By Andrea Romano
December 13, 2018
YASUYOSHI CHIBA/Getty Images

Air France’s new CEO not only has an impressive resume, she’s also great at breaking glass ceilings.

The European airline’s board of directors named their new CEO on Wednesday after a slew of resignations and employee strikes, and their decision marks a huge historical moment. Anne Rigail, the incoming CEO, is actually the first woman to lead a major airlineThe Washington Post reported.

Rigail, who was previously the company’s executive vice president, customer division, will officially start her term as CEO on Monday, Dec. 17. Benjamin Smith, acting CEO of Air France, personally recommended her for the job, saying in a statement: “Anne is a strong professional in the airline industry. Throughout her career, she has always paid particular attention to employees while implementing the many projects and transformations she has led, and placed the customer at the heart of everything she does.” 

While budget carrier EasyJet was run by CEO Carolyn McCall for seven years and regional airline Air Wisconsin is led by CEO Christine Dreister, no major U.S. carrier has put a woman in its top spot. JetBlue does have a female president and COO (Joanna Geraghty), the second highest position at the company, The Washington Post pointed out. 

The airline industry has not been an easy place to climb the company ladder for women in particular. According to the International Air Transport Association, only 3 percent of airline CEOs worldwide were women, compared to 12 percent of women CEOs in other industries. Truly, there is still a long way to go to achieve equality across the board, but Rigail’s new position is a step in the right direction.

The former AirFrance CEO, Jean-Marc Janaillac, stepped down from his position in May after numerous strikes that cost the company millions of dollars. Soon after Rigail takes her new position, employees will see a 4-percent pay increase that was agreed upon in October.

However, Rigail will still face pay negotiations with cabin crew and pilots, Bloomberg reported.

“I would like to thank Benjamin Smith for the outstanding work he has accomplished during his time as acting CEO Air France...our airline has rapidly taken decisive steps, renewing constructive social dialogue, and proposing a new executive governance structure...I wish Anne every success in her new position, for the benefit of both Air France and the Air France-KLM Group. I am very pleased that she has accepted this very exciting new challenge,” Anne-Marie Couderc, chairwoman of the Air France-KLM Board of Directors, said in a company statement.

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