American Airlines sent out a press release announcing that its President Scott Kirby is leaving American Airlines “effective immediately.” And there was no mention of where he was going or why.
Doug Parker remains Chairman and CEO. Chief Operating Officer Robert Isom, who joined US Airways as COO in 2007, becomes President.
Scott Kirby was part of the America West team — he joined there in 1995 — that acquired US Airways out of its second bankruptcy and then took over at American to run the world’s largest airline. He became US Airways President in 2006, and became President of the combined airline after the merger.
Here’s how American explained the change,
Today’s management changes are the result of the Company’s Board of Directors’ ongoing succession planning process. As part of that process, and subsequent conversations regarding career expectations and the marketability of its executives, the Company concluded it would not be able to retain its existing executive team in their current roles for an extended period. As a result, the Board chose to act proactively to establish a team and structure that will best serve American for the longer-term future.
Ultimately the US Airways team remains in place and in charge, with Doug Parker there and with the number three becoming number two.
And United sent out its concurrent release announcing Kirby as its new President. It will be interesting to learn the path that led to this change, where he becomes heir apparent to Munoz.
Kirby is a really sharp guy, even though he’s taken American in directions I haven’t been happy with him. I found him to come across as thoughtful and humble — although he’s certainly interested in making decisions on the basis of what can be proven.
Under his watch US Airways stopped serving free water, on the belief that customers wouldn’t choose whom to fly based on soft drinks. US Airways eliminated bonus miles for elites, only to bring them back when other airlines didn’t follow. US Airways was slow to adopt inflight internet, because customers weren’t paying for internet — a decision they had to reverse when they finally saw people booking away from the airline for lack of wifi. He’s been a driver of changes at AAdvantage.
United has spent the last year rebuilding trust with employees and customers. Kirby’s US Airways wasn’t known for strong labor relations.
So while he’s a talented and experienced airline hand, who has run profitable carriers under difficult circumstances, he’s also someone that’s done it via cuts and as a driver at American managing by doing what Delta does — from the frequent flyer program, to the shift that’s coming towards Basic Economy fares which take benefits away from elites and require extra payment for an advance seat assignment.
It remains to be seen whether the hard numbers mentality that he’s become known for — for better and worse — will undermine the messaging that United has worked towards. On the other hand, since United has consistently talked about doing many of the same things as Delta (and American) like Basic Economy, the shift at United has been mostly tone.
Put another way, as they say, “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” this time at both American and United.