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Expecting the Unexpected

Jay Hakim loves the challenge of disrupting service interruptions.

Author A. Averyl Re


Jay Hakim has spent more than 22 years focused on what happens when things don’t go as planned for airline customers. And customers have a big reason to be glad he did.

As manager of the information technology administration for service recovery applications, he oversees a critical program designed to enable United to serve customers proactively during irregular operations such as weather delays or cancellations.

He first began working at the airline part time on the ramp during his student days at the University of Houston, where he studied electrical engineering. He spent eight years in Reservations working at the Service Recovery desk. That is where Hakim discovered his passion for helping customers who, for one reason or another, weren’t where they or the airline wanted them to be.

“We contacted the customers when we could to work with them to make sure they get to their destination in a timely manner.” He goes on to explain the challenge of the Service Recovery desk: “When we had a major issue, such as a large storm system causing delays, cancellations or diversion, we needed hundreds of staff to provide the changes customers needed. And it usually took three to five minutes per customer to find the best option.”

Then a customer from a delayed flight commented, “I was on a four-hour flight, and you knew the flight was late. You should have looked out for that to rebook it before I landed.” That sentiment drove the development of the Customer Automated Reaccommodation System (or CARS), an application Hakim says was “was built by airline employees for the airline” to make rebooking customers more timely and less labor-intensive. He helped develop it from the beginning in 1999.

“For customers affected by cancellations, diversions, or delays, CARS automatically rebooks them to alternate flights to get them to their destination as close as possible to their original arrival time. It reads real-time flight information and prioritizes customers based on criteria such as whether or not they are making connections. It does all of that in one to three seconds per record and can process 36 flights at the same time.

The system automatically notifies customers of new flight information – one important reason United requests customers provide mobile contact information or email before traveling. For customers who want to select different flights, the program interacts with United’s kiosks, mobile app and united.com to make rebooking easier. In 2012 alone, CARS reaccommodated 2,792,636 customers.

Hakim says service disruptions are a reality given weather and the airline’s focus on safety, but it is how the airline treats customers that makes the difference in a successful recovery. “When I worked on the service-recovery desk, I learned as long as we offer the customers a realistic option, work with them and give them honest answers, I hardly had any customers who were angry or dissatisfied.”

Even though CARS is a mature system, Hakim says his group hasn’t stopped working on it. “We have to keep up with the ever-changing environment. We have had to make sure the system is up to date on all the equipment out there and that we have reliable flight-information. We have to make sure it has accurate real-time information to get the best choices for our customers.”

In addition, he says his team looks to the future to make sure the system evolves to keep up with customer needs, such as ensuring customers who pay for premium seats have a comparable seat on substituted flights.

When not thinking about service recovery, Hakim spends his time on travel, gardening and photography.

But he never quite gets away from thinking about aviation. Every year around Halloween, he makes airplanes out of pumpkins, something he has done for about six years.

 “The pumpkin has to be the right size and the right shape,” he says. “I called the first one P757; the P stands for pumpkin. Now I just need to figure out how to make them fly.”

This year, Hakim tackles his version of United’s newest fleet type – the P787.

2 Responses to “Expecting the Unexpected”

  1. Kevin LeJeune Says:
    September 16th, 2013 at 9:38 pm

    After knowing Jay for over 20 years, I have to say, you almost got this story complete. You see, Jay loves his job with a passion. And when he transfered to the IT department, well, he became obsessed with his job. This artical reflects exactly how Jay speaks and thnks. But, you totally missed the mark on how much Jay enjoys the analytics and engineering of his job. He can turn any conversation into proactivity options. “Hey Jay, sorry I’m late to your Bar-b-Q, but there was heavy traffic.” “That’s OK Kevin. You know, after a weather delay and there’s a cueue of planes waiting to land. Well, sometimes the jets have to land at nearby alternate airport and the passengers are rerouted automatically.” Or when his wife asks, “Hon, can you pick up some noodles at the supermarket since I’m running late? ” Jay would sometimes respond, ” Sure sweet, but if you were on one of our flights, you’d probably still be on time with your connecting flight since storm tracking information is updated in real time.” But it’s times like this that Jaay also sleeps on the couch.

  2. Todd Stubblefield Says:
    December 18th, 2013 at 8:40 am

    good stuff

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