A Delta Air Lines Pilot’s Inspiring Tweet Went Viral. The Reason Why Is Brilliant


This is a story about Delta Air Lines, dreams, and mentorship. It’s also about social media and inspiring the employees you’ll want to recruit down the road.

If you’re running a business, the payoff to this story is at the end. But let’s start at the beginning.

More than 20 years ago, a young boy — 5, 6, then 7 years old — would routinely travel back and forth between New York and Texas to visit family. He was invited to meet the pilots and visit the cockpit on one such flight on Delta Air Lines.

From that moment, he later said, he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up.

“I remember sitting there and being fascinated by all the buttons,” said Justin Mutawassim, who is now 26 years old. “From there, I just caught the bug.” 

Throughout his youth, Mutawassim was known for his single-minded focus. (“[R]emember when I would talk nonstop about flying planes for a living in school?” Mutawassim wrote to friends on Twitter four years ago.)

And although a teacher derailed his dream temporarily by telling him incorrectly that airline pilots had to have uncorrected 20/20 vision, Mutawassim, who wears glasses and had no easy way to check that information at the time, recovered. 

After high school, he went to community college briefly in Dallas in 2014, but then left to get a job as close to flying as he could with no degree or pilot’s license: working as a ramp agent for Delta.

“I just absolutely fell in love with the technical aspect of aviation,” Mutawassim said. “It was physically the hardest job I’ve ever done. Manual labor is no joke.”

Then, he got the first of a few big breaks.

On an airport employee bus, he struck up a conversation with Ivor Martin, who was then a pilot for Virgin America, and mentioned that while he liked being a ramp agent, he really wanted to be a pilot. 

The single exchange developed into a mentorship relationship, as Martin helped Mutawassim plot out the practical steps he’d have to take to make his dream a reality.

In 2016, Mutawassim left his Delta job for flight school, taking out loans and finishing the program in 11 months. He worked as a flight instructor, and then as a pilot for a regional airline, as he accumulated flight hours. Last summer, he was hired as a pilot at startup Breeze Airways.

But earlier this year, Delta announced it was dropping the requirement that pilots have college degrees, and Mutawassim applied. He went through training and finished his final qualifications late last month, and then posted a tweet about his accomplishment:

Who wouldn’t be romantic about careers in air travel after a post like that?  

Sure enough, it blew up: About 164,000 likes as of this writing, along with lots of other people sharing their photos and stories of what they were doing for work years ago, compared to the better-loved things they’re doing now.

“Uhhhhhh. Hi everyone,” Mutawassim wrote in a later tweet. “Was only expecting my 10 friends who still use this app to see this. Welcome. If you’re interested. Please consider donating to the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals.”

Mutawassim is certainly getting some attention for all of this, which is great. I first heard about all of this in Sydney Page’s article in The Washington Post, and besides Mutawassim’s tweet, his post on LinkedIn went viral (well, “viral-for-LinkedIn”), as well.

But I think the real lesson if you’re a business owner comes in two parts.

First, it’s to recognize people like Martin, the pilot for Virgin America (he’s now with Alaska Airlines) who took the time to mentor Mutawassim, and even the Delta pilots back in 2000 or so who originally inspired his dream. 

And second, it’s to ask yourself a couple of question:

  • Would you like it if people took to social media, posting about how working for you was a lifelong dream, and the posts then went viral?
  • If so, what do you have to do now, in order to make that happen down the road?

I asked Delta Air Lines for comment on Mutawassim’s story. Here’s the statement they sent me:

“Delta’s commitment to developing a diverse workforce that is reflective of the communities we serve domestically and around the world is unwavering. This includes removing barriers and broadening recruiting funnels to help create a diverse pipeline for qualified and talented pilots to join us. One way we have done so is through our Propel Career Pathway Program which launched in 2018. 

Propel offers multiple pathways for current Delta employees and students at our 15 partner universities to reach the flight deck of a Delta jet. Within Propel’s Company Pathway, we currently have more than 100 employees at various stages of the program, including those who have experience as flight attendants, ramp workers, gate agents, mechanics, flight dispatchers and other administrative or support roles at Delta.” 

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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