Re-arranging the Deck Chairs of American Airlines Management

There’s been tremendous speculation over what the American Airlines board would do now that the company has managed to alienate shareholders, employees and customers alike.

The loss of their pending joint venture with LATAM to Delta, and being taken wholly by surprise by the development, seemed to open the floodgates of criticism within the company and spawned a cottage industry of speculation that the airline’s board would finally take action – in advance of reporting earnings later this month.

While I certainly modeled that this time could be different it’s been hard to bet that the board would make a change precisely because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior and they haven’t done anything up until now.

Today American Airlines made a series of leadership changes none of which involve the C-Suite.

  • Kerry Philipovitch, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience, is leaving the airline at the end of the year. She ran customer experience at US Airways and was management’s hand-picked leader for their product.

  • David Seymour, Vasu Raja, Don Casey, and Kurt Stache all get varying amounts of additional responsibility. This is a reward for existing leadership, not a change in direction.

David Seymour is the airline’s Senior Vice President of Intergrated Operations. American Airlines ran a truly appalling operation this summer. As a reward, then, Seymour is given “leadership for all of American’s operations.”

Vasu Raja, who’s in charge of Network Planning, gets a promotion to Senior Vice President and will also oversee alliances and partnerships. Don Casey, who is Senior Vice President in charge of revenue management, will oversee sales as well. And Kurt Stache broadens his marketing and loyalty portfolio to oversee additional customer experience areas.

Jill Surdek, whom I would have guessed to take Philipovitch’s place directly, gets promoted to Senior Vice President of Flight Service, and will report to Stache.

As they say, “If all you do is what you’ve done, all you’ll get is what you got.”

None of this represents change for the airline, instead it’s a shuffling of roles and reporting. Interestingly this announcement of changes to leadership does not include the words Doug Parker. I might have expected Parker, under normal circumstances, to have a quote included in the release.

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. Stache gets additional areas as a reward for doing such a great job in loyalty? Huh? American must have some interesting metrics to measure performance. AAdvantage has made terrible strides in the last few years.

  2. @Jack – no. Unfortunately. A Board would allow the new incoming CEO to make the changes if more, higher-level changes (CEO, CFO) were still to come.

  3. There’s not going to be an outside CEO, at least right now. If Parker goes, they’ll give Isom at least an Interim CEO title.

  4. Very few companies that are growing earnings 20% (even when a bunch of their equipment is sidelined due to a surprise technology problem) fire their top executives. AAL is unlikely to deviate from this norm. Oh, and when will you stop talking about AA’s “bad operations”? Today is another 100% completion day for the airline — as is every day when the weather is cooperative. This is not an airline with an “operational problem,” and saying the opposite 100 tines doesn’t make it true. Rather, AA had a labor issue, which they solved with an excellent legal strategy.

  5. Make me a SVP at AA, I couldn’t be any worse. I don’t have any experience in the airline industry but I have flown on planes dozens of times. That means I’m qualified. Heck, Jeff Slimesek was an attorney who had no idea how to run an airline and proved that to all of us by running United into the ground.

  6. Seymour has to be on record for one of the stupidest statements I’ve ever read for a senior manager, stating that the narrowing bathrooms by a couple of inches wasn’t like it was a couple of feet.

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