamika Cross, accused Delta employees of ignoring her offers to help a sick passenger in favor of a white male doctor who was also on the plane. In that case, the female doctor did not have her medical credentials on her, whereas the male doctor did, the airline said.

In an ironic twist, Stanford told Boston 25 News that she had recently attended a panel on medical bias and spoken with Cross about her experience, which had inspired Stanford to carry her medical license with her at all times.

Stanford shared her story on Twitter, prompting other doctors to offer their own experiences. She noted that she’s been in touch with Delta’s staff but said that their conversation left her “quite uncertain that any changes will be made.”

According to Stanford’s tweet, the flight attendants thought she was only a therapist, even after seeing her medical license.

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20 best airlines in the world

20. Hong Kong Airlines

Previous rank: 24

Why it's awesome: Hong Kong Airlines has been on an impressive growth streak over the past couple of years. Not only has it rapidly expanded its global network, the carrier has also worked to improve service and product. Hong Kong Airlines is a subsidiary of China's HNA Group.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

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19. KLM

Previous rank: 22

Why it's awesome: Royal Dutch KLM is considered the oldest continuously operating airline in the world. Based out of Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport, KLM is famous for its bright blue livery and Dutch house liquor bottle figurines. The airline is one half of the Franco-Dutch conglomerate Air France-KLM.

KLM also took home the prize for Best Business Class Seat in Europe.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(REUTERS/Regis Duvignau)

18. Turkish Airlines

Previous rank: 12

Why it's awesome: Turkish Airlines is the flag carrier of Turkey and has its main hub at Istanbul's Ataturk Airport. The airline, with its ability to fly to over 100 countries and over 200 cities worldwide, hopes to turn its home base into a global transit hub.

Even though political unrest and security concerns have made life more complicated for Turkish Airlines, the carrier's high-quality service, and product offerings remain unchanged.

Turkish is a member of Star Alliance and had won the Skytrax award for Best Airline in Europe six years in a row before losing the title to Lufthansa last year.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Photo by Vladimir Shtanko/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

17. Air New Zealand

Previous rank: 19

Why it's awesome: In 2018, Air New Zealand reclaimed the titles of World's Best Premium Economy Class and World's Best Premium Economy Seat from Aussie rival Qantas, the Kiwi carrier remains one of the industry's finest long-haul carriers.

In economy class, families can opt for the airlines innovative Skycouch that transforms a bank of three economy seats into a flat activity area.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

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16. Austrian Airlines

Previous rank: 17

Why it's awesome: Austrian Airlines has overcome a series of labor disputes in recent years, with its high level of service intact. In 2018, the Lufthansa-owned carrier, once again, took home the prize for Best Airline Staff Service in Europe. The Austrian flag carrier boasts a fleet of newly renovated long-haul Boeing 767-300ER and 777-200 jets flying out of its base in Vienna.

Economy fliers gave the Star Alliance member high marks for its efficient and effective service, as well as for the wealth of onboard dining and entertainment options.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader)

15. Etihad Airways

Previous rank: 8

Why it's awesome: Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi, is the flag carrier of the United Arab Emirates, with its Airbus and Boeing fleet traveling to about 100 destinations. The airline has become famous for its trademark Residence flying apartments as well as its plush first-class and business-class suites.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Natalie Naccache/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

14. China Southern Airways

Previous rank: 23

Why it's awesome: Even though Air China and China Eastern may get more attention, China Southern is actually the largest airline in the Middle Kingdom.

The Guangzhou-based airline also won the award for Most Improved Airline, Best First Class in China, and Best First Class Lounge in China.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

13. Japan Airlines

Previous rank: 16

Why it's awesome: Japan's flag carrier is one of the most respected airlines in the world. Reviewers on Skytrax praised Japan's second-largest airline for its attentive service, well-coordinated ground staff, and comfortable cabin.

For 2018, Japan Airlines once again won the award for Best Economy Class Airline Seat.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Photo credit should read TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)

12. Swiss International Air Lines

Previous rank: 14

Why it's awesome: Swiss International Air Lines emerged in 2002 from the remnants of the now defunct Swissair and is now a member of the Lufthansa corporate family. In 2016, the Basel-based carrier became the first in the world to operate the next generation Bombardier C-Series airliner.

Though some fliers found economy seat comfort to be lacking, most praised the cabin crew for its friendly service and the airline for its wide assortment of complimentary adult beverages.

Plus, the complimentary Swiss chocolate is always a fan favorite.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

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11. Qantas

Previous rank: 15

Why it's awesome: Even with strong competition from Virgin Australia, Qantas has been resurgent over the past couple of years. The airline received praise for its strong customer service and in-flight entertainment. And then there's Qantas' calling card — it has a fatality-free safety record in the jet era.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

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10. Thai Airways

Previous rank: 11

Why it's awesome: Thai Airways has long been an industry leader for quality service, so it's no surprise to find the Thai national carrier high up on the list. Though its most heralded products are its business and first-class services, fliers found its economy seats to be of high quality as well.

Economy fliers on Skytrax also noted the crew's friendly demeanor and delectable dining options.

In 2018, Thai Airways once again took home the award for the World's Best Economy Class, the World's Best Economy Class Onboard Catering, and the World's Best Airline Spa Facilities.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Photo by C. V. Grinsven/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

9. Garuda Indonesia

Previous rank: 10

Why it's awesome: Garuda Indonesia has experienced a dramatic turnaround in recent years. The Indonesia flag carrier has undertaken extensive fleet renewal and service improvement measures to regain the trust of both fliers and safety regulators.

Economy fliers have raved about the airline's comfortable seats and selection of Southeast Asian cuisine.

In 2018, Garuda's flight attendants took home the award for the World's Best Cabin Crew for the third year in a row.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Dimas Ardian/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

8. Hainan Airlines

Previous rank: 9

Why it's awesome: Founded in 1993, Hainan is the only Chinese airline to hold the coveted Skytrax five-star rating. In four short years, the airline surged from 22nd place all the way into the top 10. With a brand-new fleet of more than 160 Boeing and Airbus jets, Hainan is expanding rapidly throughout Asia, Europe, and Australia.

Reviewers on Skytrax praised the airline for its attentive service and quality business class accommodations.

Hainan also won the awards for Best Airline in China and Best Airline Cabin Crew in China.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(REUTERS/Stringer)

7. Lufthansa

Previous rank: 7

Why it's awesome: Europe's largest airline has surged into the top 10 over the past couple of years. Customers have praised Lufthansa for its exceptional service and overall product quality.

For the most part, Lufthansa's long-haul service is good, but, for the best results, it would be wise to aim for the fleet's newer A380 superjumbos and 748-8 Intercontinental jumbo jets.

In addition to a top-10 finish, the German national airline also took home the prize for Best Airline in Europe and Best Business Class in Europe.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach)

6. Cathay Pacific Airways

Previous rank: 5

Why it's awesome: Although Cathay Pacific, based in Hong Kong, fell back one spot from last year, the airline still retains its place as one of the most respected carriers from the Pacific rim. With a fleet of long-range Boeing 777-300ER jets and a business strategy centered on offering a high frequency of flights, Cathay is one of the finest flying experiences in Asia.

Skytrax reviewers gave the airline high marks for seat comfort, service quality, and in-flight entertainment.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Justin Chin/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

5. EVA Air

Previous rank: 6

Why it's awesome: Taiwan's EVA Air (pronounced ee-vee-ay) was founded in 1989 and is an offshoot of global container-shipping giant Evergreen Group. The Taipei-based carrier has grown immensely in the past two decades and now operates a large fleet of Airbus and Boeing wide-body jets. The airline is credited with pioneering the "premium economy" cabin.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

4. Emirates

Previous rank: 4

Why it's awesome: Over the past 30 years, Dubai's Emirates has developed into one of the world's premier long-haul carriers. Operating almost exclusively through its palatial hub at Dubai International Airport, the carrier boasts the world's largest fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbos and Boeing 777 wide-body jets.

Emirates' state-of-the-art in-flight entertainment system includes a wide selection of video and music options on demand, and even allows for live television and sporting events on its "ice" entertainment system-equipped aircraft. In fact, Emirates has taken home Skytrax's award for Best In-Flight Entertainment 14 years running.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

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3. All Nippon Airways (ANA)

Previous rank: 3

Why it's awesome: All Nippon Airways continues its march towards the top of the rankings. ANA is the largest international carrier in Japan and home to one of the world's largest fleets of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. ANA drew high praise from Skytrax reviewers across the board for cleanliness, service, and safety. Many of its planes feature slide-forward-style reclining seats that increase overall privacy, as well as power and USB outlets even in economy.

ANA also won Best Airline Staff in Asia and Best Cabin Crew in Japan.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Photo by Fabrizio Gandolfo/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

2. Qatar Airways

Previous rank: 1

Why it's awesome: Qatar Airways falls back one spot to second.

The Doha-based airline received praise from reviewers for its seat comfort and in-flight entertainment. In fact, the airline boasts the second best in-flight entertainment system and economy class offering in the world The airline links over 150 destinations across the globe and is expanding its fleet to include the latest generation of long-haul airliners including the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350.

Qatar also took home the award for Best Airline in the Middle East, World's Best Business Class, and Best First Class Airline Lounge.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Photo by Marina Lystseva\TASS via Getty Images)

1. Singapore Airlines

Previous rank: 2

Why it's awesome: Singapore's standout service makes for a famously pleasant journey during which flight attendants are trained to treat customers with extreme care and respect. Personal TVs with plenty of entertainment options and hot towels served before take-off are just some of the economy perks.

The airline's home base at Changi International Airport is one of the finest facilities in the world and has been named by Skytrax as the Best Airport in the World five years in a row.

The airline also took home the awards for Best Airline in Asia, World's Best First Class, and World's Best First Class Airline Seat.

See additional airline information at Skytrax.

(Nicky Loh/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

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