My week begins with the review of an updated bundle of reports. I collect the stack of paper from the printer and settle in with a large cup of tea and my trusty highlighters.
After a cursory glance at performance figures for the network, I flip to the section that contains my routes. Have my efforts from the previous week paid off? Are there unexpected surprises that I will need to explain? Time to find out.
The rest of the day is allocated for review and adjustment of inventory on flight departures, or an activity I refer to as “working my flights.”
The report review helps to provide structure and narrow my focus for the week. I sometimes refer to this portion of the role as “choose your own adventure” – how can I best navigate through a massive volume of flights and make sense of passenger bookings (or lack thereof) from over the past several days?
Do I start with what appears like a clear-cut journey, although my efforts might bear no fruit? Do I try to make sense of a route with multiple, conflicting drivers impacting performance trends, investing the time in peeling back the layers of an onion – an activity with the potential for a large payoff?
Or do I simply start reviewing my routes in alphabetic and departure date order? Don’t you roll your eyes at me, it happens. Several paths to take, even more possible outcomes, and all in the pursuit of achieving optimal revenue performance on an individual flight.
With a packet of reports in hand, I meet with my colleagues to discuss performance, competitive activity, and recent trends on our respective portfolios.
I’ve already spent an hour this morning ensuring I’m prepared to rationalize the figures in the weekly batch of reports. The numbers themselves don’t always paint the full picture so it’s up to me to provide additional context and round out the narrative.
I feel like this could be a simpler activity each week if I could answer a straightforward survey question: Is current performance explained by a) competitors, b) schedule changes, c) marketing, d) weather, e) all of the above, or f) other. Sometimes I spend more time excusing performance than managing the flights.
I receive an email to review the “setup” of a few of my flights. I can see this email is part of a lengthy chain between several people in Sales before being forwarded to my boss’s boss for “resolution.”
A handful of my flights are uncompetitive; Sales is concerned that our price is deterring bookings from our corporate clients. Cursing internally, I frantically look at the offending flights to see if they’ve fallen under the radar and I’ve missed an opportunity for timely adjustments. Or that my management strategy will be called into question.
Neither outcome will be an enjoyable message to relay – either I compose a lengthy email defending the current price positioning on the flights in question.
Or I compose a lengthy email thanking Sales for bringing my attention to these flights, that swift corrective actions have been taken, and that yes, I do recognize how important value proposition is for our corporate clients. Ugh. Also, replace Sales in this narrative with a friend of the neighbor of a board member. Or Network Planning. Or Marketing. Everyone’s a critic.
Back to working my flights.
I couldn’t finish reviewing my high-profile (which in my case equals largest) routes yesterday, so my adventure continues. Any time spent here will be the most impactful on final performance to the entire network.
This is not a game of managing a set of low-hanging fruit departures, with hundreds of thousands of dollars beckoning in revenue improvement. You play the long game, identifying and optimizing those smaller wins of hundreds or thousands of dollars on every flight, but that collectively can contribute meaningfully toward the performance of your portfolio.
After Tuesday’s team meetings, the primary concern for the network is performance starting to stall for the upcoming quarter. The direction from the powers that be – review your inventory for the quarter and loosen (i.e. open more seats to sell at lower price points). And back to working my flights.
I expand my usual parameters to now identify flights I might have previously ignored or de-prioritized; but that might be at risk of becoming a future problem. Click. Click. Loosen. Loosen. Ignore. Ohhhhh a strong-performing flight that can be tightened. Click Click. Loosen. Repeat. If only I were playing a video game.
Today, I check-in with my counterpart in Pricing for a review of price points and to discuss upcoming promotional activity.
The market has not been responding well to low fares I had loaded a few weeks ago in an attempt to stimulate passenger demand. We are both reluctant to lower prices further, not yet confident lack of demand is a result of price or if a different issue lurks; I will need to investigate further. With discount levels and travel periods finalized for an upcoming large retail push, I hope this give a nice corrective lift to my routes that have been trailing behind their cohorts.
I’m running out of levers to pull.
I settle in for a little “mystery shopping.” What are my competitors up to? How are they pricing, managing, and marketing their respective counterparts to my flights?
I like to put myself in the shoes of a prospective passenger. Depending on the type of airline competitor, the most accurate and up-to-date information can only be found on their website. I notice one of my competitors has made significant changes to their pricing strategy.
Grumbling, I set aside my flights earmarked for review, and resign myself to an afternoon thoroughly examining my competitor’s actions. Once understood, I scroll through my compendium of competitor responses to select one that seems most appropriate for this situation.
Unfortunately, the change in pricing tactics cannot be left unaddressed.
I love the field of Revenue Management. Through the highs and the lows. Through the pressure, the stress, and the monotony. Celebrating the small wins and the large achievements.
I need to start planning for the release of the latest schedule extension. Are there upcoming changes to the schedule and service offering for my routes? Will there be any holidays or events that will require special attention? Am I able to anticipate my competitors’ actions? Is recent performance more indicative than the previous year?
Time to play junior detective.
I research, synthesize, and analyze, contemplating options for my management strategy of these flights. I’ll need to be able to concisely articulate my selected strategy. While we all have access to the same songbook, we may not be aligned in style choice. If not in harmony with the leadership team, let’s hope I can be persuasive.
I switch gears to meet with Marketing to discuss advertising opportunities. I hope we’re on the same page. I’m trying to drum up support for route X, but Marketing wishes to feature route Y.
I’m told they have a fantastic opportunity lined up to highlight route Y. I argue. Route Y sells fine on its own; no advertising required. I try to push for route X. I know it does not have the appeal of (insert one of the following) the beach/golf courses/casino/historical attractions/other like route Y, but can we still find a way to drum up interest? We part at an impasse.
To be resolved (or not) next week.
A quiet day to resume working my flights.
I plug in a good playlist and settle into a focused grove. I check in on departures for an upcoming holiday period. I’m pleased with the inventory setup and performance to date – all else being equal, these flights are on track for a solid revenue improvement versus target.
There’s a sense of professional accomplishment that accompanies the management of flights with steady, predictable demand. Being able to trace results to tangible actions you took to better manage and maximize the willingness to pay is truly satisfying.
I’m running out of time. I quickly review the routes I’ve been neglecting. These are my lower-profile and smaller routes, where I focus only on departure dates exhibiting a large swing (positive or negative) in anticipated demand. I no longer have the luxury of finessing the required inventory adjustments. The “broad brush” approach will have to do.
As my week draws to a close, my routes will have to survive on their own for the weekend; we’ll be reunited on Monday.
I love the field of Revenue Management. Through the highs and the lows. Through the pressure, the stress, and the monotony. Celebrating the small wins and the large achievements. The potlucks, the team events, the destination visits for “research purposes”, the office camaraderie (and the competition). While my tasks might be the same week-in and week-out, I could always guarantee that I would be taken for a ride. No one flight is the same to manage. The achievement felt from watching a well-orchestrated strategic play, or even a risky gamble, pay off in dividends. Nothing else matches that sense of professional accomplishment.
And to my Revenue Management and pricing go-getters, the rug has been pulled out from under you. The last few months have been a roller coaster – the long nights, the early mornings, and then the eerily quiet days, the conflicting information on the state of the industry, and the overwhelming sense of anguish and helplessness.
Despair is now taking its turn on center stage.
Nothing is more disheartening than responsibility for routes where demand is non-existent. There is nothing to “manage.”
There are no levers to pull - not price, not schedules, not advertising, nothing.
And yet, the pressure and expectation to perform remains. You’ve always been protective of your routes, heavily invested in their well-being and performance.
But this now takes on a new meaning. Dwindling demand equals schedule cutbacks and route cancellations. You’re trying to fiercely hold on to your routes and protect them from further decimation.
For now, you’re trying to make sense of whatever demand for air travel remains, scouring the internet for any glimpses that intention to fly is on the rise. You’re overly cautious with the trickle of demand that is booking.
It’s like you have the training wheels back on - a bit tentative in planning and adjusting your flights, not confident in your own decisions. You no longer take full flights for granted.
Even flights at 50 percent full are celebrated. Every booking is a small win. You’re ready to chart a new course for the field, recognizing that this is a pivotal and transformative moment for air travel. The concept of willingness to pay is evolving toward willingness to fly. And willingness to fly is a metric that all Commercial teams can rally behind and together share responsibility for its success. Hang in there my fellow operators - there is light at the end of this jet bridge.
About Our Guest Author, Megan Vigfusson:
Megan Vigfusson is Canadian-based advisor to the commercial airline industry. Her career has been focused on airline revenue management, data storytelling, and mentoring the next generation of analysts. She delights in creating data-driven and process-backed solutions, empowering operators with intuitive, easy-to-use products. Megan currently serves as Lead Advisor of Process & Product for Kambr Advisory Group, a division of Kambr Inc.