American Airlines announced that Doug Parker will step down as CEO on March 31, 2022. He will remain chairman of the board. Current airline President Robert Isom will become CEO and join the airline’s Board of Directors.
The plan for Parker to retire, and replace him with Isom, was leaked back in January but has been clear since Scott Kirby’s departure as American Airlines President to become President and now Chairman of United Airlines.
According to Parker,
I have worked with Robert for two decades and I am incredibly pleased that he will be the next CEO of American Airlines, which is truly the best job in our industry. Robert is a collaborative leader with deep operational expertise and global industry experience. His efforts to guide and support our team throughout the pandemic have been nothing short of phenomenal. We are well-positioned to take full advantage of our industry’s recovery, and now is the right time for a handoff we have planned and prepared for. I feel extremely fortunate to hand the reins to this clear and capable leader.
It has been the privilege of my life to serve for 20 years as an airline CEO. I am forever grateful to the American team, whose commitment to taking care of each other and our customers has never wavered and will continue to drive our success going forward.
Parker is only 60 years old but has served as an airline CEO for 20 years – first at America West where he took over days before 9/11, and then taking over US Airways before acquiring American Airlines out of bankruptcy. His main legacy has been his ability to secure and benefit from government subsidies even before he led the charge for taxpayer bailouts during the pandemic.
The start of Parker’s ‘retirement tour’ can be said to have occurred several weeks ago as he accepted the Wings Club lifetime achievement award. Self-deprecating Doug at the outset is the best Doug.
Here’s a tribute to Parker’s career, produced by American Airlines for this award. The video is worth watching just for its introductory segment with American’s Steve Johnson saying that when Doug Parker traveled to New York after US Airways 1549 he left his briefcase in the parking garage – and they had to evacuate US Airways headquarters in Tempe thinking it was a bomb.
In Parker’s telling the American Airlines board lacks airline experience. That board now includes a mentor of CEO-designate Robert Isom in former Northwest Airlines CEO Doug Steenland.
American Airlines has more debt than competitors and financially underperforms the industry. It’s had unhappy investors, unhappy employees, and unhappy customers. In fall 2019, after American lost its joint venture with South American megacarrier LATAM to Delta, there was a lot of speculation that management would be ousted. There was a low-level leadership reshuffle, but no one at the top left.
Then the pandemic hit and, like with the grounding of the 737 MAX, poor performance was largely excused. The Board of Directors of American Airlines, which has been built to include even a former college buddy of CEO Doug Parker, has largely given management a pass.
Robert Isom becoming CEO points to a more or less a status quo future. And David Seymour was elevated to Chief Operating Officer at the airline after overseeing its disastrous summer 2019 operational meltdown. Operational meltdowns don’t appear to have consequences at American Airlines.
Elise Eberwein, American’s Executive Vice President of People and Communications, is expected to retire when Doug Parker steps down as well.
Here’s Doug Parker as Billy Ray Cyrus for American’s Halloween party in 2019.
And here’s a gif of Parker playing Boy George in 2018, lip syncing Karma Chameleon with a giant chameleon running around in the background. Current Chief Revenue Officer Vasu Raja was Michael Jackson moonwalking (and making Ralph Northam jealous).