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. @ Gary — Thank you. I needed to read this story this morning. It so hard NOT to be angry right now, but this heartwarming story helps.

  2. It’s hard not to be angry with the black on white violence which plagues every western country. It’s hard not to be angry with the anti white racism which persecutes whites for wanting the same freedom and rights as other groups have when they have pride in their own and look out exclusively for their own people. Blacks are proud to be black, but whites are not allowed to be proud to be white. Blacks can talk about the black community, but whites can’t talk about the white community. It’s a double standard and that’s the real racism. No one isn’t complaining Japan, China, Indian, Saudi Arabia, or Kenya aren’t diverse enough.

  3. Gary, perhaps the best column you’ve ever written—and there are so many good ones! Thanks!—Michael

  4. Thanks for sharing that Gary! What a heartwarming story – makes me look at Doug Parker in a different light.

  5. I was waiting for a “But…” that never came. Like PM1, I saw a different, welcome, side of Doug Parker. Thanks for posting this Gary- is a small ray of hope on a difficult weekend.

  6. Great post, Gary. Like others, I’ve never seen this side of Doug. Seems thoughtful and compassionate. Well done!

  7. Calling my local bookstore to buy a copy of the book. Please shop locally, and not Amazon.

  8. I will say it – the violent criminals protesting in the streets are unjustified and should be confronted with overwhelming strong force.

  9. Hello Gary
    I know I am usually on your case…..but today is terrific. Pitch perfect.

  10. I just reserved the book at my library.

    I think this comment says it all, “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.”

    I’m in total agreement on these points. Everyone I have spoken with abhors what they saw on the video and can’t believe that man was allowed to be a police officer. They also feel the protests are justified as nothing ever changes up top. However, no one sanctions the violence, burning, looting, and chaos that erupted. Peaceful massive protests get a point across; violence negates that effort.

  11. Insightful. While I’m still not a fan of Parker, I do think better of him for this. Nicely written, Gary.

  12. While I am a white man that lives in the South, I did live overseas in developing countries as a youngster while my Dad worked for USAID. My parents had friends that were black, white, and brown, and taught my brother and me that you should judge a person not by what color their skin is, but what is in their heart. That was before MLK, Jr’s “…judge a man not by the color of his skin; but, rather by the content of his character…” (I paraphrase). George Floyd’s death, however, is being overshadowed by the violent protests – and additional deaths – across the country. What a shame that is, and the Mayors of the respective cities should be held accountable for the deaths, injuries, and loss of property by businesses and home owners! Thanks for your comments, Gary, and for keeping the conversation open.

  13. @amywest That’s just it Amy. You nailed it. Whites have always had freedoms and rights, while blacks haven’t had the same freedoms and that’s something you don’t understand. It’s a double standard.
    Why do you expect the other countries to be diverse? They didn’t bring people of color on slave ships and mistreat them.
    @ David-in Florida. Just so you know there are a lot of white criminals in those crowds doing most of the damage. They are called Anarchists and just love to show up at these demonstrations and do their damage. When is the last time you heard or saw a black police officer kill a white man? I can tell you one and the white person was female from Australia. Other than that I can’t remember another. Black officers are smart enough to know bad things would happen if a black officer killed a white person while on duty.

  14. Thank you Gary!!

    @Rog, thank you for your response to amywest and David-in-Florida. These two need to read the book!

  15. Thank you all — a great discussion. All should avoid over-generalizing when not possessed of the facts, as false claims here give ammunition to those who oppose the high-minded hopes of most Americans.

    @Rog: no ones knows how many of the protesters were white, nor whether whites caused a majority of the violence, and your comments will not be appreciated by the families of the two policemen shot in New York by a black man in 2014, nor to the families of the 2 NYPD offers who were ambushed and shot there months ago in the Bronx.

    Black officers HAVE shot white people, and vice versa. It should all stop.

    It does not help the cause to circulate additional falsehoods, without evidence.

  16. To David in Florida- I would ask that you please take a moment to consider that those people horrified and angered by this killing and wanting to legally and peacefully protest should not be lumped together with those who only use violence and destruction to promote chaos.

  17. @scott Besides the one I named, name one recent incident where a black officer shot a White person. So where’s your evidence?
    Where do you get off comparing the police officers shot in NYC with what is happening now. We’re talking about police officers killing other people not the other way around.
    So you don’t see any white people in the demonstrations?
    Who do you think makes up the antifa, the black panthers?

  18. The problem with the looting is it reinforces a blind support of the police by people who fear thugs destroying their communities. The fact is blacks commit a disproportionate amount of violent crime. According to the FBI crime statistics, between 1980-2008 blacks committed 52% of the homicides despite being 13% of the population. Other crimes like rape and theft follow the same pattern. A lot of people legitimately fear black violence so they turn to strong arming by the police while not realizing that cops are just as bad. Cops often instigate and escalate situations, and cops blindly enforce liberal laws which violate fundamental freedoms. More white people were killed by police last year. A Somalian cop murdered an Australian citizen in her house who had called to report a suspect attack next door. It took months for that Somalian horn police officer to be charged and arrested. We saw how cops arrested people for visiting friends and family on private property during coronavirus. We see the evils of the war on drugs. We see the terror cops put into motorists when pull people over for not wearing seat belts (a completely consensual and voluntary choice for ones own body). None of these things are good but of course we thousands of protestors destroy private property and steal TVs, things aren’t going to change for the better. The protestors have a point about police abuse, although it affects all lives, but most of them are violent criminals themselves as demonstrated by the looting. It’s very unfortunate.

  19. @Rog,

    Sorry — I listed 2 cases where Blacks shot white or Hispanic police. If you want cases where Black police officers shot white citizens, look up these 2:


    Most good citizens are disgusted by the Floyd killing, so I am pleased o see people of all stripes in the crowds of protesters. But none of us are in a position to know whether white people caused a majority of the damage. It’s not ok to accuse the “opposition” of making false claims, while at the same time making false claims yourself.

    The facts speak for themselves, and are powerful. No need to exaggerate or further inflame.

    Let’s try to keep on track with the sentiments expressed by Doug Parker and JacqueRae, and build from there…

  20. I accept the DNC and it’s heads as my lords and saviors to help me atone for the sin of being born as a privileged white racist sexist Male.

  21. When I first met Mr. Parker, I remember him having a tall forehead, and parting his hair on the right side, just saying…

  22. Matt B– He was flying Southwest because the AA flight to his destination was full (whether that meant actually full or just up to AA’s load factor cap they put in place for COVID I don’t know). Rather than bump a paying passenger like he can do as CEO using his positive space privileges, he elected to fly standby on Southwest.

  23. Nothing documents white privilege better than Amy above. If you are black, you are 2 1/2 times more likely to be shot and killed by a policeman than a white person. But that still grossly understates the fear and risk of being a black person who gets pulled over by the white policeman (police forces in the US are on average 30% more white than the community they serve). She’s worried about getting a ticket, because it’s her God-given right not to wear a seatbelt (no, it’s not). The black person is worried about getting shot taking out his driver’s license.

    Finally, most of the protestors are not “violent criminals”, as she asserts. Most of the protests are peaceful, and there are some wonderful examples of protestors protecting police who have been separated from the rest of their troop. Even after the white terrorist, Bogdan Vechirko, drove his tanker truck at full speed into a crowd of peaceful protestors, there were still some in the crowd who protected him from the justifiably angry other protestors. But Amy looks at the crowd, sees black faces and automatically believes they are criminals. That is white privilege.

  24. Hey Gary, that was very well written. Consider the app Grammarly to assist you in proof reading your work.

  25. Why was he on a SW flight while he’s laying off AA employees?
    I’ve emailed him twice, no response. My hubby had to take early retirement due to COVID. Nearly 14yrs, no response to my questions. Funny that he chose the Mom’s email to reply to …

  26. Considering that Southwest usually offers more leg room than on American, I wouldn’t go with “cattle car,” there, Dougy!

  27. I am good and tired of being constantly accused of being something that I am not – because of my race – or being accused of doing something I did not do, for the same reason. I refuse to try to prove a negative – that I am not racist or privileged or a dozen other things. I came up with very little and like to claim at least a little success in life, none of which I stole, used “privilege” or did anything unfair to get. I worked in college while others were outside shooting baskets; as a poor white kid I never got a leg up on anything, and I resent these race hustlers and frank America-haters trying to deprive my children of the beauties of growing up in the finest nation that ever was. I take no “knee” before anybody, and those of us who actually read something other than pornography recognize immediately that those forcing public self-criticism, “knee-taking,” confession to “white privilege,” and supplication have pulled their tactics right out of Mao. Before we do those things it might be informative to review the Chairman’s body count.

    Wise up, America. You are being played for a fool, and the only thing you have to lose is everything.

  28. @Jim, your post shows exactly how out of touch you are with your privilege, and how racist you are. I’m sure that a large number of those people who were “out shooting baskets” would have loved to have had the opportunity to get into your college. But the fact is that they were largely neglected in their early years, and not even given the same primary education opportunities as you. But you don’t see that white privilege you enjoyed. You just want to be a victim.

    I am a white male myself. With a modicum of success in my life. Yes, I worked hard. And I was also fortunate. Fortunate to be born white and male. Fortunate to have been given opportunities that I surely would not have been given had I been black. Fortunate not to have just one of the many mistakes and poor decisions I have made in my life derail me, because close-minded, angry, insecure, judgmental racists such as yourself would have said, “Yep, just like I told you. Another one.”

    Things will not get better until we all are willing to look at our own lives and truly understand that no matter what challenges we as white people face they are not as heavy a burden as PoC go through just trying to cut through the ignorant “boot straps” mentality of neanderthals such as yourself. Some of us will someday get it. Others will go to their graves not understanding or wanting to understand how fortunate they were to be born white. And hopefully those people will go there sooner rather than later.

  29. In response to George’s post on 06/01, let’s assume for a moment that everything you say is true. Whites are privileged, ignorant of the issues facing blacks (and/or other minorities) and not threatened daily simply for existing. What EXACTLY is the road map to reverse this with an end goal of blacks being equal in every way to any other citizen (in their mind)?

    I see everyone pointing out this injustice but never see any action steps for resolving it (other than perhaps “defunding” the police department, etc.). It’s been 56 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act and we’ve been through countless administrations both Republican and Democrat. It doesn’t seem like we’ve made much progress.

    So George, if you could wave your magic wand and change five things that would level the playing field, what would they be and why?

  30. Roger, what have you personally done to return the favor for the benefits you gained from your self-admitted white privilege? Other than self-reflection and an a subsequent admission of “boot-strap” mentality, what do you recommend? Perhaps we can all learn from you experience.

  31. Amy, there was no mention whatsoever of looting in the article, so why are you bringing it up? Protesters are not looters. Looters are criminals looking for an opportunity to commit crime while police and the public are distracted. Don’t feed into the anxiety and misinformation that link protesting and demonstrations with looting.

  32. Great article, Gary, and exactly what we need to hear (and model) in these challenging times!

    Thank you for spreading something positive today.

  33. I read this article and the comments and it is not encouraging. I simply don’t see the racism in my life. I see sexism, but in reverse. I do see racism, but it is by blacks accusing me and everyone of racism in the media. I am retired but have been in mixed race and sex environments since grade school. I have worked in office space where there was maybe a 50-50 mixture of blacks and whites. The differences I heard and experienced had nothing to do with race. They had to do with, well, religion. I have sung in black gospel choirs for many years. I just don’t see it, except in the media and those that are trying to exploit it for financial or power gain. But not in my personal life. What is happening is for political power and exploitation of blacks, not racism. This kind of commentary in this article kind of sickens me, because I see it as exploitation by the elites. This should not be “news.”

  34. Roger. You can shout “white privilege” all day long, but that doesn’t make a word of it true. I don’t regret my race – or like or dislike any other – and by the way, you don’t know my race. What I DO know is hard work, as do many of my white and black friends – and guess what? Work matters; in today’s America, not much else does. The energy expended nursing one’s sore head would be much better spent humping-and-getting it. Take that from a poor Appalachian boy. It’s funny how feeling sorry for yourself and blaming everybody else for your shortcomings – which used to be considered disgusting behavior – is now celebrated: “I’m a bigger victim than YOU, so THERE!” LOL.

    By the way: I had a bet with myself: how long it would take for someone to shout, “Racist!”
    Almost immediately. Thanks, but it’s a poor substitute for a decent argument.

  35. The scorpion and the frog.

    A scorpion wanted to cross a river. He asked a frog to carry him across. The frog replied, “But your a scorpion. If I carry you on my back, you may sting me and we both will drown.”
    “No,” replied the scorpion, “I would not sting you. If I did that, I would drown too”.
    The frog thought that made logical sense and said, “Okay, I will take you across”.
    The scorpion jumped on the frog’s back and he started swimming across the river. About halfway across, the scorpion stung the frog. The frog said, “Why did you sting me? Now we will both die?”
    “I had to,” replied the scorpion. “It is my nature”.

    Wake up America! MAGA

  36. I’m tired of being told the looting and rioting is somehow my fault.

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