Executives on Campus

American Airlines Executive, Alumna Shares Strategic Planning Advice

Date published: Feb. 25, 2016


Executives on CampusYou’ve probably been on a plane before, maybe lots of times. But what you may not realize is the amount of decision-making and strategic planning that goes into the entire experience — everything from booking your flight to landing safely at your destination. Jennifer Proctor, BA ’87 (finance), managing director of customer experience planning for American Airlines, spoke recently to Associate Professor Michael Stodnick’s senior seminar about the challenges the airline faces in creating the best customer experience possible.

“As of 2013, American Airlines is the world’s largest airline,” Proctor said, “and now we want to be the best.” 

Becoming an Industry Leader

A lot goes into being the best. Proctor spoke candidly about how the American Airlines image had been somewhat tarnished after 9/11 due to things like labor disputes and customer dissatisfaction. But after emerging from bankruptcy in 2013 and beginning the merger process with US Airways, Proctor said that the company began focusing five strategic areas — “have-to-do’s” — that will help American Airlines regain its top-tier image.

“We have to focus on our customer needs and wants, become an industry leader in reliability, engage our team members, create return for our investors and look to the future,” she said. 

Strategic planning is the cornerstone of American’s push to the future.

“Something as small as a bag of pretzels requires strategic planning,” Proctor said, referring to the relatively small price the company pays for a complimentary bag of pretzels. “But when you fly 6,700 people per day, you're looking at millions of dollars in costs.”

Among other strategic decisions that American is contemplating is whether to provide power at every seat, both in planes and in gate holding areas.

“These are things that our customers want. No one wants to sit on the floor in an airport bathroom waiting for their phone to charge,” she said. 

Strategic Innovation

Proctor also discussed how American’s complex merger with US Airways — a monumental task that integrated both the services and employees of two huge corporations — caused a backlog of innovative projects that will eventually bring value to customers and, in turn, investors. 

“But we have to be strategic about these potential projects,” she said.

According to Proctor, each department within the company must answer myriad questions to determine the feasibility of any new service: What is the revenue impact? What is the cost impact? What is the project timeline? How does the project affect our competitive situation? Does this project deliver the American Airlines vision?

One area under Proctor’s direct oversight is operational dependability, which includes on-time flight percentages, missing bag reports and completion factor (the percentage of flights that reach their destinations).

“Our goal is to be the best in every area,” Proctor said. “We've increased staffing at all levels and now provide economic incentives to the teams that meet our dependability goals.” 

2015 was the most profitable year in the history of American Airlines, but Proctor knows that the company must continue to innovate in all areas to maintain record profits.

“We know that happy employees equal happy customers, and happy customers equal happy shareholders,” she said.

With that in mind, American is working on improving employee engagement and satisfaction. 

So the next time you board an American Airlines flight, remember that everything from your free soda to the power outlet under your seat was considered and reconsidered in order to give you the best experience possible. And then silently thank UD alumna Jennifer Proctor that your phone won’t die midflight.

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