Lori - Roadmap to Airline Operations
What do you do for a living?
Operations Supervisor for United Airlines at O’Hare Airport
What does a day at your job look like?
We work 10 hour shifts, and it’s always busy regardless of how many customers we have flying that day. Staff is sorted by skills; your skill set dictates where you’ll work for the shift whether it’s lobby, baggage services, gates, or station operations control. I’m trained to work in any of those areas. So I may start out in the lobby, end the day in baggage services, and have worked somewhere else in-between. The first thing I do is pull up the flight roster for the day which tells me the gates, plane numbers, flight numbers, departure times, number of people on each flight, and who are the other 2-3 supervisors on my shift. The supervisors each divide up the gates per concourse and are responsible for all the flights that go in and out of their assigned gates per shift, morning or afternoon. It’s my job to make sure flights go out on time, with the doors shut 10 minutes before so the plane can get in line for take-off. We can’t have a delay. Even if a gate changes, which happens often at O’Hare. Everything is scheduled and timed. I get a call from the control center if there's a delay, even if it’s 1 minute. Flights are broken up into banks, with departure times between 730am and 8pm. All the carry-ons need to be tagged and special accommodations have to be made for families with children or the elderly in time to get a flight off as scheduled. Between banks I do reports, deal with customer issues or conflict resolution, check emails on my device and/or respond to needs that come up while I’m walking around. With COVID there are more international restrictions and flight changes, so I have to make sure customers have the right documents and that connecting flights in other countries haven’t been cancelled. I make sure people are in the right place on time.
What path did you take to get here?
After I graduated high school I applied to be a flight attendant but I wasn’t old enough, you had to be 18
So I went to college at University of Tennessee Memphis, where I met my future husband
We got married right after college, moved to Chicago, and had children
I worked at the Post Office as a letter carrier for 10 years, but decided I didn’t want to go back after I had my 3rd child, so I opened a home day care and ran that until my youngest went to pre-school
Then my husband had an aneurysm and couldn’t work while he was recovering, so I started looking for a job with health benefits.
I applied to United and got hired as a customer service agent. After a year, I started inquiring about moving up to do other things in the company and found out you only had to be in a position for a year before you can move on to something else. I knew I wanted to move up and that I could do anything for a year, so I started moving around and learning different departments within the organization until I got this position – I've been here for 20 years.
What are the challenges of your job?
1. The physical toll it takes, I’m on my feet all day. I don’t sit down for 10-12 hours. I do have a small office space for paperwork, but I’m never in there. I get well over 10,000 steps in a day ... I’m physically drained by time a shift is over.
2. The other biggest challenge? Weather. Weather always causes huge delays at the airport.
What are the blessings of your job?
1. Meeting different people from different countries.
2. Traveling at the drop of a hat on discounted tickets. Being able to jump on a plane whenever I want.
What 3 characteristics do you have to possess or develop to do your job well?
1. Leadership skills – leading teams that are not necessarily the teams you usually work with. I lead lots of teams that are in other departments if they’re associated with a flight I’m managing.
2. Conflict resolution – all day long you have to help resolve issues with customers and employees. For example, customers who are intoxicated can’t board a flight but often they don’t know that. So if there’s a weather delay and they've been drinking at the bar, I have to turn them away. You have to be able to make sure everyone remains calm and we don’t make a scene, and you have to be able to do it all under pressure.
3. Effective communication - be able to communicate with all types of people on all types of levels, from premiere customers to daily customers to senior management and so on.
What are 3 steps you’d tell someone to take on their journey to doing your job someday?
1. Once you’re 18, apply to work in positions available at United.
2. For college students, there is an Internship program you can apply for while you’re in school.
3. Work on the qualities that would make you a good fit for this job, like being ready to work in a fast-paced environment. Anything can change, so learn how to be ready to run with it.