Kellogg World Alumni Magazine Spring 2005Kellogg School of Management
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  S.K. (Funk) McGarvey '74
  Oyvind Solvang '86
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  David Jehn '90
  Eleni Rossides '01

Plane planning

by Kari Richardson

Frequent fliers who've suffered when a favorite route became a victim of airline cuts take note.

As director of North America planning for United Airlines, David Jehn '90 helps determine when and where the carrier flies. While he's used to withstanding the ire of customers, labor groups and co-workers, the man who helps map routes for some 800 domestic aircraft warns that the job is more complicated than you might have imagined.

Among the questions his department must answer: how many and what kind of domestic planes United should own; where the airline should fly; and what type of aircraft it should fly there.

"This job is the central part of an airline," Jehn says.

While profitability drives most decisions, strategy and customer service must be considered as well. Jehn, who held a similar job at Air New Zealand for six years, pores through reams of data and revenue forecasts. He sorts through customer feedback, weighs pilots' recommendations about airports and listens to the viewpoints of his airline peers.

"I get input from every imaginable angle," Jehn says. "Often the viewpoints are completely opposed — everything is a trade-off."

While Jehn could play an important role in the carrier's successful emergence from bankruptcy, it won't be easy. In his words, the industry is "still experiencing a lot of pain" as it copes with record fuel prices and low-cost competition and tries to adapt to post-9/11 changes, including scheduling delays and longer connection times.

But bankruptcy, Jehn says, has allowed United to become a leaner airline by reducing its fleet and reconsidering routes. Recently the carrier added flights to seven warm-weather destinations throughout Mexico and the Caribbean.

"One of the things we've done is make a concerted effort to change our destinational breadth," Jehn says. "It's a key way of serving customers better — making sure they can get where they want at all times. And we're very conscious of providing schedules that are business traveler-friendly."

Take that all to heart next time your flight to Kalamazoo hits the chopping block.

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University