When and how did you first start working in the airline industry?
My first career field out of college was engineering, but I went to business school and subsequently started working for US Airways in August 2001. Since that time there's never been a dull moment. I was employed here during the September 11 terrorist attacks, two Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings, one completed merger (with America West), and one announced merger plan that didn't pan out for us.
I started working in Washington DC for US Airways, but moved on in December 2004 to take a job with America West in Phoenix. Little did I know the two companies would be merging the following year! I've been interested in aviation since childhood, and obtained my private pilot license about 10 years ago.
How did you get into the route planning business?
I originally started working in the finance department in an MBA rotational programme. I got to know the employees of our route planning department through a joint project I was working on and thought it would be an interesting place to do my first rotation. After that I never went back to finance! I have made a few detours in other areas of the company over the years – revenue management, international sales planning and operations planning – but always seemed to find my way back to route planning.
What gives you the greatest satisfaction in your job?
It's always exciting to shepherd a new route from initial conception all the way through to actual implementation. Especially for international routes, it can be a very long process from when the route is first thought of until the actual first flight. In addition to determining that the route may present an economic opportunity for the company, there are many other issues to work through (regulatory issues, scheduling/aircraft flow issues, slot filings, gate constraints, airport negotiations, etc) and it can sometimes feel like a giant multi-year puzzle.
What is unique about US Airways' route network?
Although we have significant operations in Europe and the Caribbean, we obviously have a much smaller international footprint than the other major US carriers. With our new widebody aircraft arriving in 2009, we are just starting a new international growth phase.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
The lack of quality data can be frustrating and on some routes it can be necessary to make assumptions that aren't immediately verifiable with solid data. Also, no matter how much advance planning you may do, some routes just don't do as well as you might have hoped and it's quite frustrating to cancel an underperforming route for which you once had high hopes.
Is the North American market currently extremely challenging?
Yes, the competition can be fierce and every airline out there employs competent route planners who are trying to maximise their own routes' performances. And as pretty much all of 2008 showed, if it's not fuel prices then it's the recession. But it doesn't get boring often, I will admit.
What do the Routes events offer you that other events don't?
The main thing is the sheer breadth of airports that attend the event. We'd never get a chance to talk to some of these far-flung places at any other conference. It's not as if a new route negotiation is going to be completed in a 20-minute 'speed-dating' session at a forum, but it's very helpful to meet the airports face-to-face, get their business cards and follow up later with discussions.
What would people be most surprised to know about you?
I've run six marathons and nine half marathons. Call me crazy (some people do), but frankly sometimes I myself wonder why I undertake these events! I'm not a fast runner by any means but it gives you a great feeling of accomplishment to actually cross the finish line after such a long race.