JacqueRae Hill, from Dallas, Texas, travelled to work emotional last Friday, in the wake of the death of George Floyd, and the ongoing protests in opposition to police brutality against African Americans.
She said it was difficult to perform her job that day, which she has been doing for 14 years, because she is meant to present as cheerful at all times.
“You want to be informed, you want to know what’s going on, but at the same time, my job as a service person is to provide somebody with happiness,” Ms Hill told CNN.
“How do I balance that?” she added. ”It’s hard to have that balance of: This is what’s going on in the world and those people look like me, and this is what I have to do as my job.”
As passengers were boarding the flight, she noticed a white man carrying Robin DiAngelo’s book, White Fragility, and decided she would try to speak to him later.
During the flight, Ms Hill went and sat in the empty seat next to the man and asked him what he thought of the book.
He said he was half way through, but thought it was good so far, and the pair went on to chat for about 10 minutes.
In the middle of their conversation, the man told Ms Hill, that as a white person, “It’s our fault. We have to start these conversations.”
The flight attendant told the outlet that his comment resonated with her and she started to cry: “I know he didn’t know what to do. I know I startled him. I was embarrassed. I didn’t expect that. It was just a genuine moment for me.”
At the end of their conversation, Ms Hill, thanked him and asked what his name was. He replied: “I’m Doug Parker, the CEO of American.”
Ms Hill was shocked, but told CNN that she was pleased to see someone in his position educating himself and willing to have a conversation about race.
“I was thankful if he was a random person that had no influence. 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 just think that speaks volumes as to the work we all have to do in trying to bring ourselves together.”
Ms Hill’s mother, Patti Anderson, who has worked for American Airlines for nearly 10 years, contacted Mr Parker and thanked him for the conversation he had with her daughter.
Mr Parker replied: “(JacqueRae) certainly 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.”
The CEO added: “I was the one who was blessed by that conversation.”