Saturday, November 22, 2014

Delta Airlines: Mistreating Disabled Passengers (2012)

Delta Airlines logo & plane
Delta Air Lines as most people know is a very well known commercial airline that has been around for many years. Although in the recent years, Delta Air Lines has been in the eyes of media for several cases that the company has gone against the mission of their Advisory Board on Disability, which says their goal is "to promote accessibility for all of their customers by providing leadership in making Delta the carrier of choice for customers with disabilities in all aspects of their business” (Advisory). 
The most recent accusation of the company's mistreatment of their customers with disabilities was on July 27, 2012. On this day, Baraka Kanaan, who has partial paralysis of his legs, states that he was “forced to crawl down the aisle of the airplane, down the stairs of the aircraft and across the tarmac to his wheelchair without any assistance” (Shaw, 2013). He also needed to crawl off onto his return flight home. He filed a lawsuit on July 23, 2013 after only receiving flier miles and $100 voucher as compensation, which he ultimately denied. The contents of the lawsuit settlement between Delta Air Lines and Kanaan were confidential and not disclosed to the public.
Carrie Salberg also says she was mistreated by Delta because she was kicked off of a plane because of her disability. She has muscular dystrophy and requires a ventilator to breathe and the flight attendants told her she was not allowed to have it on the aircraft even after she had gotten preapproval. The company received a civil penalty back in 2011 for violating the rules that protected air travelers with disabilities. Delta was fined $2 million, of which $1,250,000 was to be used to specifically improve their service to passengers with disabilities.

Stakeholders of a company are any person, group, or organization that has an interest or concern in the company or is affected by the company’s actions. Delta Air Lines has many stakeholders because thousands and thousands of people are have an interest in the company and are affected by actions taken by them. The passengers of the Delta aircraft are stakeholders in the corporation because they depend on this airliner, along with others, to get them to destinations they would like to go in a safe and timely manner. The stockholders and other owners of Delta Air Lines are considered to be stakeholders in the company because their income and lives depend on how well the company is doing and if value is being added to the company. The employees of Delta are stakeholders because their job and well-being depends on how well the company is doing and any actions they take, especially in terms of pay cuts or raises, layoffs, etc. Also the communities surrounding the airports that Delta flies out of have an interest in them because those airports benefit from having their aircraft fly their and then provides jobs to the surrounding community and increases the number of people passing through those communities. Airports across the world are stakeholders in this case because airports rely on big airliners, like Delta, to increase their revenues.

Individualism believes that “the sole responsibility of a business should be to maximize profits for the owners of a business, but doing so within the law” (Salazar p.17). This ethical theory only focuses on one set of stakeholders, the owners of the business. Milton Friedman, a leader of individualism, argues “businesses should not attempt to be socially responsible” because being socially responsible takes money away from the owners instead of maximizing their profits (Salazar, p.17). Specifically for this case individualists would not be concerned with how the passengers were affected by the actions of making the man crawl or kicking the woman off of the plane. When analyzing this case they would be only concerned with the stockholders and other owners of Delta and whether or not the actions gave these owners the most profit. The fact that the company did not use the equipment that was needed to help Mr. Kanaan onto and off his plane and not training employees on the current regulations of ventilators lowered some of the company's costs, which increased owners’ profits. But after being caught for the actions that broke laws, the owners lost profits because they were fined $2 million by the Department of Transportation. This fine ultimately made the company lose money as a consequence of their actions. A key part of individualism is that it believes the actions should also be within the law. Delta did in fact violate laws and rules that are “set to protect air travelers with disabilities” (Delta 2011). Airliners are required by laws to provide assistance to passengers with disabilities and to provide them with the necessary approved equipment as needed. Therefore because the actions broke the law and ultimately decreased profits for the owner’s of the company, Delta Air Lines was acting unethically in the eyes of individualism.
Baraka Kanaan was forced to crawl off a Delta aircraft.
Utilitarianism believes that businesses “should aim to maximize the happiness in the long run for all conscious beings that are affected by the business action” (Salazar p.19). A utilitarian would be concerned about the happiness of all of the stakeholders in the company and if the action creates the greatest level of happiness for the most amount of people compared to taking a different course of action. A utilitarian is not interested in the short-term affects, but rather “concerned about the long-term costs and benefits of actions” (Salazar, p.20). In terms of Delta's treatment of employees, utilitarians would look at the long term costs and benefits of this on all stakeholders, including passengers, employees, owners, and the surrounding communities. The passengers in the long run are unhappy because they felt very disrespected because of their disabilities and ultimately filed lawsuits. The employees may be unhappy because they may lose their jobs for not knowing the proper information or not having the proper equipment. In the long run the stockholders and other owners are unhappy because they lost over $2 million because of being fined and for compensation to the passengers who were emotionally harmed. The surrounding communities that Delta work in are not affected so much by the mistreatment of the passengers other than the slight possibility that if they don’t change their ways then the company could shrink in size and decrease the economic status of those communities in the long run. The cost of the company’s actions of mistreating several passengers with disabilities led to over $2 million in civil penalties and compensation to those passengers. It also cost the company some of their high reputation to go down because of these stories being released to the public and then leading future passengers to possibly go with another airliner. If Delta had treated these passengers the way that they deserved and had the proper knowledge and equipment available to them then the happiness level in all affected parties would be much higher. Therefore based on the analysis done in the eyes of a utilitarian, they would consider Delta to have acted unethically because the happiness of the affected parties was not maximized.
Carrie Salberg was kicked off flight due
to medical equipment for her disability,
making her 5 hours late to her destination.

Kantianism believes that “it is wrong to manipulate, exploit, or use people” or “to lie, cheat, and steal, no matter the positive consequences that may occur” (Salazar, p. 21). Under Kantianism actions are ethical only if the decisions was motivated by good will and rational decision making. Kant says that good will “necessitates that people have good intentions and use good reasoning to come to conclusions that will make their good intentions effective” (Salazar, p.21). This ethical theory uses the formulation of humanity, which “states that it is wrong to use people as a mere means to get what you want” (Salazar, p.22). A Kantian would look at the Delta case and could say that the flight attendants that kicked Salberg off her plane did have the good intention of thinking they were protecting the other passengers and following protocol. However for failing to help Kanaan off the plane with the proper equipment the employees did not have good intentions because they exploited him and embarrassed him to save them from having the proper equipment ready at the terminal. The company also lied to both of these passengers because they said that they would be able to fly and would have the proper equipment available for them. But in reality the equipment was not available to help Kanaan off and on to the aircraft and the flight attendant did not allow Salberg to fly even though she had gotten preapproval of her ventilator. According to the formulation of humanity, Delta basically used these customers with disabilities to get their money from the airfare without considering their needs or giving them what they promised. Therefore Delta manipulated several of their passengers to buy tickets based on the knowledge that they would be able to fly and have the required equipment, but the airliner never followed through on promises. A Kantian would considered Delta’s actions to be unethical because the motivations were not from good will and the company did not make rational decisions. The company's compensations to their passengers wouldn't be approved by Kantianism either unless they were given out of goodwill and not simply to make the company look good to the public.

Virtue Theory
Virtue theory follows the ethical rule to “act so as to embody a variety of virtuous or good character traits and so as to avoid vicious or bad character traits” (Salazar, p.22). A virtue is “any character trait that aids flourishing” and a vice is “any character trait that inhibits flourishing” (Salazar, p.23). According to Aristotle the four primary virtues of business people are courage, honesty, temperance, and justice. Actions are analyzed under the virtue theory by deciding whether those actions advance virtues or advance vices. Delta Air Lines did not show any of the four primary virtues in business. The Delta employee that told Kanaan that the lift to get him on and off the aircraft would be readily available for him showed the vice of dishonesty. The dishonesty also occurred when the flight attendant told Salberg that the ventilator was not allowed to be on the plane. They were dishonest because the lied to these customers and gave them false information which their trips depended on. The employees that told Kanaan that he would be forced to crawl on and off of the plane was being selfish. The selfishness inhibited or harmed the flourishing of these employees. The owners of the company, or the ones that make the decisions of when equipment should be ready, portrayed the vice of greed. They were greedy because all they were worried about was getting paid their airfare and showing carelessness for ensuring that all the needs for their passengers with disabilities were met. As a whole the company did not have the virtue of courage because they did not take a stand for disabilities because they showed their passengers who had disabilities with disrespect in several cases. The company's actions regarding the treatment of their passengers with disabilities inhibited any advancement in all of the primary virtues. Since the company's actions inhibited their virtues, Delta would be considered to have acted unethically under the virtue theory. 

Works Cited
Advisory Board on Disability. (n.d.). Delta Air Lines. Retrieved September 23, 2014, from

Delta Fined for Violating Rules Protecting Air Travelers with Disabilities. (2011, February 17). Department of Transportation. Retrieved September 17, 2014, from

Pabst, L. (2011, April 21). Airline bumps disabled traveler. StarTribune. Retrieved September 19, 2014, from

Salazar, H. (2014). The Business Ethics Case Manual: The Authoritative Step-by-Step Guide to Understanding and Improving the Ethics of Any Business. Unpublished manuscript.

Shaw, A. (2013, July 29). Disabled Man Claims Delta Forced Him to Crawl On and Off Plane. ABC News. Retrieved September 14, 2014, from


  1. Of all the ethical controversies I've read here, this has to be one of the most clearly unethical. The fact that Delta Airlines employees were mistreating disabled customers is totally inexcusable. While I'm sure disabled air travelers are treated properly in most situations, the times that they aren't can't go unpunished. What's ridiculous about this is that Delta is no way benefiting from not accommodating disabled customers, they only lose money (via the lawsuits you mentioned) and face public scrutiny. Great use of the ethical theories, despite that they all roughly share the same opinion.

  2. This case is definitely one of the most eye opening of the ones I read. The fact that people can treat others the way explained here is completely unethical and in no way beneficial to the company. The fact that people can treat people with disabilities this way is unbelievable and I am surprised this is the first time I've heard of this type of treatment from a large company like Delta Airlines.