Doug Parker: Old American Airlines Was Hobbled by Labor Conflict

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- A frank Doug Parker said prior management of American Airlines (AAL) was so hamstrung by conflicts with labor that its ability to manage the airline was reduced.

American became "an airline that couldn't really achieve its potential because the management-labor relations had gotten so bad," Parker, CEO of American following a merger with US Airways, said Monday, speaking at a JPMorgan investor conference. "There is so much to do when you get everybody excited and working together than you can't do when they're not."

Parker answered a question from JPMorgan analyst Jamie Baker, who described the merger between American and US Airways as "a management takeover." Baker said "the prior management team was insular and focused for many years more on liquidity" before asking, "where's the benefit from a change in leadership?

"I know you have to be humble," Baker said. And Parker sought to answer diplomatically. Still, he made it clear that he and the management team he brought from US Airways plan to run things differently.

Parker, who worked at American from 1986 to 1991, said, "I have found in my return to American, it's in a different shape than when I left ... somewhere along the line, for any number of reasons that people can come up with, it's different.

"The biggest difference at American vs. the other airlines I've been is the lack of management-labor relations," he said. "I don't know how it happened. I don't really care. But I tell the American Airlines team this all the time. I've been doing this for a long time, and no other management team says the word 'labor' as much as the American Airlines management team said it."

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