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Shares of American Airlines were down 2 percent in extended trading, while United shares gained more than 1 percent.
In a letter to United employees, CEO Oscar Munoz said he appointed Kirby as president of the company, a newly created position. Munoz said the move is "the culmination of the formation of my leadership team."
"While his credentials speak for themselves, what set Scott apart from the other impressive candidates I considered was his excitement at the passion and enthusiasm he is seeing from all of you over the past few months. Simply put, he 'gets' the new spirit of United that you have created, and he is the right person to help all of us seize the opportunities ahead," Munoz said.
American said Kirby is leaving the airline effective immediately. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kirby will walk away with over $13 million in cash and stock as part of his severance package.
Robert Isom will take over as American's president. Isom, 52, previously served as chief operating officer at American.
As part of the board's "ongoing succession planning process," American said it concluded "it would not be able to retain its existing executive team in their current roles for an extended period." The company said in a statement that its board "chose to act proactively to establish a team and structure that will best serve American for the longer-term future."
— CNBC's Phil LeBeau contributed to this report.