Black Flight Attendant Unknowingly Has Moving Discussion About Race With White Airline CEO
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker booked a flight with Southwest after all his seats were sold out — and now he's glad he did
When a Black flight attendant came over to chat with a white passenger about a book he was reading on the flight she was working on Friday, she had no idea how much their discussion would impact both of them. She also had no idea that that passenger was American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.
In a post to Facebook on Saturday, Southwest Airlines flight attendant JacqueRae Hill shared that she had gone to work with a heavy heart, devastated by the state of the country following the death of George Floyd at the hands of police officers on May 25.
“As I was driving to work I had to really go to God with my thoughts because it would make it hard to smile with everything going on,” wrote the flight attendant of 14 years. “As we are boarding my first flight of the day I smile and I greet people when they come on and a man was holding a book that has been on my to-read list. The book is entitled White Fragility [by Robin DiAngelo].”
Hill continued, explaining that she made a mental note to ask him about it when she was finished with her duties. About an hour into the flight she did just that — sitting down near him in his empty row.
The man told her that he was only about halfway through the book, but that it was great so far because “it really points out how important these conversations on race are.” Their chat was an emotional one, which Hill says moved her to tears. “I have been so sad every day and I just want to understand and be understood so we can begin to fix it,” she explains.
The pair continued to have talk about racism in America for the next 10 minutes, with the man apologizing to her for the shortcomings of his own race and the ways he felt the nation has failed in response to systemic oppression.
“It was everything I needed,” Hill says, going on to say that she told the man about her talk with God on her drive to work, and that this conversation was God’s answer to her prayer. It was then that the man asked her name, and told her that his: Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines.
“I told him my mother works for him in D.C. and then I reached over and gave him a BIG HUG! I HAD TO!! (yes we were both masked),” writes Hill, whose mother is a customer service manager at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C.
“I thanked him for being open and allowing this conversation to happen because I just needed to hear it and I walked off," Hill continued. "On his way off the plane he hands me a handwritten note and I thank him again and ask for [a picture].”
In a message sent to American Airlines employees on Sunday, Parker explained the situation from his own perspective — explaining that he was flying Southwest because seats on his American Airlines flight were sold out.
“I felt wholly inadequate but I knew it was a special moment,” Parker wrote. “The best I could do was tell her that the book talks about how white people are horrible at talking about racism, and that what we need are real conversations. She agreed. I told her I was trying to learn and through tears and a mask, she said, ‘So am I.’”
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Parker says that their chat was “an absolute gift” to him, and that before they had even deplaned he found that Hill’s mother had sent him an email thanking him for comforting her daughter. “I had done nothing, of course,” he writes. “JacqueRae was the brave one. I was sitting comfortably in the back sending you guys emails without thinking twice about what this young woman — and others like her — were going through.”
“These are trying times,” he continued. “Our people are hurting. I’m not certain what all of the answers are, but I know it involves talking to each other. And listening. And it takes courage and leadership to start the conversation and to stand up for what is right. JacqueRae taught me all that.”
Hill echoed his sentiments in the conclusion of her Facebook post: “There are so many different ways to effect change in the world. I stand with anyone who wants to make a difference no matter if it is how I would do it or not.”
She continued: “Doug Parker said that the premise of the book is that we need to have these conversations so here I am. My heart is open and my ears are open as well.”