For American Airlines CEO Doug Parker, the issues of trust and leadership are getting his full attention these days. “We have a business that’s been transformed, but the culture hasn’t been transformed,” he tells Fortune. “And that holds us back.”
Recently, American Airlines travelers have complained about clashes with airline employees, customer service ordeals, and allegations about racial discrimination. Parker acknowledges the problems and is trying to fix them. “In almost every case, we’ve put the employee in an incredibly difficult situation because of the rules we have in place. And it’s the rules that are the problem, not the people,” he explains. “And we need to work to make sure that we don’t put people in these situations. As we do more and more of that, trust gets stronger.”
American Airlines has become the world’s largest airline since its recovery from bankruptcy and its 2013 merger with U.S. Airways. During those years, airline employees and passengers felt the strain of cost-cutting measures and contentious labor relations. Now that the airline is healthier and reporting stronger revenue and profit growth, Parker says it’s important to focus more on “doing the right thing” for customers and airline workers. For starters, he’s giving every American Airlines employee a $1,000 cash bonus, thanks in part to the Trump tax cut.
“It’s one thing to build trust with a group, but it’s completely different to regain trust when you’ve lost it,” says Parker. “We just have to do trustworthy things over and over and over again every day.”