Doug Parker Stepping Down As American Airlines CEO

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).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. AA not going to get better with those in charge still ruining/running what was once a great company.

  2. Maybe the stock value will rise, once the next CEO figures out that the continued beating of loyal passengers did not improve morale or D0.

  3. The biggest story of the year that everyone saw coming. the only surprise here is that it didn’t happen years ago. Tonight I will drink heavily in honor of DUI Dougie’s and his enabler/college drinking buddy board members.

  4. @Erik – boy I hope it isn’t COO David Seymour. That’s a disaster. But it’s the obvious move. He’s the guy who ‘taped out’ the new domestic Oasis interior instead of building a cabin mockup. He’s the guy that’s been in charge of their operation through all the meltdowns the past several years. So naturally he’s been able to fail upward.

  5. With all due respect don’t let the cabin door hit you on the way out
    The man destroyed nearly every premium aspect of American most sadly their once exceptional FF program and so much more
    His large lounges totally suck food etc
    I question if the damage is even possibly reversible at this point
    But at least they removed the main cancer that kept spreading known as DP
    Good riddance

  6. Along with Parker they need the rest of the original America West folks to go with him

  7. A disaster of a human being (3x DUI) who brought a once terrific airline into severe disrepute…

  8. There is literally not one comment that is even faintly supportive of Doug here. This goes to show what kind of legacy he has left.

  9. As far as I can see @Gary ‘s post nails what Doug Parker does well — being a clown. (He may be a “nice guy”, but….where is Frank Lorenzo when you need him?)
    I’ve said before that Parker isn’t an airline guy, he’s a financial engineer, and a good one if judged by their own class criteria. He’s made a lot of money, but, like most financial engineers, has left a damaged and deficient operation in his wake.
    What we’re not told, and I can’t be bothered to look up the 8K, is if Parker will be Executive Chairman or an independent director Chairman. Hopefully the latter, but Parker should leave the Board too, IMHO. AA needs a tough, independent Chairman to hold management’s feet to the fire and that won’t be Douggie.
    I’ve said it here before, and I’m not joking. Akbar Al Baker would be the ideal chair for AA, and certainly as a Board member. If Qatar had been able to invest in AA and have Board representation, we’d be looking at a different and better airline today.

  10. I really have a hard time distinguishing AA, Spirit and Frontier at this point. The are all the same clown run business.

  11. Doug Parker was very successful in destroying 3 large airlines! YES, QUITE A LEGACY!!! NOW ALL HIS YES MEN HAVE BEEN PROMOTED!

  12. Honestly is there any hope for positive future change with this announcement?

    Seems like Doug will still be calling some of the shots albeit from the sidelines.

  13. @Gary,

    I’m hoping Vasu gets a shot at President. I know that among his “fans” there’s very much a cult of personality thing going on. He’s a cool, hip dude. But still, he’s the one that seems least like the others that I could most likely see shaking things up a bit.

  14. @Gary – any idea how the pilots and FA’s are reacting to this? Is Isom considered friendlier to unions than Doug?

    Reason I ask, wondering if disruptions in the summer months post-Dougie are likely. Also, how will Isom change the class of service pricing once in charge?

  15. @TW: I don’t think of Mr. Parker stepping down as CEO of American Airlines as “GIGO”, Garbage In, Garbage Out. I think of Mr. Parker remaining as Chairman of the Board as “FISH.” First In, Still Here.

  16. Finally! I hope the next CEO down grades his promised retiree travel benefits like Parker did to thousands retirees.

  17. @VX_Flier – so far more of the chatter is on goodbye Doug and less on what Isom means. While I’ve not been a big fan of Doug Parker, he’s mostly been Mr. Nice Guy while Isom (and those below) have been more in the bad cop role, at least letting Parker claim not to be aware of most of the gripes employees have.

    Isom (1) comes out of Northwest Airlines service and employee culture, and (2) has spoken frequently about focusing on competition with Spirit and Frontier. I’d expect pricing though to be more under Vasu Raja, who may himself one day be an airline CEO.

  18. @Erk – Vasu is very smart. He’s maybe 80% as smart as he thinks he is, even. He has a real blind spot with inflight product and service and has never really been a frontline employee kind of guy. Still he’d be a much better choice than David Seymour, but he’s risen VERY rapidly the past couple of years. He’s still green in a sense.

  19. @Cmorgan – Doug will be non-executive chairman, and we don’t know how long he’ll remain in that role. There’s not been much indication though that Isom would chart a different course though.

  20. Typical of guys like Parker and corporations that espouse social justice. The new guy is just as white and pasty as the guy he’s replacing. Bunch of hypocrites who preach to everyone else but don’t do what they demand of others.

  21. Thank God!

    Ding dong, Doug Parker’s gone!!!

    The worst CEO American Airlines ever had! I hope the board picked a better person to run the company. AA has so much potential! I really hope this is the beginning of a change from Parker’s drunk binge hangover !

  22. Meet the new boss, same as old boss.

    AA died when the America West baboon pack took over. There will be no revival until the AW $h1t is washed off.

  23. WARNING: contrarian point of view.

    Am I an American Airlines fan boy? Those that have read my previous comments over the years know I am not. I am an opportunistic seat buyer, selecting my airline on the basis of cost, convenience and connectivity. I have no preferred horse in the race.

    Living in CLT I am an AA captive, but have chosen other airlines if the three C’s showed me that was the better option.

    Having said all of that, I have to say I must disagree with some of the sentiment in the blog post from Gary, and commenters here. You can objectively say that Doug Parker has successfully engineered and created three mergers that have impacted the airline industry in no uncertain terms. You may not have agreed with those mergers, or the outcomes of the mergers, or even the way those mergers faired under his leadership. But it is no doubt true that America West, US Airways and American Airlines were significant industry players, and now they are one.
    Other airlines may be more profitable. Other airlines may have better seats, or inflight video, or a better liked frequent flyer program. But it is also true that, in the end, American is just fine. I fly up and down the East Coast a lot and really could not tell you any meaningful difference in sitting on AA, DL or UA. I can’t comment on Spirit, Frontier or JetBlue as I have not been on them, or been on them so infrequent (JetBlue) that my assessment is meaningless.

    It seems therefore very unfair to write “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.” No… his main legacy is and will be the creation of the “new” American Airlines out of the mergers of the three predecessors.

    It is instructive to see that many (MANY!) industry luminaries felt good enough about Doug Parker to make an effort and appear in the video. Sure, he is retiring and so nice things will be said. But all these people said “yes” when asked if they wanted to appear. And came up with something nice and meaningful to say. They didn’t have to. They choose to do so.

    I find it interesting that if you are on an AA blog, the peanut gallery usually has some folks saying “I am a long time Platinum Exec but I have left AA for XXX (usually either UA or DL) because AA has gone down the crapper.” And if you read blogs that are more UA or DL leaning you will read similar posts from people who have abandoned *that* airline for another for the exact same reasons.

    Most of your domestic flights will be one to a few hours. It is nonsense to expect something magical, to expect some kind of life changing or enhancing experience while sitting on a bus in the sky. Sure, there are luxury buses and regular buses. But it remains a bus, and it is just a few hours, so read a book, watch something (on an installed screen or one of your own) and be civil to the people around you. Let’s move away from expecting the flight experience to be something like in the 1950’s. This is 2021. Yield management, bottom line and productivity rules. AA can (and should!!) make many improvements for sure.

    But Doug Parker did alright.

  24. Good bye Doug Parker. Since, he has been CEO he has had no vision for customer service for the company.
    They (US Airways) took a good company and trashed it. Customer Service has gone down hill along with reliability and food service. Actually, there is no longer customer service. Management took away all the tools for the supervisors to help the customers. Now the famous saying is contact Customer Relations for any problems regarding your cancelations or problems. The carrier will, continues to have problems. They need a CEO not connected to US Airways. Actually,
    I believe if Bob Crandall came back for a couple of years he could turn AA around. Robert Isom will not help the with the current problems. Mr. Isom will continue to be part of the problem. Good Luck competing with the big carriers. AA at the bottom of the list in all categories. We used to be higher.

  25. Glad to see this _____ go. Not soon enough. Close too 300 Worker’s Comp cases filed by employees at the reservations center, Tempe, AZ in 2012. Bill Franke, now Chairman Frontier Airlines, then CFO America West was at this building’s opening. Just take a guess who owns or owned this building. Sweet deal to funnel rent $$$ to an airline buddy??? Scott Kirby knew or should have known about this sick building.

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