At the helm of the Bridge in the center of the Operations and Customer Center, you’ll find one of Delta’s six duty directors in command of the airline’s 24/7 operations.
Their goal: Operate every flight safely and on schedule.
With oversight to half a million customers a day on more than 5,000 daily departures to more than 300 destinations worldwide, they direct and prioritize all 34 departments supporting the operation within the OCC in Atlanta.
They serve as the voice of Delta’s operation, tasked with updating the company with a holistic view of the airline at any given time. By communicating the daily operational plan to the company and leaders in the field, they ensure that adequate staffing and processes are in place for whatever challenges the day may bring.
“This means making sure that teams across the airline are set up well to operate every flight safely and on time,” said Jeff Trainer, duty director of five years.
As the point person with an immediate understanding of the status of Delta’s operation, they’re able to use their expertise to help lessen the impact from various disruptions—including everything from weather challenges to civil unrest. They’re also empowered to work with other Delta employees to go above and beyond for customers behind the scenes.
Earlier this summer, Trainer received a call from Delta agents at the Oklahoma City Airport when another airline cancelled a flight to Richmond, leaving a group of students headed on a trip to D.C. with no other options.
He quickly coordinated efforts to see if a crew and an aircraft were available among the airline’s regional partners. He worked with Delta Customer Care, Delta Reservations and Endeavor Air’s dispatch teams to set up a new route for FAA approval–as neither airline normally operates direct service between Oklahoma City and Richmond, Va. Within a matter of hours, he was able to help organize a special flight, saving the day for the group and their chaperones.
“You can think of us as the conductor of a large orchestra,” added David Spanjers, who has been in the duty director role for nearly two years. “We make sure everyone is in rhythm, working as one cohesive unit to provide the very best options for customers and our frontline teams.”
Part of the job comes with always being prepared for the unexpected. This could mean coordinating an effort to get customers back on their way after an unexpected diversion, or stepping in to organize a plan B for flights affected by weather or other issues within mainline, Delta Connection or even alliance partner operations.
“We’re plugged into all aspects of the operation, which gives us the opportunity to have a positive influence from a 30,000 foot, system-wide view,” said Dan O’Brien, duty director of almost 19 years.
Since its inception in 1995, the OCC has gone through many changes, including replacing the word “Control” with “Customer” in 2015, as the airline shifted its focus to making more customer-centric decisions. It was during this evolution that customer-facing groups like Airport Customer Service, Social Media and Customer Care were brought into the ops center to work alongside their operational counterparts to promote cohesive collaboration when problem solving.
“Before it was just Flight Control, Crew Tracking, Meteorology and one equipment router on a floor to themselves,” recalled Gregg Brandner, duty director of five years. “The position has since been elevated to being the point person for anything that has to do with Delta’s flight operations worldwide.”
O’Brien added, “Coming from Airport Customer Service originally, I can say that having an expanded number of departments within the OCC has made a huge impact on our success in taking care of customers who count on us.”
The airline’s duty directors have historically had a background in flight control, working with crews to dispatch and follow flights, assisting with everything from weight and balance calculations to diversions. That experience provides them with an in-depth understanding of the day-to-day issues such as maintenance issues, onboard medical scenarios and disruptive weather events.
“I recently came to this role from the Air Traffic Management team, where we worked directly with the FAA’s air traffic control group and shared best practices on how we could work better together–especially during irregular operations due to weather,” said Dave Vogt, one of Delta’s two newest duty directors. “Having experience in different areas of the operations has helped me dive into how to solve issues, but I’m excited to learn even more from the teams from this vantage point.”
“Our focus is every customer, every flight, every day,” said Dave Smith, the airline’s newest addition to the duty director team. “It’s an honor to be a part of it all, solving anything that comes our way and making the best out of an unexpected situation while working with the best colleagues in the industry.”
Pictured from top to bottom: Jeff Trainer, Dave Vogt, Dan O'Brien