Delta Air Lines accused of mistreating Nigerian passengers by acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie by Ronan J O’Shea

Editorial

Walk away from the insults. Delta Airlines is not a monopoly. Don’t be abused while your money is taken. Let them serve only their white customers. Nigeria should not allow such service provides into our country either.

Award-winning author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has accused Delta Airlines of discriminating against Nigerian customers.

In a Facebook post, Adichie, whose books include Americanah, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, took issue with Delta’s practice of requesting that customers produce a physical copy of their credit cards when checking in.

She began her complaint by reposting a letter she wrote to the airline in 2010, recounting an incident in which she had bought tickets for a flight to Nigeria for her elderly parents, but was forced to appear in person at the airport and present the credit card she had used before they could fly.

The airline, she said, “insisted that the credit card used to pay for the ticket must be physically produced, and the owner of the credit card physically appear, otherwise my parents would not be allowed to travel.” Her parents had already flown the outbound leg of the booking, and the credit card bill had been settled months earlier, she writes – saying it was obvious this was not a fraudulent transaction.

“I called and asked to speak to a manager and was rudely told that nothing could be done.

“I was shocked and unbelieving. My father, a 78-year-old diabetic who had an important family event to attend in Nigeria, was worried about missing his flight. I, unwell, was forced to dash to the airport as quickly as I could. I then ‘physically presented’ myself and my credit card.”

Her parents missed the flight.

Adichie says that, seven years on, “nothing has changed”.

The airline, she says, insists that it is policy to see the credit card used to book any flights purchased online or over the phone. However, she says, this has only ever happened to her when flying to Nigeria.

Even when buying tickets for family members from the US to Europe, Delta has not required her to show her card.

A spokesperson for Delta told The Independent:

“To safeguard against credit/debit card fraud, a ticket purchaser may have to show a Delta agent the credit/debit card used to pay for their flights along with a valid photo ID prior to travel.

“If the purchaser is not travelling, they can present their credit/debit card and ID at an airport ticket counter or their local ticket office prior to the passenger’s departure. Delta implemented this policy many years ago to help protect both customers and the airline.

“The policy is not unique to Nigeria and is to protect against fraud.”

In her post, Adichie expressed sympathy with Delta’s need to prevent fraud but insisted the airline must “treat each case individually and not lump all Nigerian travelers into one group of potential fraudsters.”

A number of Nigerian citizens have told The Independent that they have experienced similar problems.

One, who wished to remain anonymous, said that it had happened to them on more than one occasion: “Delta started doing that because some [people] stole credit card information and used other people’s credit cards to book flights. When the real owners find out, they just call their credit card companies to reverse the transaction and Delta is out of money.

“They found it most common that it happened with people flying to Nigeria, hence they started doing that.”

Another passenger, who regularly flies between the UK and Nigeria, told The Independent: “I have been asked [to show my card], as have my family members as black Nigerians.”

However, they said that while it was common for black passengers to be asked, they had never seen it happen to a white passenger. “I understand there are fraud issues but the approach should be consistent and all passengers should be asked, not just those with a darker complexion,” they added.

DEAR DELTA AIRLINES, YOU MUST DO BETTER

Seven years ago, I sent this letter to Delta Airlines.

X

Delta Airlines Nigeria Policy: A Complaint

On April 20, 2010 I bought two Lagos-Baltimore return tickets on delta.com for my parents. I paid for the tickets with my credit card. They were scheduled to leave Lagos on June 3 2010 and return on November 1 2010. They arrived the United States as scheduled, with no incident. A few weeks later, our family plans changed. I contacted Delta and changed their return date to December 30 2010. A change fee was paid. Confirmation e-mails were sent. Everything else remained the same.

On December 30, I was ill in bed.

A family member took my parents to the airport. Delta representatives refused to check my parents in. They insisted that the credit card used to pay for the ticket must be physically produced, and the owner of the credit card physically appear, otherwise my parents would not be allowed to travel.

I called and asked to speak to a manager and was rudely told that nothing could be done.

I was shocked and unbelieving. My father, a 78-year-old diabetic who had an important family event to attend in Nigeria, was worried about missing his flight. I, unwell, was forced to dash to the airport as quickly as I could. I then ‘physically presented’ myself and my credit card.

My parents ended up missing their flight and were re-booked on the next flight.

While I understand that Delta is keen to prevent fraud, and I indeed sympathize about any fraudulent purchases that Nigerians might have made, Delta MUST also treat each case individually and not lump all Nigerian travelers into one group of potential fraudsters.

If the Delta representative had been willing to look at the specifics of this incident, it would have been quite clear that this was not in any way a fraudulent ticket purchase. My parents had already travelled on the first leg of the ticket months before and my credit card had already been fully charged.

I was fortunately at home, even if sick, but I might as well have been away. What then would have happened if I were unable to ‘physically appear?’ Does Delta expect everyone who buys tickets for family or friends always to be physically present at a Delta counter?

I write to register my profound disappointment and to strongly urge Delta to review its ‘one-size-fits-all’ policy towards Nigerian travelers. There must be ways to prevent fraud while also recognizing the individual humanity of each customer.

Sincerely,

Chimamanda Adichie

X

I sent this in 2010.

I received a generic, platitude-filled response, along with an inane one-hundred-dollar domestic Delta voucher that I never used.

It has been seven years and nothing has changed.

You still have to present yourself physically to show your card. No, you can’t have a family member bring the card. No, you can’t have a family member bring the card and a matching ID. (What are the odds that you would present a stolen credit card and a stolen valid ID?)

You complain and complain until you get tired because nobody cares. You tell yourself to just stop flying Delta but Delta has a monopoly on direct flights from the US to Nigeria, and the convenience, especially for elderly parents, matters.

You ask if this is something that Delta does only for Nigerian flights and you’re told that it’s done for all flight tickets bought online or over the phone.

But you know that is not true. You have purchased Delta tickets to Europe. You have never been asked to show your credit card. Not even when you purchased Delta tickets to Europe for a family member.

And as though it’s not bad enough that you have to physically present yourself at the airport, Delta gives you no confirmation that the card has been ‘presented.’ A Delta representative merely taps at a computer and says it’s done.

Which means that your cousin who flew from Lagos to the US, on a ticket you paid for, had difficulty boarding her flight, even though you had shown your card at the Delta counter at BWI, but you had no ‘proof’ of this.

Once in 2015 you were travelling from BWI to Lagos on a ticket purchased by a travel agent and Delta representatives asked for the credit card used to purchase the ticket, and you explained that it had been purchased by your Publisher’s travel agency and that you had already travelled on the first leg from Lagos to BWI.

But you were not allowed to board.

A Delta representative said, “your only option is to buy a new ticket here and the other one can be refunded later,” speaking airily as though buying a flight ticket was like buying candy.

You were frustrated and furious but you had to be in Lagos the next day. You were left no choice but to buy a new ticket at the airport. The Delta representatives remained indifferent as you tried to tell them how this made no sense, how you had already travelled on the first leg of the same ticket, how a ticket purchased by an established travel agency could not possibly be fraudulent.

‘Indifferent’ is inaccurate. The Delta representatives at BWI are decidedly unpleasant.

(except for one person, and it is telling that this one person stands out, so rare is her courtesy)

The others all glow with hostility.

You wonder if this hostility is simply the rage of workers who are not paid a fair wage, or if it is the armor they wear to implement policies that they know very well are ridiculous.

On another occasion in 2015 when you are forced to present yourself so that your parents could board a flight, you complain and ask for the manager. The manager looks through you as you try to speak. She manages to be both stone-faced and reproachful. You feel accused. You feel like a thief.

Nobody deserves this but even in an aviation industry that rewards frequent fliers with privileges, yours don’t count – your platinum frequent flier card means nothing because you are a Nigerian and Nigerians are all a blur of fraudulence. God save you if the only time you can go to the airport to ‘physically present yourself and your card’ happens to be a busy check-in time. You will stand in the special services line forever, ignored, waiting to convince Delta to take your money. If you do show the card but then need to change your travel to a different date, you must again physically show yourself and your card.

Delta’s policy is crude and contemptuous. Crude because Delta won’t bother to figure out a more sophisticated way to address fraudulent ticket purchases. Contemptuous because Delta is indifferent to the unfair burden that this places on Nigerians. Some hardworking Nigerians have two jobs, families, responsibilities. They buy tickets for themselves and their families, they pay with their hard-earned money, and Delta asks them to ‘present yourself’ at a Delta Airlines counter which may be twenty or fifty or one hundred miles from where they live.

Delta’s message is this: If you want your family to board their flight then present yourself, and prove to us that you are not a thief because we start with the premise that you are a thief.

And it might be a good idea, Delta, to better train your flight attendants on your Nigeria flights (or perhaps pay them a fair wage?) Like the patronizing woman in the business class cabin of the Lagos-Atlanta flight on October 31 2017 telling me that my two-year-old daughter – who had a full seat and presumably the normal rights of any passenger – was ‘annoying.’ She was ‘annoying’ because she was babbling like a two-year-old and had pressed the ‘call attendant’ button two times. I was stunned. Because I know how easily Nigerian passengers are labeled ‘aggressive’ and ‘difficult,’ I chose not to speak to this woman. I feared I might raise my voice.

Instead I wrote her a note on the menu card, telling her how unacceptable her manner and language had been and how people deserved to be treated with dignity. She read it and came to my seat and pushed the card back at me and said, “I will not accept this from you!”

Dear Delta Airlines, enough. You must do better.

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