Heading into Delta’s busiest summer ever, Bob Cortelyou – “the scheduler” - and Dave Holtz  – “the operator” - discuss how their areas have prepared.

Delta News Hub: Delta’s summer schedule is upon us. Can you share how a schedule with the reliability Delta is known for is constructed?

Dave Holtz, Senior Vice President of Operations and Customer Center: You should have talked to Bob last year. He probably can’t even tell you what we’re signed up for this summer. [Laughs]

Bob Cortelyou, Senior Vice President of Network Planning: Well, it’s true that my head’s already in next summer. Our schedule is out for sale 330 days prior to departure. And, in Network Planning, we have to see the world about three to five years ahead so we can always stay ahead of the many dynamics in the marketplace.  

DH: And if you’re the clairvoyant of the airline, does that make me the Zen Master? Because I’m more concerned with the foreseeable future and what’s happening right now.

BC: Be careful with that, Dave. People are going to start coming to us for fortune telling. And that would be no good. But I’ll get us back on track here. There’s a well-known cliché about most disciplines being both an art and a science, but it rings very true with us. Scheduling is an art--looking at when and where we should fly nearly 1,300 system aircraft. This provides the first layers of what Delta’s canvas might look like. Then, planning teams bring science to that canvas through meticulous examination of data about demand for travel within the U.S., to and from Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America.

DNH: What kinds of data? And how does your team interface with the operation as proposed schedules are made?

BC: Economic data, specifically gross domestic product and currency strength, but also data from our Sales teams in terms of what they’re hearing from corporate accounts, to name a few. Passengers per day, each way is one often cited. It’s data that a few providers give us but we can also delve from historical ticket sales. That’s a big barometer of where and when we fly but it’s not the only data point we consider.

DNH: Dave, what role does the Operations and Customer Center have in formulating Delta’s schedule?

DH: Once the New Year’s holiday comes to an end, meetings start being set up about the summer and what we need to do to make sure we continue executing at a high level. We appreciate that Bob’s team involves us early and often to ensure solvency. Technical Operations, Airport Customer Service, Flight Operations and In-Flight Service are all key stakeholders. There’s constructive debate across the groups – we don’t have to resort to name calling. Most of the time. But really, we’re looking to make sure we have a schedule that our constraints can be effectively managed to facilities, gates, airspace restrictions and also things like regular seasonal weather patterns.

“The reality is we couldn’t schedule flights to meet the demand we without the spectacular service Delta people drive every day,” said Bob Cortelyou, Delta’s Senior Vice President of Network Planning. “This summer, there is very healthy demand for our product. And our operational reliability driven by Delta people as the bedrock for all our products and services make it an airline scheduler’s dream.” 

DNH: On May 26, we had our first summer day where mainline departures were above 3,000. On July 6, that number is expected to rise above 3,100. What does that mean to you? 

BC: Recent moves on the fleet side of things have allowed us to better deploy mainline airplanes where we can succeed. I think everyone should be proud of how busy we’re going to be and what that means for our customers – many will be able conduct their business, take their vacations or see their families because of Delta. And you can’t emphasis the importance of our hub-and-spoke operation enough. It’s core to our network and how we can successfully serve the far-flung destinations such as Johannesburg, Sydney, and Hong Kong nonstop from the U.S.

DH: That’s also a point why we renamed the OCC two years ago to the Operations and Customer Center. We have a good plan that all the operations groups have in place. At a very high level, this means adequate TechOps and ACS staffing, as well as making sure we staff the airline with crews and can adjust quickly when defects show up in the day-to-day. And with about 30 teams within the OCC balancing strategy and tactics to ensure a good customer experience, we will ensure that we show humanity as we run the airline, like Richard Anderson, Delta’s Chief Executive Officer, has said.  

DNH: Is that driven by a healthy demand for air travel overall in the U.S. market or just specifically Delta?

BC: Both. The reality is we couldn’t schedule flights to meet the demand we see without the spectacular service Delta people drive every day. While it can be difficult to quantify – and very competitively sensitive when can quantify it – putting airplanes where and when they match demand drives our revenue and financial performance, including the premium we earn over our competitors. This summer, there is very healthy demand for our product. And our operational reliability driven by Delta people as the bedrock for all our products and services make it an airline scheduler’s dream.

DH: We have easily the best network team in the world and it's our job to support them in every way possible. The operations teams work extremely hard to deliver upon their excellent plan. Despite our healthy give and take, it is an absolute pleasure to see their daily plan yield industry-leading operational performance.