The Desire to Soar

Alumnus excels with Delta Air Lines as transatlantic network planning strategist

Published: July 23, 2019
Updated: July 29, 2019
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Growing up near the airport in Pensacola, Florida, Joseph Young spent hours watching planes take off and land. He wondered: Why do airlines take off and land at specific destinations? What decisions factor into the process?

Today, instead of watching planes take off and land, Young plays a key role in the process that involves historical market performance, forecasted market performance, aircraft availability, competition and more.

Young, a 2014 graduate of the Harbert College of Business with a double major in aviation management and supply chain management, is a transatlantic network planning strategist at Delta Air Lines. Young plans and adjusts Delta’s transatlantic network in a way that strategically maximizes profitability. The airline flies to 320 destinations in 57 countries.

“As a company and as an entity, we would like to add markets and grow, but we must remain disciplined and strategic with our plans,” he said. “If you’ve ever listened to Delta’s earnings calls, we often say that we like to grow at the same pace as the GDP, if not slightly faster. This ensures that we will always keep up with the demand of our customers and responsibly grow sustainably—ensuring long-term success.”

Before getting caught up in a conversation about increased prices for passengers, Young says the average price for a ticket is “relatively the same today as it was 10-15 years ago” when adjusted for inflation.

“I spent the first four years of my career in pricing and revenue management,” he said. “Customer segmentation is key because the customer demands choice and flexibility. Some customers just want to pay the cheapest possible ticket price to get from Point A to Point B, and this is why we offer basic economy with restrictions. Other customers want to enjoy enhancements and amenities. This is why we offer comfort-plus, first class and Delta One.

“Behind the scenes, Delta has been investing in many areas to improve the customer experience. We hang our hat on our industry-leading operational reliability and customer satisfaction. It’s supply and demand, and we know that customers have a choice. The goal is for Delta to always be that choice.”

Young takes pride in having a role in influencing the airline’s profitability. How does he do this? “Deploying the right aircraft to the right market at the right time is financially critical for the success of Delta,” he said. “Many factors influence costs, such as jet fuel prices, pilot costs, corporate real estate expenses and more. But the job of my team is to ensure that the correct aircraft is flying the mission of each specific route, so that our customers have the ability to choose these products and services they like to make their journey more enjoyable.”

Young—who was very active as a student at Auburn, including SGA, War Eagle Girls and Plainsmen, Executive Society and the War Eagle Flying Team—doesn’t mind controlling aircraft from the cockpit from time to time, either.

“I am certain that the desire to fly will always be inside of me,” he said. “Pilots often refer to it as a bug that never goes away. Because of this, I still exercise my commercial pilot’s license and fly recreationally from time to time. I will never say never, but I very much enjoy being on the strategic side of the airline at headquarters.

“Having a say and a part in deciding not only where Delta flies, but also how the airline will be shaped three, five or 10 years in the future is pretty cool to me.”

Auburn University's Harbert College of Business provides its students with an innovative-yet-practical education focused on career readiness. The college's degree programs in accountancy, business analytics and supply chain management lead the nation. Its research centers in supply chain management and radio frequency identification (RFID) technology guide the Fortune 100. Harbert's pioneering online education programs offer value and flexibility. The college's nationally recognized faculty produce research that informs and responds to today's business trends. Learn more at the Harbert College of Business website.