Photo Credit: United Airlines
United Airlines Celebrated Juneteenth With An All-Black Flight Crew
United Airlines celebrated Juneteenth in a unique and inspiring way.
According to CNN, Flight No. 1258 — which went from Houston to Chicago — had a flight staff that was 100 percent Black. Everyone from the pilot to the gate staff identified as Black, and water cannons shot over the flight as it left the gate.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, who spoke at the event, said that the historic flight was symbolic of the struggles that Black people have had to overcome in the United States for the past 150 years.
“Now, we’re soaring amongst the stars,” he said. “Let me tell you, for our ancestors, my parents, if they were still alive, they would just be amazed.”
The fact that United Airlines celebrated Juneteenth on this flight actually brings some statistics to light that illustrate the racial disparity in the travel industry.
“According to 2020 data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 94% of the country’s 155,000 aircraft pilots and flight engineers identified as white. Only 3.4% were Black, with just over 10% combined of pilots and engineers listed as Black, Latinx (5.0%), or Asian (2.2%),” reports USA Today.
And the numbers become even more perilous for Black women: only 5.4% of total pilots and engineers are women, and of that number, less than 1% identify as Black. That means that less than 150 total pilots in the air, and engineers on the ground, right now are Black women.
United Airlines’ previous efforts to hire more Black pilots, perhaps unsurprisingly, came with swift backlash from conservative commentators like Tucker Carlson, who even went so far as to suggest that hiring Black pilots would get people killed.
“Hiring on the basis of irrelevant criteria will, over time, get people killed, and it will,” he said. “We have to fight for the colorblind meritocracy for real. I mean, our lives depend on meritocracy.”
Tucker Carlson and his ilk, however, can stay mad — because for many of the Black pilots, this is only the beginning.
“It is very difficult being a Black person, a Black woman, in the aviation industry,” said Deon Byrne, one of the pilots, to CNN. “In the aviation industry, people have always questioned if we were as safe or as competent. And we are careful. We’re very competent.”