Parker, 51, and his wife Gwen — a former American flight attendant — have three children and live in Paradise Valley, a Phoenix suburb not far from US Airways' headquarters in Tempe. The airline said he wouldn't be available for an interview for this story.
In 1980, Parker was a new Albion College freshman who was "semi-decent at math," he told Albion graduates in a 2010 commencement address. The college shared video of the address with The Associated Press
He followed the advice of others and signed up for computer science courses. He hated it.
"I wasn't good at it, it never felt right to me," he said. But he liked philosophy and microeconomics, so he changed his major to economics in his sophomore year. He graduated in 1984, then earned a master's in business administration from Vanderbilt University in 1986.
He later landed in the finance department at American, then applied for a management job in a different department. Colleagues tried to talk him out of it. "But something was telling me that I'd be a good team leader," he said in the commencement address. "I enjoyed building teams. They accomplished more collectively than we could as individuals, and learning that about myself made a huge difference in my career path."
Parker has a loose, direct speaking style and a gravelly voice. On quarterly earnings conference calls, it doesn't take much prompting for him share his thoughts on what's wrong with the airline business and how it ought to get better.
Partway through the speech at Albion he pauses to fix his mortarboard, which has shifted. "These things, by the way, are ridiculous. You don't have to wear these things ever again."
Most of the big airlines struggled all through the 2000s. By the end of 2005, three of the four biggest U.S. airlines needed bankruptcy protection. . The thinking on Wall Street was that too many airlines were chasing too few travelers, forcing fares too low to cover the cost of flying.
Parker was vocal about the need for airlines to consolidate.
In 2005 he kicked off the industry's recent merger wave by grabbing the larger US Airways. It was a daring move — US Airways had twice as many employees and flew to many more cities than America West. But US Airways was foundering during its second bankruptcy. Parker saw a chance to transform America West from a regional airline into a national one.
Parker has focused US Airways on profitable flying. He closed the former America West hub in Las Vegas and traded away many of its landing rights in New York for more slots in Washington. It's posted three annual profits in a row.
Airline mergers moved ahead without Parker, though.
In 2006, Parker tried to merge with Delta while it was in bankruptcy protection. Delta rallied workers and creditors against the hostile bid. Creditors rejected it in early 2007. A year later, Delta bought Northwest.
Parker turned to United in 2008, but after some talks, it walked away. The talks were rekindled in 2010, but United dropped them again in favor of Continental.
US Airways lost money in 2008 and 2009, and it was viewed as one of the industry's more troubled players. After Continental CEO Jeff Smisek agreed to merge with United in 2010, he called US Airways "the ugly girl." Parker, the biggest proponent of merging airlines, ran the one nobody wanted to merge with.
Parker approached American differently. He lined up early support from American's labor, and courted creditors. Seven years ago he said Delta would shrink if it merged. With American, he has said the airline will be profitable by being bigger.
Franke, who hired Parker at America West, and now runs Phoenix-based private equity fund at Indigo Partners, said Parker has "learned a lot from the issues he had with Delta and United."
"Doug's a very smart guy, he's a very energetic guy, he's a guy who listens to people and adapts accordingly," said Spirit Airlines CEO Ben Baldanza, who worked with Parker at Northwest and American. "So I don't think anyone should be surprised that he's in position to run the world's largest airline."
AP Airlines Writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.