July 25, 2024

A woman’s way

Melissa Raudebaugh is general manager onboard services, fleet and galley planning at Delta Air Lines, leading the team responsible for defining and developing new products in the cabin. Speaking to Reed Exhibitions for a series of articles celebrating women in aviation Raudebaugh says she is keen to see more women in the sector and heads up Delta’€™s women’€™s organisation’“ SHE.

I’€™ve been at Delta Air Lines for 22 years. I majored in mechanical engineering and then started at Delta as an engineer in propulsion engineering – writing repairs for Pratt & Whitney JT8Dengines. Now, I love the customer aspect. People love to travel and getting to their chosen destinations is such a big part of that. I love trying to find new ways to separate Delta from other airlines by enhancing our customer experience.

I work with more women now than ever now but there were very few women in engineering in college – very few women in propulsion engineering. Everyone was extremely nice, but I did have to deal with people assuming that I didn’€™t know how many engines were on a particular aircraft! You have to have a good attitude, realise no harm was meant and continue to show you’€™re just as smart as the male engineers.

I think most companies have realised the value that a diverse workforce brings. Especially in the industry we’€™re in’“ the travel industry includes people of every gender, race and culture. I am President of Delta’€™s women’€™s organisation’“ SHE. This offers a great opportunity to positively impact women at Delta and I am always looking for how we can close the gender gap, and make further strides toward pay parity, for example.

To survive in the aviation industry women need perseverance and passion. I think the biggest obstacle is a work/life balance. It sounds clichéd but is so true. My husband is very supportive of my career but there are things that just tend to fall to me with raising kids, and it’€™s primarily because I want to be there.

My career highlight to date was probably introducing successful products that are impactful to the customers and employees. Most recently we launched the new international main cabin service at Delta and being part of the team that made that happen was special.

The aviation industry has really come a long way in the past decade. We’€™ve figured out how to avoid the big downturns and run the airlines to avoid them. I think sustainability is next. Regulations and costs drive some of the hurdles we need to overcome, with a focus on issues such as single-use plastics and fuel.

The most significant development I have seen during my career is the introduction of flatbed seats… they’€™re just the most comfortable! And I would put inflight entertainment up there at the top too as it has really helped enhance the customer experience. Long-haul flights are so much more enjoyable with your favourite movie!

If I could change one thing in the industry it would be the costs. Aircraft are so expensive, as is the cost of modifying them. The industry could be much nimbler if we were able to modify aircraft more quickly and inexpensively.