No Confidence Vote, Labor Unrest at American Airlines

Doug Parker, American Airlines’ chairman and CEO, has a relationship with his airline’s pilots best described as complicated. When, as US Airways’ chief in 2013, he succeeded in what was in essence a hostile takeover of American Airlines, he was well regarded by American’s pilots union, whose support was crucial to his campaign. How things have changed!

This week, the Allied Pilots Association, which represents American’s 15,000 pilots, announced that its board of directors and national officers had voted in favor of a resolution expressing “no confidence” in Parker and his management team.

The resolution includes a long list of charges against Parker. Among them:

  • “(S)ince the merger, Doug Parker has made questionable economic and strategic decisions and is squandering a rare period of record profits in the airline industry by failing to build a balance sheet that can withstand the inevitable downturns in this historically cyclical industry.”
  • “(D)espite the fact that American Airlines was the last major airline to exit bankruptcy, it has already accumulated 20 billion dollars of debt, which is more than all the other major network carriers combined largely because Doug Parker has championed $11 billion in stock buy-backs, representing over 80% of profits since emerging from bankruptcy.”
  • “Doug Parker has enriched himself and senior managers through substantial bonus plans while dismissing employee concerns and eroding the employee morale and motivational foundation needed for any customer service organization to succeed.”
  • “Doug Parker’s management team is responsible for declining customer satisfaction rankings due to a heavy-handed focus on internal performance metrics that treat our valued customers as numbers, rather than people, thus resulting in the erosion of the American Airlines reputation for quality which may have a long-term and lasting negative impact on future profitability.”

And the list of grievances goes on…

According to the union’s news release, the final straw was Parker’s failure to attend last week’s meeting between Donald Trump and U.S. airline chiefs. “His decision to disrespectfully not accept an invitation to meet with the President of the United States has left the APA leadership and many of our pilots amazed at the lack of judgment and leadership exhibited.” (In his own defense, Parker cited his previous commitment to address a meeting of American’s managers.)

The pilots aren’t the only American employee group expressing dissatisfaction with the company’s management. Yesterday, Valentine’s Day, flight attendants picketed at four American hub airports, citing compensation issues and unresolved problems with new rash-inducing uniforms.

If American can’t get its labor-management relations in order, flyers will eventually feel the effects of the festering ill will. At which point they’ll cast a no-confidence vote with their wallets. No one wants to travel on an airline bedeviled by strikes, slowdowns, and a depressed and demotivated workforce.

Reader Reality Check

Have you noticed any degradation in American’s customer service in recent months?

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and almost that long writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

This article first appeared on SmarterTravel.com, where Tim is Editor-at-Large.

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