Reggae flight - All-Jamaican crew revels in historic trip on American Airlines
First Officer Shaun Nelson answered the vintage rotary phone next to his bed 22 years ago, responding to an American Eagle Airlines human resource officer offering him a job as a pilot.
His colleague, Captain Robert McPherson, would join the sister carrier, American Airlines, two years later.
On Sunday, February 22, Nelson, originally from Montego Bay, and McPherson, born in Kingston, safely taxied Flight AA2370 – a Boeing 737-800 – on to the ramp at Miami International Airport, complemented by a full-fledged Jamaica-born crew.
Making the American Airlines historic all Jamaican crew flight from Kingston to Miami were also flight attendants Stanley Franklin, Linneth Duhaney, Shanecia Witter, and Mario Facey.
Franklin, from the parish of Portland, remembers the excitement around the flight to the land of reggae.
“Being a part of the all-Jamaican crew was exciting to say the least. We were shocked and excited when all four cabin crew were all Jamaican, but when we found out the cockpit crew both were Jamaican as well, we realised it was an unusual and special occasion,” he said.
After a two-hour-and-six-minute flight, AA2370 landed in Miami, and when Duhaney made her arrival announcement, she said in her Jamaican tone: “This all-Jamaican crew would like to welcome you to Miami.”
Shaun Nelson is just as ecstatic. The Cornwallian, reminiscing on the opportunity American Eagle placed in his path, told The Gleaner that from jumping out of his bed early every Sunday morning as a child to chase the crop duster flying low over his family home spraying the banana fields, to being on a large training campus in Dallas/Fort Worth filled with classrooms and flight simulators, was priceless.
“Little did I know that 22 years later, I would be flying with an all Jamaican crew from Kingston to Miami,” he said.
Lauding American Airlines for being culturally inclusive, Nelson said that the carrier “allows you the opportunity to just be yourself while carrying out your duty professionally”.
His father, former Member of Parliament Arthur Nelson, and his mother, Barbara, still reside in Montego Bay, and he tries to see them on layovers.
The airman has a bit of advice for youngsters eager to fly.
“I would like to say to youngsters that there is no better time than now to be an aviator. There are multiple ways to get to the top. Just do your research and have fun along the way, but keep your eyes on the prize,” said Shaun Nelson.
McPherson, a former Wolmer’s student who left Jamaica at age 17, studied engineering and physics at San José State University.
For him, the flight with Nelson was like a godsend.
“It was our last flight together (Shaun has been promoted to captain) after we have been flying together for three years. Shaun and I used to try to get on every flight going to Jamaica because we would get a chance to see our homeland and family members left back here,” he told The Gleaner, revealing his love for country.
“The food is the best. I love our people. We are a vibrant set of people. We are go-getters; we make things happen. I am proud of the things that make us Jamaican,” said McPherson.
American Airlines has had a long history with Jamaica, serving the island for 43 years. For Maxine Meijerink, general manager of Kingston, her team was so proud knowing that their Jamaican customers were also thrilled to be part of this historic journey.
As true sons and daughters of the soil, the flight team had ackee and salt fish – the national dish - for breakfast.