One year after meeting American Airlines CEO Doug Parker on a flight to Panama City, Southwest Airlines flight attendant JacqueRae Hill has invited the rival airline’s CEO to her wedding. It is a nice story, but there is one loose string here – what was Doug Parker doing on a Southwest Airlines flight?
A chance meeting on a Southwest flight to Panama
JacqueRae Hill is a flight attendant at Southwest Airlines with a 15 years work history. She was rostered to work on a flight from Dallas Love Field to Panama City (Florida) in late May 2020. As she was greeting passengers, she noticed one male passenger was carrying a book she recognized. The book on racial inequality was on Ms Hill’s reading list.
After the passengers, included the as-yet unmasked Doug Parker, settled in, and the cabin service wrapped up, JacqueRae Hill approached the passenger. Why? He was “a different person than me reading a book about how to talk about race.”
Doug Parker later admitted he thought he was rumbled. He thought despite the face mask, having a whole row to himself, and keeping a low profile, he’d been recognized. But that wasn’t the case. Ms Hill wanted to talk about the book. It was only after a 10-minute conversation, when they properly introduced themselves, that Parker was unmasked.
“I’m Doug Parker, the CEO of American,” he admitted. What was Mr Parker doing on a Southwest flight? Despite his public pro-American stance, did he secretly prefer Southwest Airlines? It turns out American’s flight to Panama City was full that day, and Doug Parker had to fly on a competitor airline.
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A note from a CEO starts a friendship
Being a diligent airline CEO and a decent human being, Mr Parker gave JacqueRae Hill a note when he left the plane in Panama City, saying what a pleasure it was to meet her and how much he enjoyed the conversation. Later, Ms Hill posted about their encounter online and received an overwhelming response.
“I was thankful if he was a random person that had no influence,” CNN quotes Ms Hill saying. “But because of his position in life, the fact that he’s reading that book. He does not have to educate himself. And the fact that he is, I think that speaks volumes as to the work we all have to do in trying to bring ourselves together.”
JacqueRae Hill’s mother works for American Airlines at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. She later reached out to Mr Parker to say how much the inflight meeting had impacted her daughter.
“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.” Doug Parker replied
And there began a friendship between Ms Hill and Mr Parker – all because of a book about inequality. For JacqueRae’s mother, her daughter’s experience reaffirmed why she liked working for American Airlines.
One year later, on the recent Memorial Day weekend, JacqueRae married Rashard Sullivan. JacqueRae Hill became JacqueRae Sullivan, and Doug Parker was on the guest list.
“I had the honor of attending the wedding of JacqueRae Hill and Rashard Sullivan,” the American Airlines CEO posted on Instagram. “JacqueRae is a flight attendant I met a year ago while traveling on Southwest. She started a courageous conversation with me about race in America, and it’s one I’ll never forget.”