What American Airlines Leadership Is Telling Employees About 2020 – And Looking Forward To 2021

This week the American Airlines C-Suite sent a letter to the airline’s employees looking back at 2020 and looking forward to recovery in 2021. It went out under the signatures of Doug Parker (CEO), Robert Isom (President), Elise Eberwein (EVP, HR and Communications), Derek Kerr (CFO), Maya Leibman (CIO), and Stephen Johnson (Government Affairs).

Dear fellow team members,

We begin 2021 with a recognition of all that the American Airlines team has accomplished — and overcome — in 2020. From seeing customer demand dissipate and overhauling our network to the enormous changes our team members experienced, 2020 will be recorded as a monumentally challenging year.

Yet, with tremendous challenge comes tremendous possibility. We looked at this period as a unique opportunity to reset and make changes that simplified our operation through accelerating fleet retirements, eliminating duplication wherever possible and increasing application of technology to make it easier for our customers to do business with American. We made permanent structural changes to reduce our costs, and our Treasury team raised nearly $30 billion of liquidity to put us on solid
financial footing.

But perhaps most rewarding was the key role our team, working with our union partners, played in leading the industry to obtain government support through the first and second iteration of the Payroll Support Program for all airline workers. Because of your tenacity and dedication to each other, on Christmas Eve, thousands of furloughed colleagues received a paycheck for the first time in months. We’ve talked a lot about “best days” at American Airlines, and it is safe to say that, for many of us, Dec. 24, 2020, has been added to that list.

Though it may be hard to remember, 2020 held many accomplishments on top of managing through the pandemic that should make us all proud. The year began with the rollout of an industry-leading uniform program, achieving a successful ratification of the TWU-IAM Association’s new five-year contract for our Fleet Service and Maintenance & Related team members, and launching a groundbreaking West Coast alliance with Alaska Airlines. To close out the year, the team completed a multiyear
journey to safely return the Boeing 737 MAX to commercial service.

Our world has experienced a lot more than the pandemic, as well. This past year served as a vivid reminder of how far we have yet to go in our quest for justice and equality. After the murders of George Floyd and other Black Americans, we redoubled our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion as an airline. In 2020, that work included holding more than 80 listening sessions and town halls, creating an external Black Community Council, and piloting an Executive Sponsorship program for our Black leaders. These efforts, combined with ongoing implicit bias training and future initiatives, will drive positive representation and equity change at American and throughout the communities we serve not just in 2021, but in the years ahead. As an airline, our innate responsibility is to bring people together, and that extends to every team member and every customer who travels with us.

Turning to 2021, with the reality of a vaccine and improved testing protocols and treatments, we now prepare for industry recovery. For American, this means doubling down on operational readiness, reconnecting with our customers, continuing our journey of caring for our team and pursuing all efficiency opportunities. In the coming weeks, goals supporting these imperatives will be shared more widely and with more detail.

Without a doubt, we are living history as we manage through this pandemic. But, time and time again, the American team embodies resiliency and perseverance that will carry us through this crisis. Ending the year with the recall of our furloughed team members was the best gift 2020 could give us, and returning to an improved and more efficient airline to lead the recovery offers a bright promise for the year ahead.

Let us not waste the opportunity ahead of us now to become an even better version of American Airlines. We look forward to welcoming our customers back to the skies alongside each of you in 2021, and we thank you for your continued commitment to each other and to American.

According to the American Airlines C-Suite the “most rewarding” thing about 2020 was getting two rounds of multi-billion dollar government subsidies. Think about that. These subsidies went to all airlines, of course, even Delta and Southwest that didn’t furlough workers, to profitable regional carriers and to a deportation airline.

But for CEO Doug Parker, who previously identified obtaining government subsidies as CEO of America West as the turning point in his career, government assistance was truly pivotal because American is the financially weakest of the major carriers. They have high costs and the highest debt, and financially underperformed their peers even before the pandemic. Parker has a lot to thank the federal government for.

The year though was an eventful one. New uniforms rolled out March 2. Mechanics ratified a new contract at the end of March that they’d have never gotten if negotiators had waited even a few more weeks to come to terms. The Boeing 737 MAX is back. American has its new Alaska Airlines partnership, yet oddly still silence on JetBlue.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. Involuntarily laid-off support and management employees have not received any further pay under PSP round 2, to date. I empathize with the argument that a laid-off hotel/restaurant worker is no different from a laid-off airline worker, but where AA is granted specific funds to continue PSP was it not also required to include all laid-off workers? Or were airlines granted discretion to pick and choose?

  2. Does anyone know why airline employees don’t collect unemployment like other folks who were laid off?

  3. If you have a dedicated head of government affairs reporting to the CEO, then your indicated your business model depends on rent seeking government support.

  4. Is it just me, or is it wrong for a company to talk about George Floyd’s “murder” when no one’s been convicted of it? Does the mob get to decide who’s been “murdered” — or maybe just the “woke.”? Given the history of these (ahem) trumped-up allegations of police brutality, can’t a company make a commitment to fairness and equality without injecting themselves into politics?

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