Whoa! Scott Kirby Leaving American Airlines To Join United

The Internet started lighting up with a bunch of tweets late this afternoon about Scott Kirby, the acting President of American Airlines, resigning effective immediately.

Scott Kirby

In the time it took to wonder what the heck could lead to this development, rumors started flying that United had hired Kirby in the same role as he occupied at American.

I was having parallel conversations with two fellow bloggers, Gary Leff and Seth Miller as I was thinking through the situation.  Here are some of the observations from my own thinking and those conversations:

  1. I really thought Scott Kirby and Doug Parker (the CEO of AA) were attached at the hip. They’ve been together for 20 years and are finally running the biggest airline. This would seem to be the wrong time to walk away.
  2. The appearance of that relationship, coupled with these moves, is a strong indication that Doug Parker likes his job.  He’s likely not going anywhere soon. Scott probably wanted to know where he stood in the succession plan. When he realized that Doug wasn’t leaving, he made plans to go elsewhere.  If my math is right, Scott is 49 years old, Doug 55. While both have probably made enough money to comfortably retire, neither seems the type.
  3. I’d be pretty surprised if Scott didn’t have some language in his contract preventing such a move to a competitor like United. That leads me to believe that the relationship between Scott and Doug was amicable enough to negotiate a settlement that included a move to a competitor, or some leverage existed to make it happen.
  4. Universally, I believe all 3 of us said at one point or another today, “Scott was almost definitely promised the top job at United when Oscar leaves.”

Scott Kirby

As an aviation nerd, I’m insanely interested in what the internal conversations were like at both American and United.  I’d be interested to know the path things took at AA.  And, I wonder about that conversation between Scott and Oscar Munoz (CEO of United).  Was it something like:

Hey, Oscar.  Scott Kirby here.  Yes, that Scott Kirby.  Wondering if we could get together for a coffee to discuss if I could come hang out in Chicago and take your job in a few years?  Tomorrow?  Sure, I can probably find a flight to Chicago.

What Does This Mean For Frequent Travelers Of Both Airlines?

Scott Kirby likes to innovate (tinker).  As Gary notes, Kirby is the guy who decided to start charging for a glass of water on planes.  I’m also pretty sure he was behind the decision to rip out in-flight entertainment systems at US Airways to save money on fuels, and the reason you won’t find any plugs on those planes either.

From a loyalty standpoint, he’s already done the big damage to the AAdvantage program, including the changes to a revenue-based program, reduction in benefits for top elites and the introduction of a new elite level.

He has been instrumental in establishing a “Basic Economy” fare class at American under the auspices of competing with Spirit and Frontier. Premium Economy isn’t far behind, and with it the likely further devaluation of upgrades for elite members.

Those are all largely things Delta has already done, and things United has said they largely want to do.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the playbook will look like.  I was talking to my best friend, David, a devoted United Global Services member.  When he asked me if this was bad for him I replied, “Hope the purchase order for those new Polaris business class seats is signed!”

The post Whoa! Scott Kirby Leaving American Airlines To Join United was published first on Pizza in Motion



  1. Kirby was “transitioned out” of American according to their press release.That means he was told to leave or be fired. Fortunately he got a big fat severance package and will be just fine! The other good news is that he landed at UAL instantly. No down time plus he undoubtedly got another big fat severance package should that be necessary. United could have hired Donald Duck and he would have been an improvement over the incumbent buffoons at UAL. Consequently, the bar for success at United is very low! He will be a rock star. Kirby just hit the lottery 3 x in one day!

    1. Rjb, I may be proven wrong, but I highly doubt Scott got fired preemptively. He was either deep in negotiations with both AA and UA, or essentially finished negotiating a package with UA to move on.

  2. Kirby was canned. If they told him a day ago or a month ago it’s still the same result. For Kirby, I would say it’s a huge positive regardless of exactly how it unfolded.

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