A father from Edina has put the spotlight on Delta Airlines by writing an open letter to CEO Ed Bastian after he was accused of human trafficking following a flight with his daughter, who has special needs.
Peter Espinosa published the widely-shared letter on LinkedIn Sunday, two days after his first-class flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Dallas, Texas, with his 20-year-old daughter – who has Fragile X Syndrome (FXS) – to visit his son for Father's Day.
FXS is a genetic disorder and people with the disorder can suffer from anxiety and not making eye contact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Espinosa notes people with FXS can also be easily overwhelmed, especially when questioned.
Espinosa, who is the CEO of the tech company Mortgage Cadence and is a Delta Million Miler, wrote that during their flight the flight attendant noticed his daughter's anxiety and "became focused on interacting with her," asking her questions that made his daughter more anxious.
Espinosa said he attempted to intervene, but the flight attendant insisted his daughter answer. When Espinosa said she couldn't, the flight attendant asked her, "Do you only speak Spanish?" and then confirmed his last name is Espinosa.
When they landed in Dallas, Espinosa says he was met by four Dallas police officers who were arresting him for human trafficking.
"I now realize what it's like to be a falsely accused minority parent, fighting for my freedom, fighting for my child," he writes.
He explained to the police officers who he was and the person he was flying with is his daughter, asking the police to ask Delta to look him up.
"I am hurt and angry to tell you the Dallas police officer replied that it was Delta personnel who had contacted them and accused me," Espinosa wrote to Bastian. "He said human trafficking has become a big issue. But that it was quickly obvious to him that this set of flight attendants had not been properly trained."
Espinosa said the entire situation could have been avoided if Delta cared about special needs travelers or if the flight attendants hadn't racially profiled him.
"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. An anxious 20-year-old girl. Accompanied by a Hispanic male, old enough to be her father. He must be a human trafficker," Espinosa writes.
For years, Espinosa said he's asked Delta to put an indicator into the Sky Miles database that identifies someone with special needs to in-flight staff. And when he called customer service after last Friday's flight, he said he was "once again advised" he should find a way to separate from his daughter and notify flight staff about her special needs.
"Not only is this impractical, but it is also demeaning. Even special needs people have feelings. My daughter is hurt when she hears me attempt to explain and rationalize her disability to others," Espinosa writes.
He writes that in this instance, the flight attendant could have looked past his skin color and name to see he's a Million Miler customer, as well as verify he was with his daughter who he's called Delta about numerous times to notify them he needs seats next to each other to help manage his daughter's anxiety while traveling.
"You can choose to continue to disregard the needs of special needs fliers. And you can continue to racially profile your customers. But at least I'm free to choose another airline for my family and I to use when we travel," Espinosa wrote in closing.
Delta is investigating the incident and is reaching out to Espinosa directly to "better understand the difficult situation he described as part of our investigation," the airline said in a statement to Bring Me The News.
"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. While Delta people remain highly engaged in the ongoing fight against human trafficking, we remain committed to ensuring our customers with disabilities feel supported," Delta added.
Delta says it has trained more than 56,000 of its employees to "recognize the signs of human trafficking," noting there are an estimated 25 million human trafficking victims worldwide, with many transported on airplanes.