Rotational Programmes


Talent mobility is essential to the business and development of leaders at American Airlines. Moves are made out of operational necessity and to serve business needs rather than for leadership development purposes. However, the leadership track has naturally evolved to align with employee moves.

The problem addressed by the campaign: 
  • American Airlines has different bench strength in different locations. They often move people around to fill talent gaps, restore order, and make improvements to various ports. 
  • In the United States and the United Kingdom, it is a challenge to find qualified people to fill entry-level management jobs
  • American Airlines moves people and cargo around the globe. Given the nature of the business, employees themselves are often required to move to fill business needs and advance in their career. 
    • For frontline jobs governed by union contracts, ability to move is based on seniority.
    • Most employees enter the business at the beginning of their careers and work their way up through the company.
    • As employees move from smaller cities to larger and more difficult markets, they gain more responsibility.
    • Many employees move from city to city until their seniority and experience lands them in their target destination.
    • High potential employees may be asked to make temporary moves to fill critical market gaps.
  • Depending on the location, it can be difficult to find young American and British college graduates interested in entry-level management positions in the airline business. American Airlines moves people to fill these talent gaps.
    • In Latin America it is easier to source local talent, partially because airline positions are held in higher regard there. High potential employees in Latin America are often moved to the United States to fill open positions. Some of the best leaders in the US market came from Latin America.
  • American Airlines allows employees to experience other occupations within the company through Temporary Duty Assignments (TDY). Operations employees who are considering moving to the corporate side may go on temporary assignments to test the waters. This is also done for operations employees who may have an injury that prevents them from performing their usual line of work. 
  • American Airlines has begun sharing talent with other companies within their industry. British Airways, American Airlines and Iberia have agreed to a joint business agreement to share revenue and reduce costs, coordinate networks and schedules and cooperate commercially on routes between the EU, Norway and Switzerland and the United States, Canada, Mexico and US territories.
  • People move very rapidly within the company, across geographies, and across units. It may take years for employees to end up back in their desired geography. 
  • Management mobility is roughly 10 – 15% per year (domestic)
  • Within management ranks half of moves are driven by senior leadership, while the other half are based on employee request. Employees will often request a move if they believe this will lead to better career opportunities. 
  • Temporary duty assignments have been in place for 30 years. At any given time about 100 employees are on TDY. Through temporary duty assignments employees become familiar with multiple units across the business. This is beneficial for both operations and corporate employees. Operations employees provide practical advice about improvements to be made on the front line while learning about a different side of the business. 
  • The talent share programme among American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia has been in place for six months. There are twelve employees who have taken part in the talent-sharing network and it has so far been a success. The collaboration will improve customer services with better connections, network, frequency and frequent flyer benefits. It will also enable the airlines to operate more efficiently, reducing costs and increasing their ability to invest in new products and services.
Why has it worked?: 
  • Although American Airlines employees move around often, they also have the benefit of free flights so they can visit home when desired.
  • Employees expect to be moved often, they enter the business knowing that this comes with the territory. 
  • Employees recognize that when asked to move, they are filling a business need and contributing to the success of the company. They feel proud that their work is valued.
  • There is strong awareness that some locations serve as talent hubs from which to draw experienced people to solve problems or help improve operations in other locations. This gives confidence that the reservoir of capability is there and facilitates the management of mobility.
Conclusions and Recommendations: 
  • Mobility practices need to fit the model of company. American Airlines is in the “moving around” business, and its talent mobility practices fit the business. This model would not necessarily work or make sense in other contexts.
  • Maintaining talent hubs from which the most experienced talent can be drawn facilitates mobility for purposes of operational effectiveness.
  • Talent sharing, as practiced with BA and Iberia on transatlantic routes shows promise as a method of securing critical knowledge and know-how and aligning talent with the ever-expanding role of business alliances. 
  • Narrow views of competitiveness or rivalry should not stand in the way of exploring such relationships when the opportunity presents itself.
Foundational Issues: 
Public and private constraints on mobility
Level of Collaboration: 
Level 3: Collaboration on an industry or regional level
Global (all of the above)
Economic and political context: 

Mobility is a part of the culture at American Airlines. Employees are expected and willing to move to advance their career.

About the Author(s): 

American Airlines serves 250 cities in 40 countries with, on average, more than 3,400 daily flights. The combined network fleet numbers approximately 900 aircraft.