Former Southwest Airlines CEO James Parker dies at 72

DALLAS (AP) — James F. Parker, who succeeded Herb Kelleher as CEO of Southwest Airlines and led the carrier through the aftermath of the September 2001 terror attacks, has died. He was 72.

Parker died unexpectedly on Saturday night, according to Southwest.

Parker was a lawyer in San Antonio and former state assistant attorney general before joining Dallas-based Southwest in 1986. He was general counsel in June 2001 when he was named to replace Kelleher as CEO.

The terror attacks undermined air travel; other airlines cut thousands of jobs. Southwest remained profitable and avoided layoffs, but Parker’s tenure was also marked by rising tension with the flight attendants’ union.

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Parker stepped down surprisingly in July 2004 and was replaced by Gary Kelly, who is still CEO.

Kelleher died Jan. 3 at 87.