United commemorates Juneteenth with all-Black flight crew out of IAH

Nick Natario Image
Saturday, June 19, 2021
United commemorates Juneteenth with all-Black flight crew out of IAH
Flight attendant Nathan Pickney talks about his experience as part of the first all-Black flight crew aboard a United Airlines flight. Pickney and his colleagues departed for Chica

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- It was a unique moment in commercial aviation history Saturday as crew members aboard a United Airlines flight out of Houston shared more in common than their industry-ties.

At the helm of United Airlines flight 1258, and in the rear galley, and stationed in all the usual spots, every crew member was Black.

"Years ago, I was not able to fly in the capacity as a pilot," United pilot Deon Byrne said. "This is just amazing to represent a section of our culture."

The all-Black crew left Bush Intercontinental Airport Saturday morning for Chicago. It's usually a routine journey, but the occasion was anything but.

A celebration of the crew included the firing of water cannons on the tarmac, and it even attracted a visit from Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

Turner said the amount of change Black people have experienced in the last 150 years is symbolic.

"Now, we're soaring amongst the stars," Turner explained. "Let me tell you, for our ancestors, my parents, if they were still alive, they would just be amazed."

An emotional send-off filled with all the pomp and circumstance helped signal the significance of Saturday's flight.

"This was not obtainable a few years ago," Byrne explained. "This is just amazing."

"This is number one," flight attendant Nathan Pickney said. "This is exciting. I'm just thrilled and honored to be a part of it."

On a day celebrated for the end of slavery, United Airlines flight 1258 celebrated continued change.

For United workers, it's more than a historic flight, it's also about showing the younger Black generation aviation is a career option. Right now, United offers scholarships to help candidates afford training.

"To let someone know that when they walk on an aircraft that they can see someone that looks like them, that's exciting," Pickney explained. "It's motivating as well."

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