American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is stepping down in the second major airline industry shakeup this year, following the announcement of Gary Kelly retiring as Southwest’s CEO.
Parker will retire next March. His announcement comes just days shy of his eighth anniversary on the job. He became CEO on Dec. 9, 2013, following then-bankrupt American’s merger with Phoenix-based US Airways, which he also headed.
Parker, who remains in his role as chairman of the board, will be succeeded by American Airlines President Robert Isom, who has held previous leadership roles at US Airways, Northwest and America West.
“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,” Parker said in a statement. “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.”
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“I have no doubt that the best is yet to come for American, and no one will be cheering louder for all of you than I will,” Parker wrote in a separate letter to employees.
Isom said he was humbled by the opportunity and thanked Parker for his partnership through the years.
“He is a leader and teacher who inspires all around him and leaves an incredible legacy at American and in our industry,” Isom said in a statement. “Looking ahead, I am deeply honored to be working alongside the best team in the industry and know that we will achieve great things together.”
Parker helped the nation’s largest airline navigate the pandemic and previously helped America West adjust to another major challenge. He became CEO of that airline just days before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Last year, he made headlines after a chance meeting with a Southwest Airlines flight attendant, JacqueRae Hill, who noticed a book on white privilege in his seatback pocket. The two struck up an emotional in-flight conversation on race amid ongoing protests over the killing of George Floyd and stayed in touch after their encounter went viral. He even attended her wedding this past Memorial Day weekend.
“She started a courageous conversation with me about race in America and it’s one I’ll never forget,” Parker posted on Instagram. “She continues to be a light that guides me as we work to tear down barriers that create systemic racism.”
“You have no idea how much it means to me to know someone that really walks out all of he talk out,” Sullivan wrote on Instagram. “Ya’ll Doug Parker is the real DEAL.”
Contributing: Dawn Gilbertson, USA TODAY
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