Terri Pope led US Airways’ Charlotte hub operations through the aftermath of Sept. 11, two devastating bankruptcies and two mergers that transformed the airline into its current incarnation as American Airlines, the world’s biggest carrier.
Now Pope, 59, is stepping down, after more than 40 years in aviation. American Airlines said Tuesday that she’s retiring, effective June 2, and will be replaced by Dec Lee, currently American Airlines’ vice president of engineering, quality and training.
Pope started her career in 1976, working for Air Kentucky Airlines at Owensboro Airport. She was 19 years old. The carrier flew 15-seat propeller planes on short hops, making circuits to Bowling Green, Cincinnati, Frankfort and back to Bowling Green. She sold tickets, loaded the bags and made such trips two or three times a day.
In her current role, which she’s held since 2000, Pope is responsible for overseeing every aspect of the Charlotte hub for American Airlines, with more than 650 daily flights. It’s the second largest hub for American, behind Dallas/Fort Worth.
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“It has been an honor to serve as your hub airport leader for the past 17 years,” Pope said in a message to employees sent Tuesday. “We’ve been through so much together, and I could not be prouder.”
Pope made a number of stops on her way from Owensboro Airport to Charlotte Douglas International. Kentucky Airlines became a commuter carrier for Allegheny Airlines, which became US Air in 1979. Her bosses pushed her to become a flight attendant – a more traditional career path for a woman at the time – but Pope said she wasn’t interested.
Instead, she moved to Pittsburgh and then Boston, working in the airline’s clubs for elite fliers. She almost quit when she realized she was making more money from her side job tending bar, but Pope stuck with the job. She then moved to New York’s LaGuardia Airport, working a rotation at each ground job the airline had.
From there, she lived the peripatetic life common to many airline employees: Back to Boston to run the ticket counter, to Charlotte overseeing the 1989 merger with Piedmont Airlines, then to positions in West Palm Beach and Washington National Airport before returning to Charlotte for good.
American Airlines president Robert Isom praised Pope in a statement.
“Terri has built our CLT hub into one of our largest and top-performing operations,” said Isom. “You would never know it is one of the nation’s busiest airports by the personal care Terri gives to everyone at CLT.”
Lee, Pope’s successor, started as a mechanic in the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force. Before working at American Airlines, he held leadership positions at Northwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines.