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 customer

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