There’s One Thing CEO Doug Parker Wishes He Could Change About American Airlines

At this past week’s Crew News employee forum with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, a pilot asked if there was one thing Parker could change tomorrow about the airline, just getting it done so it’s different, what would it be?

And Parker responded, “for everyone in this company to know and believe that they work for a company that cares about them, because you do.” He then acknowledged that he knows “it doesn’t always feel that way.”

I know it’s hard to believe that at times when you’re out there and you know you end up with busted trips.

Four years ago an American executive complained to me, “the front line, the front line, the front line” the airline was only willing to recognize and highlight customer-facing employees because it wanted them to be happy and feel valued. But that clearly hasn’t worked.

Shortly after that 2017 conversation American completed its survey of employees and found

  • Only 41% of its employees believed that the airline’s management makes “the right decisions that take care of customers” and only 32% believed American’s leaders listen to and “seek to understand the frontline team member experience.”

  • Only 33% believed leadership made “the right decisions that support” employees. Fewer than half believed they had “the flexibility to meet the needs of our customers who fly American” when things go wrong.

  • Only 38.9% said that “people at American trust and respect each other.”

Over and over Parker and other leaders would say that their employees were their most important resource, that hard product is something other airlines could copy but having happy employees would give them an advantage because those employees would take great care of customers who in turn would be willing to pay a premium to fly the airline.

But American didn’t have a mission statement and never gave employees something bigger than themselves to work towards. And employees were frequently confused over what the airline was trying to do, be a premium carrier (with Flagship lounges and great international business class seats and bedding) or a low cost carrier (constantly squeezing seat pitch and removing screens from seat backs on domestic planes).

The airline still wants to ‘make culture a competitive advantage’ but that’s only right alongside ‘passionately driving efficiencies’. Those two aren’t always in sync with each other, and employees seem to feel that the latter has been trumping the former.

Parker has wanted his legacy to be all about employees, but it’s never seemed that actions matched this in a way that filtered down to the employees themselves, let alone translated into a better relationship with customers.

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. Companies don’t care about you. Sorry that’s just life. This is not an american airlines problem or even an airline industry problem. Every business that exists in a capitalist society is out to make a profit, and if they can do it better without you, you’re gone. I’m a vp in an industry that pays people like me $5 million plus per year. Senior vps clear $20 million. Yet any of us can still be dropped with no notice.

  2. @ Gary — Maybe they could give employees the power to actually help customers? When I call the EXP desk today, it is like it always has been — inflexibility. I feel hated as a customer when I make a reasonable request but some stupid rules get in the way.

  3. Have air traveled a fair bit. Both for pleasure & business. 50+ yrs of airline travel.
    Increasingly I have felt treated as cattle, not even, perhaps, as an asset.

  4. As @JP stated, it isn’t just American, it is almost all American companies. Management just doesn’t care about anything other than profits and their rewards. Sad! But very true!

  5. @JohnB and J.P., it’s really hard to care about profits if the company isn’t doing things to make its customers happy. Industries like the airlines have a long line of cronist tendencies that overrule their profit motive. A true capitalist understands that his employees drive revenue as much as customers do.

    I’m sure Doug Parker would feel differently about culture if the bailouts were to finally, mercifully end once and for all.

  6. Efficiency as it relAAtes to people includes trashing employee benefits such as retirement insurance and relegating retired trAAvelers to lower status.

    Mr. Parker speaks with a forked tongue, as noted in its efficiency vs satisfaction conundrum.

  7. 2x American flights in 2 weeks. Both in business and to Europe. Zero PDB. Maybe hire someone who wants the job not these old leftovers who are hanging on.

  8. Yes, Employees drive profits, but when a company makes millions if not billions in profit each quarter and doesn’t share some, not all of the profits it turns employees off. Same is true with passengers, it they are not treated well, it turns them off. Companies are better when employees reap some reward for a profitable quarter, and that is then turned into better customer service. You don’t need a MBA or bean counter to figure that out.

  9. Government agencies are some of the worst run, rudest employees around. They aren’t driven by profit, they are driven by the mentality to do as little as possible and pass the problems on to another department or kick the can down the road. Everyone is ragging on capitalism and profit driven cultures but its better than the alternative. I think most americans these days feel entitled and have too many unrealistic expectations.

  10. Customers get angry as if they have much of a choice. Mergers and acquisitions have lowered product quality and ultimately kill capitalism.

  11. I recently flew American to psp thru Dallas from Atlanta. Wow… they made Delta look wonderful. Six hour long delay at 11p in Dallas because there were no Flight Attendants! On my outbound I was overhearing a group of seasoned Flights attendants complaining how terrible their jobs were and the lack of empowerment of the management! Oh well.. I learned.. I will fly Delta whenever I can.

  12. Gary I don’t understand your fixation on “they don’t have a mission statement”.

    As a passenger, mission statement never crosses my mind: doesn’t help with schedule, price, upgrade, waivers, refunds, IRROP, seat comfort.

    I’ve been at companies that went through a colossal circle jerk to come up with a mission statement.

    Tea and medals for all involved, usually some cheesy desk prop to remind you of the mission statement.

    And then . . . nothing.

    AA has real problems. Lack of a mission statement is way, way down the list.

  13. Bunch of Bullshit…! He doesn’t care about their employees nor the airlines…. Just his profit. Ask every single one of the employees and you’ll get the same answer… sad…!

  14. I’m with @george. What AA needs is a new board of directors so that they can emplace a competent CEO who tries to do what customers want and need and gives employees the tools and power to do their jobs effectively.

  15. Please! Fly Delta! The “seasoned”Flight Attendants are tired of the whining. Who on earth gets on an AC to EAT THE FOOD? Gross! And, while you’re at it, why don’t you take a look at CNN. The world is falling apart, people are dying, governments are killing their own citizens, animals are being incinerated in wildfires, And we lost 13 American service members in a terrorist attack. BUT you need coddling. GO FLY DELTA so I don’t have to listen to you.

  16. I’m a pilot for a United regional. I work so hard with a smile on my face and get treated worse than the dirt you step on when you walk through your yard. It’s so awful how bad airline employees are treated but mainline American should not be complaining. They are treated like gold compared to being a pilot at a United regional.

  17. The Board of Directors need to wake up and fire Parker so American can return to be a great airline it once was before Parkers arrival!

  18. I work for AA. I believe that Doug believes he cares about employees. But over and over and over the policies say otherwise. I used to be an AA Evangelist. Now I do my job and wonder if it’s time to move on. I’m exhausted. I have sacrificed myself on the alter of AA with endless mandatory overtime and enforcing policies that enrage customers. I don’t know that if I were to leave anyone would notice. It’s just sad. Doug needs to wake up. Leadership can only promise light at the end of the tunnel so many times before we stop believing…

  19. Maybe Parker does or does not care about employees, he sure doesn’t give a damn about passengers and that is reflected up and down the employee chain with the fervent wish as Joules says go fly somebody else so they don’t have to listen to us disturbing their private time sitting on their butt reading waiting for that one emergency incident in ten years of flying that might require their evacuation skills – if they can even remember them by then.

  20. Former airline employee including America west original.
    In the business for 40 years same old gripes, however I dont see any comments about coustumers and there behavior. Should I be smiling and make every effort to get you to your destination , while you stand there and cures me out. Because of a mechanical or weather delay. Im so happy to hear feim all the buisiness people that run perfect companies.

  21. I have waited and waited for things to change at American. It think it has the foundation to be a great airline, but I see one tactical screw up after another, so at this stage if I could change one thing about American it would be Mr. Parker.

  22. Parker and all AA leadership does not care about front line airport employees. Im one of the employees

  23. It’s all about the “SHAREHOLDERS”! Why do you think these corporate “CEO’S” get awarded Hundreds of Thousands of “Company Shares”? They’ve always looked out for “THEMSELVES”! They have always put the employees LAST, and that’s why employees will always feel “OUT IN THE COLD”!

  24. John Darby … AA retirees travel as D2R, one level below active employees D2 … I have no problem with that as their travel plans are, for the most part, more flexible than an employee who needs to return to work, usually the next day … and as for retirement benefits, that’s not an AA or airline industry casualty, it’s almost all corporations … health care has just gotten too costly for a company to provide to retirees when Medicare is the primary coverage

  25. American is trash. They’re a high-cost alternative to Spirit with worse customer service. The employees very clearly hate everyone around them, because management is making them lie about canceled flights due to “weather” that no other carrier is cancelling. They’re the Dollar General of airlines now

  26. AmericaWest “what we serve in a you”

    Just rebrand already. You know you want to do it. That way people won’t be so triggered at the crap customer service since it’s really just a low cost carrier gussied up as a legacy carrier.

  27. I work for AA regional and we do not get close to what mainline employees get.
    No empowerment when it come to the customer, just keep on apologizing for all the policies and procedures we have to follow.
    New leadership would be nice. Someone who cares for mainline and regional employees the same. If it would not be for us regional employees their would no mainline. We bring the customers to them.

  28. I worked for American. They make no effort at all to listen to or accommodate employees about anything. They hire managers off the street that know NOTHING about an airline or how to run it. They hire managers with zero people skills. They worry more about an airline statistics battle than the customers themselves. They will shut the door on passengers if it means they will be 1 minute late off the gate. The employee culture there is to draw a paycheck. Forgotten is the fact that the passengers pay you that paycheck.

  29. In 2 decades of working for AA I have never seen a bigger cluster#*%& than it is now. Decisions being made that make zero sense operationally or financially. Paperwork to cover paperwork to cover paperwork and then ener into the computer to cover the paperwork that covers the computer. AA has 2 mottos: We’re not happy until you’re not happy. We hate our employees and it shows. Morale is in the crapper

  30. I find it incredulous that unhappy airline passengers seem to have the unique ability to “overhear” distant galley conversations among flight attendants, yet can’t follow their directions over the PA. Just saying.

    Also, its plainly obvious a CEO like Parker, who publicly claimed he would “…never share the profits with frontline employees who have no impact on our bottom line…” is in the wrong job. He said it. The employees heard it loud and clear, no matter how hard he tried to walk it back. Didn’t seem to jeopardize his position though.

    Sadly, that is a part of the mission statement as the current AA Board of Directors endorse it.

    Since it wasn’t mentioned here yet let me just add that the abhorrent behavior of many airline travelers these last 2 years has made the flying experience dreadful. Shame on those who blame it on a flight attendant.

    Keepin it real,
    Jimmy Mack

  31. I work for American Airlines. I have worked over 30 yrs in the airline industry. Through mergers I have worked for 3 different airlines. Piedmont Airlines, merged with US Airways, which merged with American Airlines. I have never seen morale so low. Not even close. I used to love my job. Now I dread going to work. I’m not alone, most of the people I work with feel the same. The airline has been hiring terrible workers over the past 10 to 15 yrs. It used to be that we could absorb them because there were so many good employees, now it has reached critical mass, and you have many people that are completely unreliable, and that puts the burden to get the job done on the good employees. Plus we’re understaffed and overworked. Also us frontline employees used to be some what autonomous and be able to make sensible decisions to get the job done. But management now micromanages every aspect of the job and want to discipline employees for trying to make common sense decisions. Every manager out there is petrified of losing their job so they run around in absolute panic mode 24/7. They are constantly putting pressure on the employees over frivolous things. And it goes up the management chain with managers in panic mode 24/7

  32. Hi everyone-
    Lots of legitimate complaints from employees and travelers. I know that I promised AA Management that I will never eat on board an aircraft again unless it’s Business Class on a foreign carrier.
    I have been flying since the early 1950s as a child back then. The stewards/
    stewardesses were all young and fit and gave the passengers A1 treatment. But of course, most people couldn’t afford to fly unless their salary was in the professional or higher realm or was paid by the US government. I won’t bore all of you with the seat comfort and size and the politeness exhibited by the adult passengers and crew.
    Why are we surprised about behavior on board the aircraft when American manners have largely disappeared. The airlines are hiring from the same pool of Americans who fly in these busses with wings.

  33. @Jim

    In the 1950’s presumably you were young too. The terms “Stewards or Stewardesses” left the lexicon long ago… maybe like 40 years now?

    “…busses with wings…”
    Wow. Did you come up with that one on your own?

    I can’t help you with any of that but you just might need it. The year is 2021 now. Don’t believe me, check your calendar.

    However, I did notice you took one final (feeble) shot at airlines crews by suggesting they are implicit by association with some of the imbeciles they serve?
    All Americans??
    Good try.

    It’s the flying public causing these incidents and not the flight crews.

    Keepin it real,
    Jimmy Mack

  34. I’ve heard and read things by the media and unfortunately it’s beyond terrible. I totally agree things has to improve or this airline will find itself obsolete. CEO’s getting bonuses up the yzoo and not sharing with the employees should fail. Moral is the key to everything. Parker needs to check himself.
    I feel the pain of my sisters and brothers in solidarity.

  35. Corporate don’t your feelings or health and happiness, I spend 11 yrs in American Eagle Sisterhood of American Airlines and 5 yrs in American Airlines,I didn’t see that treatment until I started from scratch in AA to see the difference, AA provided steak but AE got the bones.
    Like step son or the maid
    Started at $8.75 for 11 yrs I left at 13.34 plus frozen my raised to build a Company
    What Company American Airlines, we have more work and less pay.
    After 16 yrs I finally left, I wasn’t qualified for AA package retirement but I spends 16 yrs with AMR brand
    Corporate not there to make you happy
    They will give you all the promises but don’t trust them.
    It’s all about the CEO not the frontline.

  36. Listening to the.employees about practice that would streamline their tasks is a must. Right now there are many anti-productive policies in place. Super frustrating for everyone.

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