From stewardess to general manager

Yael Katan's flying high through the British Airways sky.

By SHARON WROBEL
September 21, 2006 07:29
yael katan 88 298

yael katan 88 298. (photo credit: Courtesy)

"If you can dream it, you can do it, but it requires people to make the dream a reality," are the words of Walt Disney, which inspired and motivated Yael Katan to fly through the ranks of British Airways Israel, taking off as a stewardess and landing in the position of British Airways manager in Israel. "I love every aspect of the work in the aviation industry, whether as a flight attendant or in my current managerial post, whether working with passengers or doing the revenue planning," says 39-year-old Katan, who since the time of her army service, where she served in a confidential aviation-related position, has been attracted to the aviation industry and devoted her career to make it in this male-dominated field. "I am lucky that my work is also my hobby." Katan added that during the 18 years she worked in the airline industry, she did not see any preferential treatment in hiring men over women, while at the management level there was even a 50:50 gender ratio. Immediately after her army service in 1988, Katan started as a ground stewardess at the check-in desks and flight attendant with Arkia Airlines, where she was also ground staff manager and at times worked as a ground hostess for BA services. "As a flight attendant you are more than a waitress, you have the time to talk to customers, understand their needs and meet people from all walks of life," says Katan. "In this position, I lived through all kinds of problems passengers encounter and thus I understand what providing good customer services means, such as helping a customer who lost his suitcase." But Katan knew very early that she wasn't made for being a stewardess all her life. To move on in her career into managerial-related positions, she understood the importance of combining academic studies with building a career. "Parallel to my job as a stewardess I studied for my first degree in marketing and management, during which I often had to cope with physical stress between flights and attending classes," says Katan, who received her BA degree from the College of Management in 1993. In the same year, Katan started her career at British Airways as shift manager of the ground staff at Ben-Gurion Airport. Barely a year later, in 1994, Katan moved on and was elected via an internal tender to the position of marketing manager at British Airways, which she held for six years. In this position, Katan was again thinking ahead to the next step on her career ladder, finishing her MBA at Bar-Ilan University in 1998. "At the end of 2000, British Airways asked me to relocate to Zurich to manage British Airways' Business to Business Internet Division for Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean," says Katan. "In this position, I developed a unique Internet site for travel agents which grew like a baby and step by step was adopted by British Airways worldwide," she says proudly. From 1998, when the carrier received long-haul status, until the end of the hi-tech bubble, British Airways experienced a time of great prosperity and grew to be the most popular foreign airline in Israel, operating 18 weekly flights using Boeing 777 jets. British Airways flew Boeing's newest passenger jet until the wave of suicide bombings coupled with the effects of 9/11 cut passenger traffic to Israel, forcing it to use the smaller aircraft, the Boeing 767-300, while cutting its weekly flights on the route to 14. Since November 2001, due to lower demand, the carrier operated the B767-300s in a three-class configuration accommodating 178 passengers. "As a result of the intifada, the Internet bubble burst and 9/11, British Airways Israel and BA worldwide was switched into a saving mode as passenger capacity dropped by 46 percent," says Katan. "When I came back to Israel, taking up the position of sales manager in January 2003, demand for the Tel Aviv route was at the bottom." Since then, much has happened for Katan and British Airways Israel. Barely four months into her post as sales manager, Katan was appointed to her current position of general manager of British Airways Israel in May 2003, replacing Spencer Hanlon, who decided to resign for personal reasons after a year in the position. "It was a difficult time," says Katan. "I traveled around the world to try and advance Israel around the world. But I am like a bulldog - as a colleague described me once - I catch something and I don't let it go." Katan was responsible for finally bringing back the B777- 200s to the Tel Aviv-London route in April 2006 following record revenues this year from its Israel operation. "As an Israeli working for a foreign carrier, I see myself as an ambassador," says Katan. "Representing British Airways Israel across the globe, I can portray the real picture of Israel and its potential versus the one seen in the media. I am happy to say that during the Lebanon war this year, British Airways continued to land in Israel and we did not cancel any flights." In the past, British Airways' crews were being shuttled to Larnaca, Cyprus, or returned to London instead of staying overnight in Tel Aviv in times of tense security situations. The airline said it expected to increase capacity on its flights to Israel by 20% by flying B777s on its evening flights out of Tel Aviv and morning flights into Israel. The B777-200 can carry 248 passengers in four classes including World Traveler Plus, which British Airways first introduced in 2000 and on the Tel Aviv route in November 2005, as part of the introduction of the newly refurbished service classes on the route. World Traveler Plus, British Airways' premier economy product, features a separate cabin of 40 seats located between World Traveler and Club World cabins, which has wider seats and greater legroom - 97 cm. pitch compared to 79. cm for World Traveler - laptop power points and telephones. As such, the service was introduced to satisfy the needs of customers who wanted greater comfort and quality at an affordable price. Following the high-tech bubble, there was space for a class for the cost conscious business traveler and discerning leisure passenger who wants more space and privacy. "To date, World Traveler Plus has been a great success among the passengers in Israel," says Katan. "For example, during the first months of the service class's operation on the route to Tel Aviv, capacity doubled and we continue to see increasing awareness among the travel agents and our customers." Although Katan has placed her career as her first priority throughout the years, she does not regret any step taken. "My priority is work, it is like an instinct and I would not change any step I took," says Katan, who became a mother only two years ago. "Even if I am at home with my family, it is sometimes difficult to be 100% there." Profile: Yael Katan Born: Israel Age: 39 Married with 1 child Education: 1993 BA Marketing & Management, College of Management 1998 MBA Bar-Ilan University Professional milestones: 1988 Ground stewardess at Arkia 1993 Shift Manager of ground staff at British Airways Israel 1994 Marketing Manager at British Airways Israel Jan. 2003 Sales Manager at British Airways Israel May 2003 to date: Country Manager of British Airways Israel


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