New Insight Into How American’s President Scott Kirby Wound Up President of United

When former US Airways President Scott Kirby left as President of American Airlines to become President of United American sent out their press release about elevating Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom to President and explained that Scott Kirby was leaving immediately. It didn’t mention anything about United, and it didn’t say anything about spending more time with his family.

Instead, it explained the decision that American couldn’t retain all of their executive talent so Kirby was out.

Kirby walked away with about $13 million and keeps lifetime travel privileges on American. If Kirby simply quit to take the (lateral) United job, he wouldn’t be getting this.

My guess was that asked for a timeframe in which he’d become CEO with Parker becoming non-executive Chairman, and with Parker not going anywhere he was asked to leave. American didn’t get a non-compete agreement in exchange for the severance and he quickly secured the same job at United where instead of Doug Parker — who has spent 20 years in a quest to run the world’s largest airline — ahead of him, he has a CEO that doesn’t have experience running an airline and who has had health problems.

In a long piece from Fortune on Oscar Munoz’s tenure at United we learn that Munoz:

  • doesn’t think airline product improvements matter, every airline matches with the same product and then outdoes the other
  • union employees have to be paid what their peers at other airlines are paid, so you just do copycat agreements to get a contract or else you have bad service and bad operations

We also get this explanation about Scott Kirby’s move from American to United,

The story of how American’s president landed at United is a closely guarded secret, but Fortune has learned that Munoz and the board heard Kirby would be leaving American about two weeks before his departure. In a surprise move, American’s board had decided to promote its COO, Robert Isom, to president—tabbing Isom as the heir apparent to CEO Doug Parker rather than Kirby, and forcing Kirby’s departure. United got a big break because Kirby wasn’t restricted by a noncompetition agreement that would have prevented him from joining another airline for an extended period. “I jumped on it right away,” says Munoz.

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. “I jumped on it right away.” I would expect that quote to continue “…It is not every day that you have the chance to get someone with the kind of experience devaluing loyalty and crapping on customers that Scott has. We knew he was the guy to continue wrecking United.”

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