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Computer Reservation Systems and Foreign Flag Carrier

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Perhaps the most significant change in the airline industry is computer technology and the employment opportunities the computer has generated. Several carriers own outright or have stakes in sophisticated computer reservations systems marketed to travel agents and used by other airlines and travel suppliers (hotels, car rentals, tour companies). These systems include Sabre (American), Apollo (United), Worldspan (Delta and TWA), and SystemOne (formerly Eastern Airlines). These computer operations have become profitable businesses in their own right, and computer programmers, technicians, and sales and marketing people staff huge computer centers.

Haute Cuisine at 25,000 Feet

The notion of serving haute cuisine at 25,000 feet (the task of the in-flight meal service) may seem very attractive for someone aspiring toward the culinary arts. However, most of the meal service is provided by a few major companies on a contract basis. American Airlines is one of the few airlines that has its own in-flight kitchen operation, Sky Chef, and these workers, whether they are the salad makers or the master chefs, all have flying privileges (whereas nonairline catering people do not). Most of the work is performed on an assembly line basis, but the kitchens do employ a few top chefs who have the awesome task of preparing enticing meals by the hundreds to be served hours later. Some airlines employ a food service person to create the menus, which are then prepared by the kitchens. KLM went so far as to hire a renowned chef to create specialties for the airline.

Getting In

The airline business is one area of the travel industry where you should be discriminating about where you take a job (if possible). In most other areas, the object is simply to get in moving up or over is relatively easy. But in the airline industry, if you are laid off or if the airline fails, getting a new job will be difficult because you will be competing with literally tens of thousands of experienced airline professionals who also have been laid off. It is better advised to take a job with a sound growing commuter or regional airline than with an ailing major carrier.

Each carrier presents a different work environment (work conditions range from plush to World War II-salvage bunkers) and a very different outlook for advancement opportunities and security. The age and size of a carrier are not necessarily indications of vitality.

You can get leads and insights about airline companies from trade publications and the financial pages of newspapers or magazines. It is also helpful to review annual reports and literature by and about the companies, as well as the directories published by FAPA.

Salary is important, but many airlines now offer employees stock options and profit sharing in lieu of salary hikes. It is also important to consider the benefits package. If travel is important to you, find out what the travel benefits are and whether the airline has interlined privileges (entitling personnel to travel on other airlines at very little cost).

Examine the job itself and the opportunities the company offers for advancement. Look at the background of the company (particularly its human resources policies and past record on lay-offs) and its future plans. Find out how many cities and what cities it serves, what kind of fleet it has, what its fleet purchase plans are, who is backing the company, whether it has joint marketing arrangements with other carriers, and what its relationships with other travel entities (particularly travel agencies). Consider whether the airline is having difficulty with unions or staff and whether a strike is looming. Look at the airline's share of the market and whether its share has been growing. Consider its profitability.

The most active job categories at the entry level are reservations, secretarial, and airport positions. For reservationists, airlines generally look for people with travel and training acquired at a travel school, a travel agency, or another airline. They seek some kind of relevant experience, particularly some familiarity with an airline computer reservations system. Reservations people have some mobility within a company, primarily to automation support, sales, customer service, training, and marketing.

Secretarial jobs, generally full-time, also offer a means of getting in and moving up in a company, particularly into sales representative, quality control, and training positions. Becoming trapped in entry-level positions like secretarial and reservations jobs is understandable concern, particularly among women, though most airlines make an effort to promote from within the company.

"Anyone who enters the airline industry in entry level could be trapped for some time because there are so many experienced people also looking for positions," said TWA's Hamilton. "The opportunities are not as plentiful as they used to be. It used to be a reservationist could become a supervisor in one year. Now, we point out to new hires that we can't promise a lot of quick movement."

And, while it is common to think of jobs like reservationist and passenger service agent as steppingstones to other positions, 90 percent of the people employed in these positions, as well as in clerical, fleet service agent, and ticket counter agent positions, are content to spend their entire career in these jobs, asserted ALEA.

There are 200 applications for every opening. "We get 1,000 per month from flight attendants alone," said one airline's hiring executive. "One year we saw about 8,000 candidates for flight attendants and hired 330, or 4 percent. This is the most selective area."

One way into the business is to start part-time (in fact, a much greater proportion of jobs throughout the airline industry are part-time, perhaps 15 to 25 percent, because there is such fluctuation in schedules and traffic and part-timers are more cost-effective for the airline). Often, part-time jobs lead to full-time positions.

Several of the major carriers, however, in order to be competitive with newer airlines that have a much lower salary structure, have introduced two-tier structures with the lower pay levels going to new hires.

Regional Offer Faster Track

Regional airlines may present more career opportunity than major carriers will. The 150 regional airlines, which provide scheduled, short-haul air transportation between small and medium-sized communities and the nation's hub airports and generate about $3.5 billion in sales, accounted for 55 percent of new jobs for pilots in 1990.

Regional airlines, which employ about 20,000 people, not only pose more opportunity for entry level, but, in recent years, they also have offered a healthier pattern of growth and stability. Over the past decade, the regional carriers have been growing and experience' said one executive. By being alert to when carriers enter a market or when they are about to be certificated, you can approach them before they are flooded with applicants. If possible, call upon people you know within the carrier. Also, getting a job at a regional airline, of course, is easier if you have some experience or training in the travel industry, such as from an airline or a travel school that teaches reservations systems. "Occasionally, when we enter a new market, we will hire locally," said an executive", but generally you need some skill or training or have to know somebody."

Some people regard the regional carriers as steppingstones to the major carriers, but many step up and then find themselves laid off. Staying at a regional carrier may present greater advancement opportunity.

While not all regional carriers have interlined arrangements with other carriers, they may offer free-flight privileges on an airline in some cases. They may also have pass agreements with major airlines.

Compensation in terms of salaries, though somewhat low than the major airlines, is decent. A sales manager, for exam earns $15,000 to $40,000 a station manager, $15,600 to $37, and a vice president of operations, $30,000 to $90,000.

Working for a Foreign Flag Carrier

Foreign flag carriers offer more limited opportunities nonetheless. Salaries are comparable with the aviation companies. International carriers offer positions in middle but most senior-management positions are held. The exception is the second in command, an American (because he or she knows the mark)
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