Interview with: Melissa Raudebaugh, Delta Airlines

Interview with: Melissa Raudebaugh, Delta Airlines

Melissa Raudebaugh, General Manager – Onboard Services, Fleet and Galley planning at Delta Air Lines wants to see more women working in the aviation industry. As a senior woman working at one of the United States’ major airlines, she’s not only a fantastic role model for the next generation of female executives but also heads up Delta’s women’s organisation – SHE.

Read on to find out more about Melissa’s journey in the industry.

How long have you worked in the aviation industry?

I’ve been at Delta Air Lines for 22 years and prior to Delta, I worked at Rocketdyne, which at the time was a division of Rockwell – the maker of the space shuttle main engine. I guess you could also count that as aviation.

How did you get into the industry?

I majored in mechanical engineering and then started at Delta as an engineer in propulsion engineering – writing repairs for Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines. What is it about working in the aviation industry that appeals to you? 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.

As a woman, how do you find working in such a male-dominated industry?

Honestly, I work with more women now than ever! There were very few women in engineering in college – very few women in propulsion engineering. I now work with many women in our in-flight organisation. Back in my engineering days, I was actually seated in the middle of the engine shop. 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.

Have you encountered any gender discrimination in your career?

Not that I know of! Only the basic adjustment for some men to have women doing what they perceive as a man’s job – nothing harmful and intentional – only the occasional surprise and doubt that women can also be engineers.

As a female senior leader, why do you think it’s important for companies to address the gender gap?

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. In this role, I’ve enjoyed working on events, such as Whiskey & Women or the RBG documentary about the life and career of the female Supreme Court of the United States Associate, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. We watched it on an aeroplane parked at the airport for a few hours! I am always looking for what we can do to really impact women at Delta. How we can close the gender gap, and how we can make further strides toward pay parity, for example.

What do you believe has been the key to your success?

Passion for the airline industry and specifically Delta – our people and our customers.

What characteristics do you believe women need to survive in the aviation industry?

Perseverance and passion.

In your opinion, what is the biggest obstacle to women succeeding in the workplace?

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, such as doctors’ appointments, carpool, etc.

What would you say has been your career highlight to date?

Probably introducing successful products that are impactful to the customers and employees. Most recently we launched a new international main cabin service at Delta. Being part of the team that made that happen is special.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Show up fully – give every project your all.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing the aviation industry?

I think 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.

What do you believe has been the biggest development in air travel over the past 25 years?

Flatbed seats… they’re just the most comfortable! I would put inflight entertainment up there at the top though as it has really helped enhance the customer experience. Long-haul flights are so much more enjoyable with your favourite movie!

ABOUT MELISSA RAUDEBAUGH

Melissa Raudebaugh is a member of Delta Air Lines’ Onboard Services team within the Inflight Organization and currently serves as General Manager – Fleet and Galley Planning. In her role, Melissa leads the team responsible for defining and developing new products directly related to the cabin interior as it relates to the flight attendant (and customer) workspace. Her team also designs the galley specifications. During her 14 years at Delta, Melissa has held positions in Supply Chain, Interiors Engineering, Fleet Strategy Aircraft Acquisitions and Marketing. She has a Mechanical Engineering degree from Georgia Institute of Technology and a Master in Business Administration from Georgia State University. Prior to joining Delta, Melissa served as a test engineer at Rocketdyne. Melissa also heads up Delta’s women’s organisation – SHE and is Chairwoman of the Hamburg Aviation Crystal Cabin Award Judging Panel since November 2014.

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