‘An Absolute Gift’: Southwest Flight Attendant, American Airlines CEO Have Emotional Racism Talk at 30,000 Feet
Dawn Gilbertson, USA Today, June 1, 2020
Southwest Airlines flight attendant JacqueRae Hill was fed up and feeling defeated by the racial unrest gripping the country before her shift began on Friday.
The 38-year-old Dallas woman, who is African American, ended the day in high spirits thanks to a 10-minute conversation sparked by a book in the seatback pocket of a passenger in row 25 on a flight to Florida.
“It changed how I was thinking and what I was thinking,” Hill said in an interview with USA TODAY. “It’s just been such a blessing to me.”
The passenger: Doug Parker, the white CEO of Southwest rival American Airlines.
Parker, who was flying Southwest because his airline’s flight to Panama City was booked, was equally moved, recalling the encounter as “an absolute gift to me” in an email to other American executives on Saturday.
It all began with a book about racism
Parker packed the best-selling book on racism, “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism,” by Robin DiAngelo,in his backpack for the flight to Florida.
A board member had recommended it to other American executives, but Parker was only halfway through it before the coronavirus crushed the airline business in late February.
“The horrific and senseless death of George Floyd reminded me there were bigger issues in our world than coronavirus, so I packed the book for the trip,” Parker said in the email.
About 30 minutes before landing, Hill plopped down in the empty aisle seat in Parker’s row to ask him about the book.
Hill, who has worked for Southwest for 14 years, said she didn’t plan on the “emotional outburst,” but the tears just came as they talked about the book.
She said Parker was initially startled by her reaction but quickly consoled her.
“He was just like, ‘I’m so sorry, and it’s all our fault. We have to have these conversations (about race),'” she said. “I was like, ‘I’m so sorry. But thank you. Oh my God, thank you.”’
Parker scribbled a thank you note to Hill on the back of the Southwest boarding pass he printed out at home.
“Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me,” it says. “It was a gift from God and an inspiration to me.”