Airline industry veteran Sandy Stelling ’91 is being credited with leading the “gold standard” of airline mergers. Stelling, who studied mechanical engineering at Lehigh University and later worked on the team that designed the Boeing 777, is managing director of process engineering for Alaska Airlines, which acquired Virgin America in 2016 and completed the complex integration in April 2018.

In a story published by Seattle-based consulting firm Slalom, Stelling describes the experience as the most ambitious leadership task she’s undertaken in her 20 years with the airline, saying: “Our job was to get all the people, plans, and technology in place to—on a single day—begin offering one schedule, one airport experience, one call center experience, and one digital experience for web, mobile, and kiosk in a way that was flawless for our guests.”

Slalom reports that Alaska saved at least $13 million by avoiding the data migration that typically occurs in airline mergers and successfully shaved off months from its target date to avoid “merger fatigue” that had started to affect company culture.

“On the big day, after advance media communications, the team achieved its goal of no negative press,” the story continues. “There were no severe incidents related to the integration, and minor issues were quickly identified and resolved. Guest feedback was neutral to positive, and employees expressed gratitude for a seamless cutover. As one employee put it, ‘this will be remembered as a fantastic day for our airline and a gold standard for how to merge two airlines.’”

Read the full story about Stelling’s leadership role in the merger on Slalom’s website.

Sandy Stelling

Mechanical engineering alum Sandy Stelling ’91 is managing director for process engineering at Alaska Airlines. Credit: Lehigh University