American Airlines’ CEO Reads About Racism, Makes Southwest Airlines Flight Attendant’s Day

Filed Under: American, Southwest

This is obviously a tough time globally, with the impact that COVID-19 is having on just about everything. That’s bad enough, but then there’s the current situation unfolding in the US. I’m angry and sad and frustrated — we see the same thing happen over and over, and nothing changes — and I can’t even imagine how others must feel. There are simply no words.

There’s an uplifting story along those lines (as much as something related to racism can be “uplifting”), which is shared in a Facebook post by a Southwest Airlines flight attendant named JacqueRae. Specifically, she had American Airlines’ CEO, Doug Parker, on her flight (I’m guessing he was flying somewhere from Dallas that was served nonstop by Southwest, but not by American).

JacqueRae didn’t know who he was, but rather noticed the book he was reading. She sat down near him and started a conversation with him based on that. His book? “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard For White People To Talk About Racism.”

Only at the end of the conversation did he reveal who he was. He also left her a note, leaving his contact info to encourage her to continue the conversation.

Here’s the text of the Facebook post, for anyone who is interested:

So my heart has been heavy as I’m sure most of you feel the same. I was on social media before preparing to go to work (terrible idea). 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. 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. I was so happy to see that book in his grasp that I knew after I finished my duties I was going to make a point to ask him about it. I go sit next to him as he was sitting in a row all by himself (That was God). I said Hey How are you? I see your are reading that book .. So how is it? He replies oh I’m half way through it’s really good. It really points out how important these conversations on race are. As I began to respond the tears just start falling . I have been so sad every day and I just want to understand and be understood so we can began to fix it.

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. I told him my mother works for him in DC and then I reached over and gave him a BIG HUG ! I HAD TO!! (yes we were both masked) I thanked him for being open and allowing this conversation to happen because I just needed to hear it and I walked off. I thanked God for his LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS the rest of the Flight. On his way off the plane he hands me a handwritten note and I thank him again and ask for this pic. This encounter is Only A Holy Spirit thing!!!!

There are so many different ways to affect 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. I believe that God answered my prayer so perfectly that I want to be apart of an answered prayer for someone else.

Bottom line

It’s heartwarming and refreshing to see something like this. Call me naive, but I don’t think this was a publicity stunt of any sort (she didn’t know who he was, he was flying Southwest, etc.).

I’ve long thought that Doug Parker at least appears to be a decent person, especially in comparison to some other airline CEOs. That says nothing about the job he does running the world’s largest airline, but he has always seemed to me like a good guy otherwise. This reinforces that for me.

Comments
  1. Good for Doug Parker for choosing to challenge himself on the subject of race and racism. So many people choose to close their eyes, ears, hearts, and minds on this topic (I’m sure they’ll descend on the comments section in short order). Racism exists, but if you’re too afraid or arrogant to challenge your own biases and priors you perpetuate the problem rather than contribute to solving it.

  2. I should add that reading is merely a first step. Hopefully he will transition to being an active participant in dismantling racism in the near future.

  3. Great story. I’ve now put it on my reading list.

    Is Doug dyslexic? My writing looks exactly like that (at least it did several years ago, the last time I picked up a pen).

  4. Well Miss JacqueRae definitely is naive…as if reading that book means anything? This can absolutely be a publicity stunt. I am going to let you see me reading this and you’re going to think of me a certain way. It’s how people run their Instagrams, it’s in TV dramas about con men, it’s…I’m socially awkward and even I’ve pulled this trick before. 😛

    I’ve learned to develop immunity to this kind of anecdote, because every time someone falls for one, it can potentially be violence against those who perhaps read the book when noone’s looking and perhaps even did more to contibute, it’s just that you can’t see and aren’t aware, and you deny them wholesale. We need to stop this whole “pics or it didn’t happen” mentality. Plus this all smells awfully upstairs/downstairs to me.

    I come from a mother who’s open-minded enough, she as an atheist read everything her Christian friend gave her. She spent a few months reading though Old and New Testaments in 2 languages, AND Joel Osteen… and then got back to her friend politely saying, I can’t join the religion as you so eagerly want. That’s the spirit I come from, so I don’t make these comments lightly. Doug Parker has shown us in years past who he REALLY is, and I would need way more than this to change my mind.

    We’re all susceptible to cutesy angles like this. It’s like when Carly Fiorina led HP and people would be like all amazed, grabbing me and going, omg did you know she’s not only female but an anthropology major? …neither of which ultimately meant very much if you look at how HP did under her and her subsequent track record.

  5. No one is one dimensional. We all have good and bad in us. This story put him in a different light and I’m glad for it. As someone who has been traveling for decades on American my heart sank as I watched all the changes and what I perceive as the erosion of a wonderful flagship airline. Much of my anger was directed at him. Probably not fair. But there you have it. All my grievances seem petty in light of Covid and George Floyd. It was good to read JacqueRae’s post.

  6. I’ve flown transcon next to Doug and we spoke for hours on end. He is remarkably humble and charismatic. Too bad he runs airlines like shit.

    –JRL

  7. Yet another book telling “whites” that their r-a-c-e is the cause of all evil on this planet, and that they shall pay retribution for their ancestors. Learn: blame-shaming whites is en vogue but definitely not r-a-c-i-s-m!!! SMH… (I’m not white, just in case the keyboard warriors are coming for me).

  8. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. “Martin Luther King, Jr.
    Blaming white people is Racism.

  9. I agree with you, Ben. As a person he’s someone I’d love to have a beer with someday. He has faults ( we all do) but he appears to be a genuinely good person.

    But as an airline CEO, not so much.

  10. These chief execs are not the one dimensional evil that we sometimes expect as we are squeezed into our seats on full flights.

    A couple years ago a humble but fascinating young lady engineer sat next to me in F on an American Airlines flight. We talked for a long while about many subjects, and a constant theme was how she adored her dad as an inspiration in her life and her young (non-airline) career. Eventually when I prodded, she grudgingly revealed that her dad is former American CEO Tom Horton. She was flying just before aging out of family flight privileges.

  11. I’m still half asleep but I don’t recall seeing anything in the post that the book, the FA, or Doug Parker explicitly blames whites. The message was the difficulty about talking about racism.
    The comments by Andre and Alan seem to only reinforce how difficult such conversations are:-(

    BTW I commend Parker for reading the book.

  12. @Alan
    It’s not about blaming white people. It’s about INJUSTICE that most people, including those who are white, choose to ignore despite seeing/acknowledging it and “feeling really bad.”

  13. Pretty telling that he flies Southwest instead of American… is afraid of legacy AA employees who think he has degenerated the product and destroyed morale, or does he know that AA is so bad, he’d rather fly another airline?

  14. People like Alan love quoting MLK as a way to excuse ignorance, apathy, and the very real structures that hold black people down. MLK was not a kumbaya let’s hold hands and all just get along moderate. His message and work were radical and radically anti-racist and anti-poverty. They think that people aren’t judged by the color of their skin when we just ignore it.

    Here are some other things he said:

    “Few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race.”

    “Capitalism was built on the exploitation and suffering of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor — both black and white, both here and abroad.”

    “With each modest advance the white population promptly raises the argument that the Negro has come far enough. Each step forward accents an ever-present tendency to backlash.”

    “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

    If you’re calling for everybody to get along, and for colorblindness, what you’re calling for is for people to be silent about their own suffering, and for institutions and social structures responsible for that suffering to be comfortable ignoring it. If you don’t care about, and aren’t actively trying to figure out in little ways every day in your own life, how to actually build the world where people aren’t judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, then you didn’t understand the quote.

    I’m no massive fan of Doug Parker, but reading and learning is a step people can take. It’s little things, people.

  15. I actually want to give Doug Parker some credit here.

    He flew commercial on a competitor rather than fly and drive, hence reducing exposure.
    He doesn’t demand to fly up front.
    His book shows character, at least he is trying to embrace diversity in times of George Floyd.
    He seems genuinely a nice guy (from many other aspects of his personal stories I’ve heard) who you would be ok to hang out with, he just can’t run airlines.

    By the way, the email is still visible (from original source) and it’s his AA email so no secret there anyway.

  16. Endre writes, ” they shall pay retribution for their ancestors.”

    I think what he means is “reparations.” But his limited vocabulary may have been caused by retribution from my ancestors responsible for a segregated school system.

  17. This conman has talked this “inclusive” rap for years. He is a dead ringer for the Mayor in Bonfire of the Vanities with his cynical “Plaques for Blacks” ceremonies.
    When Parker moved to Dallas, he could have joined any country club he wanted. He and Gwen chose the most racist and anti-semetic club in town. But give the devil his due. He knows how to talk the talk and has it sure is working for him. He has tons of clueless supporters who are hugely impressed by his smarmy act.

  18. For the record, he flew southwest because the flight was full on American to his destination and he didn’t want to bump off a paying passenger. Not only because all airlines need the revenue Right now, but he didn’t think he should that to someone just because he is the CEO. Fault him for his faults but acknowledge the positives.

  19. @Eric — Considering how much-maligned Doug Parker has been in travel blogosphere, that is, until today’s confetti shower in his honor, yours has got to be the most remarkable ‘non sequitur’ of the CV-19 pandemic era:

    “This is why I’m glad I choose to fly American over United 100% of the time.”

    Oh, brotha… Parker’s “charm offensive” is turning into a resounding success for the dAArk side!

  20. @Eric
    +1
    “This is why I’m glad I choose to fly American over United 100% of the time.”

    As you can see Jeff Smisek’s unfriendly UA isn’t an enough wake up call for some people.
    Not even Oscar + David Dao is unfriendly enough.
    It takes the lack of foresight and lack of $18k to get 1K to make people realize most people should “choose to fly American over United 100% of the time.”

    @Dan
    For the record, How did you know that?
    If the flight was full out of Dallas that day, why did Doug had the whole row to himself on WN (per FB post). Either AA is charging way too cheap (not good for Doug), or people don’t fly WN (really?). Maybe moving forward Doug Parker is manipulating stock prices with high load factor and next to nothing RASM.

  21. I wonder why everything has to be god-god-goddagodgod all the time. And by the way it’s the white man’s god, they enslaved black people and forced them to accept the European version.

  22. Actually, @Chuck Lester, it was the brown man’s God to begin with (not that it matters one bit!), just like those two other monotheistic religions from the same region. Now, back to aviation please….

  23. @Eskimo — You missed the point, yet again. Forget Dr. Dao or Jeff $mi$ek, and just focus on Doug Parker.

    Until the recent shower of confetti in his honor, wasn’t Parker one of Travel Underground’s “Bête Noires” or boogeymen, who was more despised than even $mi$ek?

    So, was or wasn’t Parker as awful a person as he was constantly portrayed as (I had no opinion one way or the other because I hardly paid attention to the dAArk side)? If we was, then does one incident of decency change that; and, if he was not, what does that say about Travel Underground’s or blogosphere’s collective judgment?

    Inquiring minds wanna know!

  24. i am currently reading this book – i highly recommend it.

    DP is a really, really nice guy.

  25. @Krikor

    You missed the point, yet again. Forget $outhwest or the eplephAAnt. Some people can’t even understand what is an Elephant. They are stuck in a storm so long and only want to just focus on Doug Parker.

  26. First read this story on a flight attendant FB site. Heartwarming and nice to see a human side to the CEO of this large airline. Thanks for posting.

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