Here’s How to become the CEO of American Airlines; Part 1 of 3

First off, I just want to express my gratitude to everyone at American Airlines who made this possible. Seriously, I cannot thank you all enough! The only reason I was able to sit down one-on-one with Mr. Parker was thanks to the generosity of the entire American Airlines executive team.  Thanks again!  A few months ago, I sent an email to someone at American Airlines inquiring about an interview with CEO Doug Parker. To be honest, I wasn’t even expecting to receive a reply.
A few days later, I had confirmed a date and time to meet with the CEO of the largest airline in the world. Additionally, I was offered a tour of American’s integrated operations center. It was just yesterday that I met with Mr. Parker and toured the IOC. Needless to say, there’s a lot to cover.

Breaking The Interview Down Piece-by-Piece

To effectively cover the intricacies of my meeting with Mr. Parker, I have decided to break it down piece-by-piece. I am going to try and break the meeting down into three posts. The table below breaks down each post.

PostOverviewExpected Release
Part 1: How to become the CEO of American AirlinesDoug Parker's background and how he came to be the CEO of American Airlines. Introductory postReleased
Part 2: The Passenger Experience and LoyaltyA breakdown of the passenger experience at American Airlines and what changes the AAdvantage program will see.Monday, May 8th
Part 3: The Future of American AirlinesCovering the biggest advantages and hurdles regarding the future of American Airlines.Wednesday, May 10th
The American Airlines Executive Board Room

The American Airlines Executive Board Room

In this post, I am going to cover how to become the CEO of the world’s largest airline. Let’s begin.

Here’s How to become the CEO of The World’s Largest Airline

I am not sure you are aware of this, but I’m kind of into airlines. My passion for air travel and my interest in the airline industry dates back over six years ago. For the past six years, my entire life has been structured around all things air travel. Moreso, I don’t want my fascination for air travel and the airline industry to become something that was a phase. I want to base my entire life and my career around it.

As cliche and childish as it sounds, I want to become a CEO of a major airline. Wow. I know, pretty embarrassing. Regardless if I ever achieve that dream, I at least want to work for an airline. I’m majoring in business, probably management, and plan to focus on finance and IT systems.

I’m sure over the next four years my major or at least what I plan to focus on, will change. However, I know I want to work at an airline. I’d asked business majors and college professors what they thought was the best path to work in corporate for a major airline. I kid you not, no one really knew. The best advice I have received was to major in business and intern at a major airline. However, I wanted to know more. What specific major sets me on the path to become the next CEO of American Airlines? I turned to the current CEO of American Airlines, Mr. Doug Parker, for the answer to this question.

Background: Doug Parker

The first question I asked Mr. Parker, right off the bat, was “how did you become the CEO of the largest airline in the world?” He sort of chuckled and said that he’d be as clear and concise as possible.

After graduating high school, Mr. Parker continued his education at Albion College in Albion, Michigan. If you’ve never heard of Albion, you’re probably not alone. Albion College is home to just 1350 students and Albion, Michigan, home to just a little over 8200 residents. Mr. Parker remarked that he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do after college. However, he liked finance and ended up majoring in economics. After graduating from Albion College, Mr. Parker continued his studies at Vanderbilt University where he received his Masters in Business Administration.

“I wasn’t exactly into airlines or anything,” said Mr. Parker, “It wasn’t until American Airlines was on campus and was conducting on-campus interviews that I considered working in the airline industry.” Mr. Parker interview for a position at American Airlines and shortly after the interview was hired to work at American’s former hub in Nashville, TN.

Doug Parker's 1st AA Badge (Image: American Airlines)

Doug Parker’s 1st AA Badge (Image: American Airlines)

After working in various financial management roles at American Airlines, Mr. Parker joined Northwest Airlines. At Northwest Airlines, he served as vice president, assistant treasurer, and vice president of financial planning analysis.

In 1995, Mr. Parker became CFO of America West, a small airline based in. Ten days before the September 11th attacks, Mr. Parker became CEO of America West. He lead the small airline, through the crisis that would follow, ten days after becoming CEO.  In 2005, America West and US Airways merged.  At that time, Doug Parker assumed the role of CEO of US Airways.

Mr. Parker remarked that he enjoyed his time at US Airways.  US Airways had managed to exit bankruptcy in the early 2000s and was no stranger to consolidation.  At one time, US Airways attempted to merge with United Airlines.  Mr. Parker said, “It was obvious that in such a consolidated industry, US Airways needed a partner.”

In 2011, American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. At the time, American Airlines and its board members believed they could be the first major airline to successfully exit bankruptcy without merging with another airline.

Recalling the merger, Mr. Parker said, “We [US Airways] approached American Airlines about a merger. At first, they had no intentions of merging with us. However, we were persistent. We went to American’s unions and had some contracts signed up. Finally, we managed to get American Airlines to agree to merge with US Airways.” Following the merger between American Airlines and US Airways, Mr. Doug Parker assumed the role of CEO of the world’s largest airline.

So that’s how you become CEO of the world’s largest airline. Simple enough. Additionally, Mr. Parker didn’t just give me the rundown of his life before his career. He also gave me some very specific advice.

“Focus on stuff you like.” He said. Mr. Parker added, “A background in finance is very important but so is marketing and management.  There’s a lot of marketing in airlines.”  Essentially, if you major in business, you’re passionate, you are motivated, and you have the required skills, you’ve got a shot at becoming the next CEO of American Airlines.

Next up, Part 2: American Airlines; The Passenger Experience and Loyalty


Devotion, motivation, and a business degree.  That’s what it takes to become the CEO of the world’s largest airline. It was interesting to hear from so many members of the American Airlines executive team. I didn’t meet a single person who had connections to American or even planned on working in the airline industry. (With the exception of Mr. Hector Adler) However, through persistence, devotion, and being the best at what they do, they made it to high-level positions at the world’s largest airline.

My interview with Mr. Doug Parker and my time with other American Airlines executives really reaffirms my plans for college. It would seem as if a degree in business, masters of business administration, and a focus in finance is the key to a high-level position at an airline like American. Lucky for me, that’s been my plan since my freshmen year of high school.


The impressive snack spread the American Airlines executive team had waiting for me.

The impressive snack spread the American Airlines executive team had waiting for me.