There will be more Delta flights this summer than ever. Don Mitacek – “the fixer” - and Bill Lentsch – “the handler” – say their teams are ready.
Delta News Hub: What are some things (your teams) Technical Operations and Airport Customer Service/Cargo have done to prepare?
Don Mitacek, Senior Vice President of Technical Operations: Well, I see aviation as the ultimate team sport. The essence of what we do as an airline is simple. Customers want an uncomplicated experience when they fly us, but to get to that level of simplicity takes a mind-boggling amount of complexity, and not just the actual maintenance and troubleshooting of the aircraft. Summer planning literally begins as it ends the previous year. And we make sure we’re looking at the needs of our fleet not only from hourly, daily and cycle-based items, but strategically planning the larger checks to occur on either side of the summer so we can make sure we a have a ready airplane before every departure when the demand is highest.
Bill Lentsch, Senior Vice President of Airport Customer Service and Cargo Operations: From an ACS perspective, our customers’ time with us is an opportunity to start their travel experience in the best possible way. We also see ourselves as the great facilitator of the airline—customers and their bags all flow through our airports. This summer, we hired about 800 employees. Most of that is seasonal, but some of those are permanent positions, for example in Los Angeles and Seattle. We held service recovery classes for agents called “Flip the Trip,” which is focused on tactics they can use to help customers make an emotional connection with the brand. Our survey data show customers can be more satisfied during a well-executed “irregular operation service recovery event” than had they not been in an irregular operation at all. We also have some new or refurbished Delta Sky Club facilities opening in San Francisco, Atlanta and Boston.
DNH: 2014 was a record year for operational performance. How have you approached building on that with your teams for 2015?
BL: I challenge the ACS and Cargo teams to have healthy curiosity in what data tells them. In recent years, we’ve made data and reporting metrics readily available to agents so everyone understands how they are affecting performance. We can’t have a policy or procedure for everything and that’s where their creativity and resiliency really shine. At many of our stations our below wing team is embracing a procedure called “single-point disconnect.” This procedure allows for a quicker towbar release from the aircraft after pushback, which shortens taxi time and gives our customers and their bags a little more time to connect. Also, earlier this year we changed the arrival procedure to more efficiently assign tasks to ramp crews.
DM: We’ve taken on similar initiatives in the cabin maintenance side. Cleanliness of aircraft is absolutely huge in the on-board experience. And it’s also the most tangible piece of what TechOps does for the customer. If an aircraft looks well-maintained inside and out to the customer, it feels well maintained, too. And we’re continuing some initiatives from recent years—like making sure we have the right parts in the right airports and the right times for line maintenance technicians. We also brought in the Boeing 747 fleet for a reliability visit to take care of some planned items ahead of the summer. And technology is very crucial for us to keep an edge.
DNH: On May 26, you had your first summer day on which (mainline Delta) departures were above 3,000. On July 6, that number is expected to rise above 3,100. What does that mean to you?
BL: I take that as positive proof that customers want to fly Delta more than any other airline. We calibrated our Key Performance Indicators to more closely track with JD Power rankings and Net Promoter Scores. We’ve also shored up our service recovery strategy called “Care While Waiting.” ACS employees have really embraced the challenge of our 20-minute bag guarantee. Baggage performance in May held much better than goal and that kind of momentum is huge as the bag volumes pick up during these holiday weekends. We’re also redoubling our focus to produce better on-time departure results - we have all the right pieces in place, we just need some sharpening of our focus.
DM: For me, it’s a point of pride that we’re capable of so much as a team. Lee Gossett, who runs our Line Maintenance, is known during the summer as the “Main Event.” He’s quick to dismiss this nickname, but you can’t dismiss the truth: Line maintenance is the lifeblood of aircraft health during the summer operation. We added an additional three line maintenance stations this summer just as we have for the past two summers, this year in Charlotte, Raleigh/Durham and Chicago-O’Hare. Also, many teams in base maintenance in Atlanta and Minneapolis/St. Paul, in a real sense, become line maintenance for much of the summer. … And this is a great aspect of the Delta culture—we have this dynamic of working and winning together that our competition doesn’t have, and we can more effectively manage the work when and where it needs to be done.
DNH: You lead two divisions that definitely have the most outdoor work done in the entire airline. What’s one thing that many might not appreciate about that?
BL: I’m continually impressed by the competitiveness and camaraderie that Delta people exude. When a goal is set, our people find a way to rally around the challenge and make it happen. The weather elements can deal us a unique set of circumstances every day. No one handles the complexity better than our Delta team, and we always do it with a keen eye on safety. That is never compromised.
DM: Technicians, by training, seek out defects and solutions. Their capacity for anticipating needs and honing in on the task at hand never ceases to amaze—from unscheduled engine changes to wheel and brake replacements and everything in between.
BL: And never any hot airplanes anywhere.
DM: That’s absolutely right. Cool will always be cool.