Wounded, Handicapped, Afghanistan Vet Humiliated By Delta

Just over one year ago, Marine Lance Cpl. Christian Brown was severely injured while on patrol in Afghanistan’s Helmund Province when he stepped on an explosive device. The injuries were so bad that he ended up losing both of his legs. He’s been recovering for the past year at Walter Read Army Medical Center and other facilities. Earlier this month, though, he was traveling back to Washington on Delta Airlines when he found himself subjected to treatment that no human being, least of all a wounded warrior, should have to face: 

Brown was “humiliated” to the point of tears on a Delta flight from Atlanta to Washington after being clumsily wheeled to the back row of the plane, according to a complaint sent to the airline by an outraged fellow passenger.

Worse yet, according to retired Army Col. Nickey Knighton’s detailed “customer care” report to Delta, efforts by several fellow vets to shift Brown from coach to a first class seat offered by another flyer, were rebuffed by the crew. Flight attendants insisted no one could move through the cabin because the doors were being closed for takeoff, she wrote.

Knighton, a former helicopter pilot with nearly 30 years of service, who turned out to be seated in the same back row as Brown, assumed that because he boarded last, he would be seated up front for comfort and ease of exit in case of emergency. Instead, she wrote in a complaint obtained by the Washington Post’s “She The People” blog, he was squeezed into a narrow aviation wheelchair that “bumped up against stationary aisle seats as he was wheeled through the aircraft. [He] was obviously humiliated by being paraded through the aircraft and was visibly upset. I touched Brown on his shoulders and asked if he was okay. Tears ran down his face, but he did not cry out loud.”

What Knighton did not tell Delta, perhaps because she did not know, was that Brown, 29, was also very ill with a high fever. He was returning, via Atlanta, from a hunting trip in Alabama for injured service members to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Injured on his second deployment to Afghanistan after joining the Marines in April, 2009, Brown has spent nearly a year at the complex outside Washington, D.C.

After six months in the hospital, including a period when he was in a coma, Brown moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the medical campus that he shares with his mother, Lyn Braden-Reed. He undergoes daily physical therapy to adjust to his new legs, she said. Friends and family follow his progress via Facebook posts and photos.


But while Knighton’s complaint reflects controlled rage, retired Army Lt. Col. Keith Gafford, also on the flight, held nothing back during a phone interview.

“I have been flying with Delta for a gazillion years and this crew treated Chris worse than you’d treat any thing, not even any body. I did 27 years in the military. I have seen a lot of things and have seen a lot of guys die, but I have never seen a Marine cry,” said Gafford, who served two tours in Iraq. “What the kid said was, ‘I have given everything that I can give and this is the way I am being treated? This is how I will be treated for the rest of my life?'”

In fact, Gafford added, two first-class passengers offered to switch seats with Brown, “but the flight attendant said we have to go. How many times have we sat on the tarmac for 45 minutes? You could close the door and still make an adjustment.” The Texas native blasted the crew for being “hard as woodpecker lips.”

Knighton said time was hardly the issue since the plane took off five minutes ahead of schedule and arrived at Washington Reagan National Airport a quarter hour early. She also said crew members refused to divulge their names or discuss the situation, although one attendant suggested she speak to the captain upon landing. By the time she reached the cockpit, the captain had vanished. The first officer declined to engage in conversation, and urged her to contact customer service.

Delta’s response so far has basically been corporate nonsense:

Michael R. Thomas of Delta’s corporate communications office in Atlanta offered this emailed statement regarding Knighton’s letter:

“The story in no way reflects either Delta’s standard operating procedure or the very high regard we hold for our nation’s service members. We are sorry for the difficulties that transpired and are investigating this event to determine the appropriate next steps.”

Asked to list possible next steps-reprimands, fines, suspension, termination-or estimate how long the probe might last, Thomas sent a second email: “As previously stated, we are actively looking into the incident and have no additional details to share at this time.”

One would hope that there’s some kind of reprimand for the members of the flight crew that treated this young man in this callous manner. No human being deserves to be treated this way.

H/T: The Moderate Voice

FILED UNDER: Afghanistan War, Military Affairs, , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. anjin-san says:

    The last time I flew on Delta I swore never again – the worst.

  2. John Peabody says:

    The printed reports have first-hand information from one side of the issue. Why play the wounded veteran card? Wouldn’t a bumpy ride down the aisle (perhaps bumping on the straps of under-seat baggage) be just as egregious to a civilian (apparently a less-than-hero person)? Cripes, get the observations of disinterested parties before you assign a blame and consequences.

  3. James Joyner says:

    @John Peabody: Doug was excerpting a Washington Post story. The airline has issued a release saying they’re looking into it.

  4. John Burgess says:

    The only time I’ll fly Delta is when there is absolutely no alternative. Even if it costs more, I’ll avoid Delta.

  5. Anon says:

    There seems to be multiple issues here, some more clear to me than others. I agree that it seemed Delta could have switched him to first class since someone had offered. So that is one thing that Delta could have done better for sure.

    But let’s say that no one offered. Then what should Delta have done? Why is a bumpy ride down the aisle in a wheelchair so humiliating? Should we hide our handicapped from public view, especially under bumpy conditions?

    What arrangements were made in advance? Should there be a law that says all handicapped veterans should be offered first class seats at coach prices? I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to such a law, but I do want to understand exactly what should be done in the future.

  6. Ax says:

    I don’t get what the big deal is. So he was wheeled to the back of the plane, and people looked at him. Oh what horror. I can understand why he was upset to the point of tears; after all he was injured, probably traumatized, and ill. And it was dumb of Delta to refuse the switch with the first-class passenger. But other than that, I don’t get what’s so horrible about the way this guy was treated.

  7. Argon says:

    Ax, I know! Marines who’ve had their legs blown off less than a year ago and suffering at the time with a high fever can be s-o-o sensitive to the littlest thing… like being manhandled and bounced into other passengers while being hauled through a narrow aisle to the back of a plane.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    From the article:

    Brown and his mother, who live 25 miles north of Memphis in the town of Munford, declined to offer specifics about what he actually experienced on the plane.

    Given only those specifics offered in the article, given that neither Brown nor his mother are offering any more specifics, I too have to say, “Huh?”

    One would hope that there’s some kind of reprimand for the members of the flight crew that treated this young man in this callous manner. No human being deserves to be treated this way.

    You don’t fly Southwest much, do you Doug?

  9. swbarnes2 says:

    Are “very ill” people with “high fevers” supposed to be flying? Wouldn’t they be putting the crew and other passengers at risk?