U.S.

Delta calls police on grandparents on suspicion of child trafficking

The mixed-race grandparents said they were horrified to learn why they were stopped by police, and claim the airline didn't follow protocol.

Delta Air Lines plane
Abbie Parr / AP
SMS

Dee Dee Ohara Blizard couldn't believe she and her husband were being stopped by police at Detroit metro airport Sunday after returning from a trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic with their grandson.

"The officer said, 'I need you to come with me.' And immediately, I froze," Blizard told Scripps News Detroit Thursday.

It didn't take long for Blizard, who is Black, and her husband, who is Japanese, to learn that they were being stopped because a Delta Airlines employee suspected the baby they were carrying, their 11-month-old grandson, was the victim of child trafficking.

"I was horrified," Blizard said. "They literally went from zero to child trafficking."

The couple from Farmington Hills, Michigan, traveled to Punta Cana last week because Blizard, who is in global real estate, was invited to speak at a conference.

Blizard said their grandson had his own boarding pass and passport and there was no issue on the two flights to get to Punta Cana and they didn't think there was an issue on the two legs of their return trip.

On the flight from Atlanta to back to Detroit, Blizard said she didn't think much of it when a flight attendant came up to her where she was sitting in first class and asked if she was traveling with an infant. Blizard said she told the flight attendant yes but that at the moment, her husband was holding their grandson so that she could catch up on some emails for work.

Blizard said the flight attendant also asked if her husband was in seat 14C and she told her yes and that the baby's name is Ari.

Scripps News Detroit

Blizard, who travels frequently, likes to travel in first class but said that her husband is fine with traveling coach and they were taking turns holding their grandson.

"She said, 'OK, we're just asking because we didn't have all the information that we needed for one of the children on board, so we're just asking questions for that reason.'"

Blizard said she didn't think much else of the conversation.

After the plane landed, Blizard said she took a moment to change Ari's diaper before the three of them headed to baggage pickup. On the way there is when they were approached by airport police and a supervisor from Delta Air Lines who was on the phone with a flight attendant.

"They are telling the police officers that I was suspected of child trafficking," said Blizard, adding that the Delta supervisor lacked compassion for their ordeal and kept repeating, "I'm just doing my job. I'm just doing my job."

Blizard did record portions of the encounter because she couldn't believe what was happening. She later posted a video on social media.

"All of the protocols, if they have them, all of the steps, if they have them, none of them were followed," said Blizard, adding that child trafficking is a serious crime but that she believes Delta failed in trying to identify potential victims and perpetrators.

She said she would not have had a problem showing airline employees Ari's passport, boarding pass and documents proving that they were related to their grandson. But she said calling police was not the appropriate response to any suspicion a flight attendant may have had.

After two hours, Blizard said, airport police she described as very professional told her they were clear to leave with their grandson.

Airport police told Scripps News Detroit that they responded to a call at the McNamara Terminal on Sunday, adding that their "responding officer did not observe anything to warrant suspicions of child trafficking and cleared the family after conducting an investigation."

Delta Air Lines issued the following statement on the incident:

"Delta is taking what this customer says seriously and as a values-led company, we have zero tolerance for discriminatory actions. While we are looking into what may have transpired, we train our crew members to remain alert and use their professional experience and best judgement to ensure the safety of all our customers.”

Blizard said Delta needs to have training and protocols in place for their employees to be able to recognize child trafficking and training for how any such situation should be handled.

Blizard said their worst fear in those moments was that police might remove their grandson from them.

"It was not just traumatizing and a scary thing, but I started thinking, I have an upcoming trip to Japan. I'm not going to take him. I have an upcoming trip to London. I am not going to take him. I can't go through that again. I need to be somewhat secure that they've gotten this figured out."

This story was originally published by Kimberly Craig at Scripps News Detroit.