COLUMBUS, Ohio—To Charlene Carter, it felt surreal. She was once again soaring amid the clouds, working as a flight attendant for the first time in six years.
“I literally was pinching myself on the airplane last night, because I’m like, ‘I am back at doing what I love doing,'” she told The Epoch Times on March 11, hours after completing her first official trip as a reinstated flight attendant for Southwest Airlines.
Carter, 57, completed her first series of flights just three days before the six-year anniversary of her termination.
The airline fired her on March 14, 2017, for expressing pro-life views via social media. She had worked for Southwest for nearly 21 years.
As The Epoch Times reported, Carter had become a staunch opponent of abortion for a very personal reason: She suffered lifelong regret and physical injury after terminating a pregnancy when she was 19. Carter later became a mother of two and an outspoken advocate for the unborn.
Verdict in Carter’s Favor
In July 2022, Carter’s wrongful termination suit went to trial.
A federal jury in Dallas found that Southwest had violated Carter’s right to religious speech and union criticism. The jury also found that her union, Transport Workers Union of America Local 556, violated its duty to represent her best interests.
A union leader worked with company officials to get Carter fired.
Late last year, U.S. District Judge Brantley Starr ordered Southwest to return Carter to her job.
“You don’t realize what you’ll truly miss until it’s taken away from you,” Carter said, beaming as she spoke. “And then, when you get it back, it’s even better than what it was during the first go-round.”
Overjoyed to get back to work after arduous litigation, Carter said she’d like to see all parties move forward.
But Southwest and the union oppose the outcome of Carter’s case.
Starr ruled that she is entitled to back pay, damages, interest, and “reasonable” attorneys fees. The total amount, to be split between Southwest and the union, approaches $5 million.
Southwest filed its most recent objections to Starr’s conclusions on Feb. 6. The company has asked Starr to grant a retrial. Southwest also has laid the groundwork to appeal to a higher court.
Carter declined to comment on the pending legal case, except to thank The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation for representing her.
She Felt Welcome
“I have been treated wonderfully,” Carter said, upon her return to the Southwest workforce.
Some people were aware of her legal battle, but “they were very encouraging,” she said. “They were saying, ‘Welcome back.'”
Carter said she felt camaraderie throughout her four-week intensive retraining. Sessions typically lasted about 10 hours a day, ensuring that flight attendants know proper aircraft safety, security, and emergency procedures.
“We’re there for your safety, not just there to bring you drinks. That just happens to be the perk, serving our customers, and making the flight wonderful for them,” she said.
On Feb. 28, after completing the training, Carter posted on her Facebook page: “Most of you know I have been in a battle for the past five-plus years. Well, some of that battle is over, and I’m back at the career I love!
“Plus, I have 51 new wonderful Co-Hearts to fly with. I’m beyond blessed, and yes, I am back at where I was before this whole nightmare started.”
First Flight Scheduled
On March 10, Carter’s husband, Jhara, and daughter, Hannah, went with her to Denver International Airport as she reported for duty.
She felt thrilled to be back in uniform, with her wings pinned onto it. She said to herself, “I’m official,” as she showed her crew ID badge to airport security.
As she walked through the airport, “I’m just feeling like, ‘I’m home,'” Carter said.
After she took her place with other crew members on a Southwest aircraft, “everything just clicked, and my training kicked in,” Carter said.
Her trip went from Denver to Boston, then to Chicago Midway Airport, and finally to John Glenn Columbus International Airport in Ohio.
The trip went well overall, despite some foul weather, Carter said.
“There were a few things that I was like, ‘Okay, wait, this has changed,'” she said. “But the remainder of it, it was like riding a bicycle–I just went right back to it, like usual.”
Carter said experiences with her fellow trainees have restored her faith that the values of Southwest’s founder—the late Herb Kelleher, and his right-hand woman, President Emerita Colleen Barrett—are still alive at the airline known by the stock ticker, LUV, because it’s based at Love Field, Texas.
“The love in that classroom was amazing. That was the real ‘heart culture’ that Colleen and Herb instilled in us,” Carter said.
“And I told every one of them in that class, at the very end: ‘Herb and Colleen would be so proud to know that you are representing Southwest and going out there and being that heart of the ‘LUV’ Airline.'”