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American Airlines CEO Doug Parker stepping down end of March

American Airlines CEO Doug Parker will retire on March 31 and be replaced by the carrier's current president, Robert Isom.

Parker has led Texas-based American since late 2013, when he engineered a merger with smaller US Airways. He will remain as chairman, American said Tuesday.

Isom had been Parker's heir apparent since becoming president of American in 2016 after Scott Kirby was forced out and left to join United Airlines, where he now serves as the CEO. Isom has overseen American's operations, including sales and pricing, and its alliances with other airlines.

Isom was previously American's chief operating officer and held the same job under Parker at US Airways, where he was responsible for improving the airline's on-time performance.

The nation's top airlines have been the subject of many refund complaints during the pandemic, with the U.S. Department of Transportation receiving nearly 90,000 complaints about ticket refunds last year, up more than 5,000% from less than 1,600 in 2019. 

Airlines still owe customers upwards of $20 billion in refunds for flights that were canceled last year, experts say. And refunds remain a major source of contention after erupting early on in the pandemic as airlines cut flights, governments enacted travel restrictions and would-be travelers canceled trips. The industry suffered massive and sudden losses in revenue and profits and ultimately won a $25 billion federal bailout to help support its idled workforces. 

American Airlines' flight cancellations are latest travel disruptor 01:33

Parker said American is "well-positioned to take full advantage of our industry's recovery" from the collapse in travel caused by the pandemic, "and now is the right time for a handoff we have planned and prepared for."

The 60-year-old Parker is the latest CEO of a major U.S. airline to announce his retirement this year. In June, Southwest Airlines Gary Kelly said he would step down, with longtime executive Robert Jordan taking over. Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden was succeeded by Ben Minicucci in April.

Parker has spent two decades as an airline CEO since becoming the head of America West Airlines just days before the September 11, 2001, terror attacks. The Phoenix carrier survived a downturn in travel with help from a federal loan.

In 2005, Parker engineered a merger with larger US Airways, and he repeated the same strategy in December 2013 with American, which was just emerging from bankruptcy protection. Parker enlisted the support of American's labor unions to dump the bigger airline's management after the merger.

American is led by a tight-knit group of executives — including Isom, 56 — most of whom have been together since America West.

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