Black flight attendant unknowingly has emotional discussion on race with white airline CEO

"Much of the problem is we don't talk about it enough."

June 1, 2020, 10:57 PM

A black Southwest Airlines flight attendant was moved to tears during a discussion on race with one passenger who only later identified himself as American Airlines CEO Doug Parker.

The 14-year Southwest employee, JacqueRae Hill, drove to work Friday morning with a "heavy heart" after watching protests erupt nationwide following the death of George Floyd.

While at work, it wasn't Parker, but the book he was reading -- titled "White Fragility" -- that caught her eye.

Parker said he was on the flight because he needed to get to Panama City, Florida, and all of American's seats were sold out.

"So how is the book?" Hill asked after making her way to the back of the aircraft and sitting in the empty aisle seat next to Parker.

Southwest Airlines flight attendant JacqueRae Hill and American Airlines CEO Doug Parker posed after their flight landed in Panama City Beach, Florida, on Friday.
Jorge Molina

Hill recalled him telling her he was halfway through it, but that it "really point[ed] out how important these conversations on race are."

"As I began to respond the tears just start[ed] falling," Hill said.

Parker later told American Airlines executives in an email that he "felt wholly inadequate" but "knew it was a special moment."

PHOTO: Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive officer of American Airlines Group Inc., speaks with employees in Chicago, Illinois, on Friday, May 11, 2018.
Doug Parker, chairman and chief executive officer of American Airlines speaks with employees in Chicago, May 11, 2018.
Joshua Lott/Bloomberg via Getty Images

"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," Parker wrote. "She agreed. I told her I was trying to learn and through tears and a mask, she said, 'So am I.'"

The two talked for a little over 10 minutes and it wasn't until the end of the conversation that Parker revealed his identity to Hill.

Hill's mother works as a customer service manager for American Airlines at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Washington, D.C.

"I reached over and gave him a big hug. I had to!" Hill said, adding that they were both masked.

When Parker disembarked from the plane, he handed Hill a handwritten note telling her that she could email him if she wanted to continue their conversation.

"I am saddened that we as a society have progressed so slowly on an issue that has such a clear right versus wrong," Parker wrote to Hill. "Much of the problem is we don't talk about it enough."

Parker also emailed Hill's mother, Patti, telling her that her daughter's visit was a "gift."

Hill posted about the encounter on her Facebook, and in a little over three days, it has garnered over 6,000 reactions.

"We are not so different in what we want out of life," Hill told ABC News. "All we both wanted in that moment was peace and to be understood."

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