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December 16, 2013

With new leadership, can the culture of American Airlines change?

Gone are the reserved parking spaces in the garage at American Airlines headquarters.

Jeans are now allowed in first class when an employee is using a freebie ticket to travel.

And the security officer who used to guard the executive offices on the sixth floor has been removed.

These are a few of the small changes that American’s new executive team has made at the Fort Worth airline in the first week on the job.

“We’re all in this together,” new CEO Doug Parker told employees at a town hall meeting Monday, the day his carrier, US Airways, merged with American. “I don’t have a [parking] spot, either.”

A shift in culture is occurring at Amon Carter Boulevard, and it goes beyond the parking garage.

On the new company’s first day, framed posters were already hung on the walls of headquarters that were essentially open letters from Parker discussing the new American’s commitment to safety, customers and employees.

As Parker and his team face the daunting task of integrating two airlines with hundreds of different employee and customer policies, there is uncertainty in the air. But there is also a determined focus to get employees excited about the new American and to get the two airlines to work as one.

“We have to engage our employees … engage them and keep them informed about what is going on,” Parker said at the meeting.

Overcoming “tribal” feelings at airlines, however, is not as easy as putting up a few posters or holding an employee rally, Hudson Crossing analyst Henry Harteveldt said. Decades of cultural differences need to be bridged, he said, describing American as more traditional and US Airways as more transparent and less formal.

“Doug Parker and the other senior executives are going to have to gain or regain the trust of everyone from midlevel to lower management to line workers on all sides,” Harteveldt said. “You don’t want to have people saying, ‘I’m ex-US Airways’ or ‘I’m ex-American.’ You want people to say, ‘I am American Airlines.’ ”

Click here to read the full story that appeared in Sunday's Star-Telegram.

-Andrea Ahles

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