Flight Planning

I have always wondered how the airlines “decide” how to do flight planning.

As an example, I looked up Amercian, Continental/United, and Southwest Airlines and their route from St. Louis, MO and Chicago, IL.

Each of those airlines fly 11 flights per day from St. Louis to Chicago. and 2 of the 3 fly 10 flights back to St. Louis from Chicago, and American flies 11.

That is not counting all the other airlines who have connecting flights thru Chicago to St. Louis, and such.

It’s hard to imagine that there could be enough people going back and forth between St. Louis and Chicago to fill 11 flights per day on 3 different airlines, much less all the other connecting flights. I have also checked other flights such as the daily flight between EWR and HNL, and this flight too is usually full with very few seats flying empty.

So, my question is, how do the airlines model how, when and where to fly their planes? Must be an interesting job to be sure.

AA and UA’s STL flights are nearly all “feed” to their hubs. Passengers on these flights are connecting in ORD to other destinations through their system. WN also has a significant amount of “feed” on their MDW-STL flights as there are significant connection options on BOTH ends for WN (a flight between two of an airline’s hubs is often called a “conduit” flight).

Airlines have en entire department dedicated to deciding how many flights to fly and to where. This department is called network planning. They work with a smaller department called fleet planning to determine how many aircraft they have available to fly during a given schedule period. They work with a department called scheduling who makes the actual minute-by-minute schedule for the aircraft, and work with a larger department called revenue management to get insight into what routes are actually making money for the airline.

Network planning positions are some of the most exciting in the industry and some of the hardest to get as people rarely leave.

Once scheduling sets the schedule that network planning sets or recommends for them (who has final say differs by airline). It’s then Revenue Management’s job to fill the plane for the most money possible.

Revenue Management is made primarily of two parts - Pricing and Yield Management. Pricing uses semi-automated tools to set the various fare “buckets” that are available to purchase and responds to competitor’s pricing changes. Yield management analyzes and the “rules” that the airline’s yield management system uses to open and close the various “buckets” for sale.

A lot of people think that a handful of executives sit around and make decisions like this - that is totally not the case. For a large airline, it takes a team of literally of hundreds of people to do these jobs.

Thanks for a great explanation.

That answers alot of questions.