Doug Parker Flies Southwest Airlines And Gets Into A Conversation About Race

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker was flying Southwest Airlines out of Dallas to end the week, an airline he’s called ‘the cattle car’. A flight attendant notices the book he brought on board, but not who he is. He’s not her CEO, after all.

Parker was reading White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism. During the trip the flight attendant sat down next to him, he was in an empty row, and she asked him how the book is. He told her he’s “half way through it’s really good” and that it “points out how important these conversations on race are.”

She broke down in tears. It’s such a difficult time in this country. Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin killing George Floyd has set off a real eruption. But what about the other officers who did more than stand by, who tried to cover it up claiming Floyd had resisted arrest?

What’s so striking to me, though, and rather than being pessimistic what I think says great things about this country is that I haven’t seen anyone defending the killing. It just doesn’t seem common to say ‘but you have to understand this from the police officer’s eyes, since they’re at risk every day.’ There are people criticizing the violence of the protesters, but no one saying protests are unjustified.

Still it’s a very hard thing this country is going through and the flight attendant “began to respond [to Parker but] the tears just start falling.” She writes,

I’m pretty sure I startled him by seemingly dumping all my emotions on him but his reply was “ I’m so sorry. And it’s our fault that this is like this. We continued to talk and when I tell you it was everything I needed. I was happy ( even tho I was crying ).

I went on to tel him about my prayer on my way to work today and that he Answered that prayer for me with this conversation. As our conversation came to an end he asks me my name I told him JacqueRae and then he said well I’m Doug Parker the CEO of American Airlines.

She hugged Parker. The flight attendant’s mother works for American. That wasn’t much social distancing but she assures “yes we were both masked.”

At the end of the flight as he was deplaning he gave her a note, and they took a photo together.

Thank you so much for coming back to speak with me. It was a gift from God and an inspiration for me.

I am saddened that we as a society have progressed so slowly on an issue that has such a clear right vs. wrong.

Much of the problem is that we don’t talk about it enough. Thank you for talking to me and sharing your emotion. That took courage.

The book, White Fragility, is great. But it is more for people like me than you (a black friend recommended it to me). I really appreciate you. If you’d like to continue the conversation my email is ____.

The flight attendant texted her mother and it’s her mother, the American Airlines employee, who wrote to Parker,

It brings me to tears to read in a text message from my daughter, JacqueRae, how kind and understand[ing] you were to her today on yur flight from Dallas. I have only been a part of American for nine and a half years but I always felt your heart is good but you have a difficult job. Thank you so much for confirming my belief in who you are and for the hugs you gave my child. What [..] a way to care for people o[n] their life’s journey! American Airlines will come back strong!

Parker replied,

Your daughter’s visit was a gift to me. She is a special young woman. She had the courage to approach me only because I was reading a book on racism in Ameriac. She, like most all of us, is questioning how we got to this spot and why we can’t be better. Her kind heart and open-mindedness were evident – you raised her well.

I had no answers other than to tell her we all need to talk about it more. She cetainly left an impression on me. Reading a book is one thing – spending time with a kind, strong, young black woman who is hurting and trying to learn from others is another thing altogether.

After we’d talked for awhile I felt like I should tell her what I did for a living. The conversation was even more impactful when we realized we had you as a connection. (How did we let her to go Southwest?)

Thank you for thanking me, but trust me, I was the one who was blessed by thtat conversation. I am better for it and more resolved to do what I can to make the worldbetter for people like her (and people like me). Thank you!

On American Airlines flights Parker always talks to cabin crew in the galley. He’s clearly a good sport as well, whether a flight attendant spills a tray of drinks on him or dressing up and dancing for Halloween.

I have long had issues with many of the things he’s done running an airline, but he seems to wear his heart on his sleeve – a heart that’s in the right place even if it gets out ahead of business decisions and the things he says and does are often at opposite from each other.

He was genuine, I think, in seeing the unfair NAACP travel warning against American as an opportunity to confront real, legitimate questions and challenges at the airline. What he’s reading when he thinks no one is watching certainly underscores that.

There’s a lot of racism, to be sure, but there’s also a lot of anti-racism too. It’s not surprising that these conflicts seem to come up in the context of white police and black citizens. In cities where demographics have shifted, police departments haven’t. Union seniority systems operate as a lock-in, keeping people in jobs and preventing police departments from shifting too. Police often do believe they’re under attack, but they have the color of law on their side and usually are able to act with impunity. It’s people speaking up – and the ubiquity of cameras with photo and video – that brings about change.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Mr. Parker
    I have absolutely no idea what the word racist means (grammatical everyone is using it incorrectly). However l will be one because of you.
    I will NEVER fly American. I will fly United.

  2. I grew up in the “head of the holler” in West Virginia, worked in the coal mines during college summers to pay for college in the fall, and never got a single leg-up other than jobs from people who noticed that I worked hard.

    I have never been unpleasant to a single soul because of skin color or any other characteristic over which they had no control.

    … and I am damned good and tired of people lecturing ME about my “white privilege,” accusing me of blood guilt for things I had nothing to do with, poking me in the chest with one hand while holding the other palm-up for my money. GO TO YOU-KNOW WHERE.. I don’t owe you a thing any more than you owe me. If you want to get ahead, I suggest you do it the old fashioned way – like I did. Work for it.

    And stop whining. It’s embarrassing.

  3. Change to metric , that’s good news. Less chance I’d have to sit next to a racist. Pleases me greatly

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