Delta Air Lines apologizes over handling of mask incident involving hearing-impaired passenger

ATLANTA, Ga. — Delta Air Lines is apologizing for an incident documented by a hearing-impaired passenger who says he was berated by a flight attendant over a mask misunderstanding.

The incident led to that passenger being removed from a flight, and the airline reimbursing his ticket. Now the passenger and his attorney say the airline needs to review the way they handle situations involving passengers with disabilities.

Andre Hilton is an Atlanta-based interior designer. Hilton was leaving an industry event in Detroit when he boarded Flight 136 last month.

Hilton, who is hearing impaired and wears aides in both ears, said he was talking with a fellow passenger when his mask slipped right below his nose ahead of take-off. He continued to pull the mask up while the passengers talked, but was then approached by a flight attendant.

Hilton said the attendant began pointing his fingers at him and yelling.

“And so he says, 'Like I said, I’m telling you again, this is my last time telling you I told you twice, and mind you his fingers are like here (pointing to face) because I’m sitting on the aisle seat,” said Hilton. "His fingers are like pointing in my face. And so I had to lean back.

Hilton was confused because he didn’t know there was an initial warning. Hilton said, he explained, that if there was a first warning, he did not hear it because of his impairment, and would need the man to face him and make eye contact to communicate. He showed the attendant his aides, but said the man continued to berate him in front of the other passengers.

“I want to wear my mask, just like I want the next person to wear (one),” Hilton told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr.

“I’m embarrassed at this point,” Hilton said. “I’m humiliated. I’m shocked because, you know, people are sitting around witnessing it.”

Other passengers encouraged him to let the incident go, but Hilton decided to ask the flight attendant for his last name in order to file a complaint.

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That’s when he said the situation escalated.

"And he goes, ‘Nope, that’s it. You’re problem, I knew you were going to be a problem. Soon as she stepped on, you got to go, you’re getting off the plane,’ Hilton recalled.

Hilton began recording before the pilot came and asked him to come off the flight. The recordings, which document Hilton reviewing the situation, and the aftermath of the incident, are posted to his Instagram account.

The following exchange can be heard, as the airline sends the same flight attendant to remove Hilton’s belongings from a flight:

Hilton: For him to label me a problem and call me a problem was out of line.

Delta employee: Okay, work with me on this. We’re going to put you on the next flight, (Hilton shaking is head, tearing up), but you can get mileage or whatever like that when you get to Atlanta."

Hilton: “I really don’t want to…. I want to get home just like everybody else.”

Delta Employee: “I know but the conflict resolution team has recommended we put you on the next flight.”

Hilton: “So basically I’m being kicked off this flight and being put on the next one, after being disrespected on this one.”

Delta employee: “I can’t answer that part.”

A second Delta employee tries to console Hilton.

“I walked up the jetway and tried to advocate for you,” she said, as Hilton prepares to take a second flight home.

Hilton said he soon got a call from the CEO’s office, and a private apology and a reimbursement, but was also asked to remove his social media videos.

Hilton and his attorney Jonathan Johnson said they want a public apology, and for the airline to take a look at the way they handle communicating with passengers who have disabilities.

“The overreaction here is just astonishing,” said Johnson. “That they would take the whole plane load of people back to the gate, when this passenger was obviously trying its best to comply with the rules.”

"I would like to see justice happen, said Hilton. “I would like to see Delta take full accountability for this situation.”

While the airline did not offer information concerning the flight attendant, they sent the following statement to Channel 2 this week:

"As part of our many apologies and exchanges with this customer about his very atypical experience last month, we fully refunded his airfare in addition to other gestures of goodwill. Our teams continue to be in touch with his attorney.

Our deep-seated values of diversity and inclusion of all groups in the world we serve extend especially to our customers with disabilities, as evidenced by Delta’s Advisory Board on Disability. In place for more than a decade, this Delta board consists of individuals with unique insight as both Delta frequent flyers and who each are experts on a variety of disabilities. This group continues to advise Delta on how we can continue to provide thoughtful and safe service to customers with disabilities."