American Airlines CEO Doug Parker is no stranger to controversy. He has led the carrier through turbulent times, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a merger with US Airways, and a bankruptcy. His leadership style has also been called into question—he has been accused of being a micromanager, a high-handed tyrant, and a dictatorial jerk. But Parker has a reputation for being a levelheaded, decent guy, and he genuinely likes the people at American Airlines.
When Doug Parker became CEO of American Airlines in 2005, the company was losing money hand over fist. By 2010, it had turned the corner, and Parker was rewarded with a 10% raise. Fast forward to today, and Parker is still CEO, but American Airlines is still losing money. Parker’s biggest gripe is the company’s lack of innovation, but the problem is more challenging than he realized.
American Airlines CEO Doug Parker has done a lot of things right. Among them is his philosophy on customer service. He has famously said that if he only had one thing to change about American Airlines, it would be the way they treat their customers.
There’s one thing American Airlines CEO Doug Parker wishes he could change.
on August 29, 2021 by Gary Leff
A pilot asked during this week’s Crew News employee discussion with American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, “If there was one thing you could alter about the airline tomorrow, simply to make it different, what would it be?”
“For everyone in this business to know and think that they work for a firm that cares about them, because you do,” Parker replied. He went on to say that he understands that “it doesn’t always feel that way.”
When you’re out there and you know you’re going to have a blown trip, it’s hard to believe.
“The front line, the front line, the front line,” one American executive grumbled to me four years ago, “the airline was only ready to acknowledge and promote customer-facing workers because it wanted them to be happy and feel valued.” But it’s obvious that this hasn’t worked.
Shortly after the 2017 discussion, American conducted an employee poll and discovered
- Only 41% of its workers think the airline’s management takes “the correct choices that care for customers,” and only 32% believe the airline’s executives listen to and “aim to understand the frontline team member experience.”
- Only 33% said management made “the correct choices that assist” workers. When things go wrong, less than half of the respondents felt they had “the flexibility to address the requirements of our clients that fly American.”
- Only 38.9% of respondents stated that “people in the United States trust and respect one another.”
Parker and other executives repeatedly stated that their most valuable resource was their employees. While the hard product is something that other airlines could copy, having happy employees would give them an advantage because those employees would take excellent care of customers, who would be willing to pay a premium to fly the airline.
American, on the other hand, lacked a mission statement and never offered workers a goal larger than themselves to strive towards. Employees were often perplexed as to whether the airline was attempting to be a premium carrier (with Flagship lounges and excellent 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 aims to “make culture a competitive advantage,” but only as part of a larger strategy of “passionately pursuing efficiency.” Those two aren’t always on the same page, and workers appear to believe that the latter has been taking precedence over the former.
Parker has made it clear that he wants his legacy to be about his workers, but his actions have never appeared to reflect this in a manner that has trickled down to the employees, much alone translated into a stronger connection with consumers.
More From the Wing’s Perspective
Airlines have a lot of moving parts. Corporate culture, customer service, training, and cost cutting all need to be carefully managed across the industry. But one thing CEO Doug Parker wishes he could change about American Airlines is the way employees view the company.. Read more about american airlines headquarters and let us know what you think.
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