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  • Andrea Rader

The Great Re-Think

From the Great Resignation can come the Great Re-think – rethinking how to hire and organize for new times in the airline industry.

Once at the top of the coveted employment list (Southwest once boasted that it was harder to get on at SWA than to get into Harvard), airlines today are struggling with an employment conundrum that made for an embarrassing year of very public service disruptions in 2021.

There just simply aren’t enough people, including enough experienced people, to fill the roles that airlines need as travel opens up again.

Some of the hiring wounds, as we’ve discussed before, are self-inflicted: airlines desperate to cut costs at the onset of COVID handed out retirement and voluntary leave programs, draining their teams not just of bodies but a good chunk of institutional wisdom. Some shortages reflect our troubled times: airlines are finding that some potential flight attendants, for example, may not relish the risk of being verbally and even physically attacked by customers in an increasingly hostile flight environment.

The result has been that despite a very slow uptick in airline hiring, airline employment in November 2021 (last data available) remained about 30,000 full-time employees below pre-pandemic levels, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS). We’re hoping for brighter results when BTS issues its next report Feb. 3. We hope so, because most analysts are predicting a generally bullish 2022, if they can work through all the issues that plague the industry today.

And while airlines aren’t in a position to cure COVID or alter human behavior, there is an opportunity, right now, to rethink the way business has always been done, that is, to examine how their organizations are set up and their criteria for existing and future employees.

It’s time to go beyond signing bonuses to a deeper assessment of organizational design and talent management. In order to optimize organizational capabilities and build effectiveness, is there an opportunity to re-think the way talent is organized and the traditional structures of various airline departments? We think so.

We’re heartened that some airlines are already asking questions and tip-toeing away from conventional wisdom even in small doses. Delta, for example, has dropped a college degree requirement for pilots. Other airlines are partnering with flight schools to fill their pilot pipelines. We believe these types of initiatives may be enhanced further by addressing other challenges faced by students - financing and student loans, career awareness initiatives starting at an early age, and other solutions designed to deliver more candidates, on a faster timeline, with clear paths from education to employment.

Airlines can go deeper, however. They can ask hard questions about the way they are organized, and examine alternatives to long-held traditions.

Are there, for example, opportunities for employment flexibility, even in union jobs? Can airlines explore family-friendly policies to allow parents and caregivers more flexibility, or consider remote-based options for employees in communities significantly impacted by COVID 19? Can the talent selection process be revised to screen candidates for more strategic competencies; for example, should analysts who grind the numbers be hired not just for their software expertise, but their ability to see bigger pictures and solve problems? What can Artificial Intelligence or Business Intelligence bring to the operation and to the customer experience? Should airlines consider new partnerships that can maximize both the customer and employee experience and the bottom line?

The answer to these questions will depend on a number of factors in the external and internal environments of the airline. Given the unique situation of each individual airline - as well as the complexity of such considerations - how does an airline get the ball rolling to re-think its design and talent management strategies?

The Hospitio team is taking this re-think concept to market by leading efforts to optimize Current Aviation’s market performance through a revised organizational design.

In the case of Current Aviation, structure is a strategic focus area – including a new way to look at functions that are typically nested in far-flung departments. For example, in Current Aviation’s strategic structure Network Planning, Schedule Development, and Revenue Management are aligned in a single unit. This ensures that supply and demand patterns are optimally understood and strategic decisions are collaboratively made to improve overall flight profitability. Employees in these areas are empowered to think beyond the technical aspects of their jobs to identify and exploit larger opportunities. Similarly, Current Aviation’s Marketing, Sales, Distribution, Loyalty, and Customer Experience/Service are housed in a single unit. This ensures product integrity at every step of the customer journey and accountability for consistent product delivery.

While such functions may be scattered across other airlines, Current Aviation’s empowered roles and collaborative structure allow a single department to own the full customer journey and provide unique value to each customer.

This model isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for every airline, but an example of how a re-think of organizational design can set the stage for greater efficiencies and outcomes -- for airlines and for travel companies of every shape and size, as the travel industry emerges from troubled times. We’re helping companies around the world take a deeper dive. To continue this discussion or schedule a meeting, contact us at

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