“How’d You Get That Job?” is an Indy Maven series where we chat with women who have some of the most unique and fascinating jobs you’ve ever heard of.
*Editor’s Note: This interview was conducted prior to the current changes and restrictions regarding travel in the U.S.—but we’re very much looking forward to a time when we can all make use of Maggie’s hard work again, perhaps with a trip to see the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
Maggie Bishop wants Hoosiers to fly as hassle-free as possible. So she goes to work each day focused on a big goal: Bishop wants to change people’s lives for the better—by getting them their time back. As manager of air service development for the Indianapolis Airport Authority, Bishop is responsible for securing additional nonstop flights through Indianapolis International Airport.
“People’s time is so expensive these days,” Bishop said. “My hope is we can continue to improve people’s lives, and they will support us back by using the flights.”
Indy Maven connected with Bishop to learn more about the very unique role she plays in the central Indiana community.
How would you explain your position to a person who only interacts with airports when they’re either flying themselves or picking up/dropping someone off?
What I say at cocktail parties is my job is to get more nonstop flights and that usually sparks a longer conversation because everybody has a place they want to go faster.
I started my career in economic development and realized that [with] air service development, if you can get to a place faster via a nonstop flight instead of connecting somewhere that it saves people time, and it saves businesses time. So nonstop air service connectivity is actually economic development. I look at a lot of data to understand what has happened in the airline schedule and communicate with airlines at their headquarters.
To expand on that, for every airline there is a team of people who work in what’s called network planning. They decide how frequently every aircraft within their fleet goes to any particular airport in the world. My job is to build relationships with them, so when they think about putting an aircraft somewhere, they think of Indianapolis. They think of it in a good positive light as a market that will make money, as a market that will be successful, and as a market that represents a community that will support their route. I also need to understand the demands of our community. That certainly involves some data analysis to look at where people are flying to that we don’t currently have service, but it also involves getting out into the community and understanding where our companies have recurring business travel. Where do they need to go and how do our [local] industries align across the world? For example, when we think about service to the west coast, we’ve seen a significant uptick in our traffic data. Then we have to turn around and say, “What’s happening?”. We can draw a simple line to the growing tech community.
Did you ever see yourself in Indy and as a business development manager for an airport? What was your path to landing here?
I grew up in Houston, Texas. I went to school just outside of Austin. I worked in Austin doing economic development…But I’ll tell you what, when I interviewed for this job in person, I stayed a couple of days on my own, and I just fell in love with the city and the people and what was happening here. I felt fortunate because of my awareness of cities—my job was to understand cities—I knew what was going to be important to me. I was able to find the things here that were important to me and then made the move to a place where I didn’t know a soul. That was the best thing I’ve ever done. So did I ever think I’d work in an airport? No. Am I certainly glad the stars aligned for that and for that to be at the No. 1 airport in North America? Absolutely.
You’ve helped welcome three new airlines and secure the nonstop Indy to Paris flight, among other landmark projects, what’s the most challenging part of your job?
We are, as an industry, at the mercy of the economy and at the mercy of other people and where they need to go. There is so much thought and analysis that goes into air service development. It’s not as easy as saying we want a flight to Boise, Idaho, because people like to visit there. That would be great. I would love a flight to Boise, Idaho, because it’s a great place to visit. But the airport could not support a flight to Boise, Idaho, and a flight to Boise, Idaho, would likely not make an airline any money. At the end of the day, we are at the mercy of their decisions and their opportunity costs. The hardest part of my job is managing the expectations of what is reasonable and why sometimes these campaigns take as long as they do.
“I just fell in love with the city and the people and what was happening here. I was able to find the things here that were important to me and then made the move to a place where I didn’t know a soul. That was the best thing I’ve ever done.”
Do airlines come to you to establish new routes or do you go to the airlines?
The way that air service operates is I work with people who don’t live, for the most part, in the same time zone. I work with people at the airline headquarters, and we don’t get to see each other that often. But it is important for us to have a relationship. We go to conferences, and we do speed-dating type of interactions. The organizer of the conference will plan 20-minute meetings between airport and airlines for three days straight. We prepare decks that we go through and there is a big timer on the wall. It’s all very organized, and then we all go out for dinner later…and that’s how we get to know one another, and those relationships become important.
Number one, because we need to know who is on the other end of the email. But also, we can provide more insight in person than is available on the phone. Those conferences are huge for the host city as you might imagine. You get all these planners into town, and they experience your city. As part of our air service strategy, we said, “Hey, we know we need to highlight Indianapolis. Let’s bid on one of these conferences, and let’s not just bid on the domestic one. Let’s bid on the big, sexy international one.” We did that two years ago. We brought in the people who decide where that conference goes. We took them to the Indy 500. We showed them the best of Hoosier hospitality, and we showed off all our relationships with the business community, the state, Visit Indy, and they chose Indianapolis ultimately. It was only the third time this conference, Routes Americas, has been in the U.S. We just hosted that in February of this year, so we are coming off that high…It was an incredible experience. It’s a pretty big endeavor. We ended up hosting with Visit Indy and the Indiana Economic Development Corp., and they had to trust the airport. They had not been to these conferences prior to putting in the bid, and they did. They said, “This is going to raise the profile of Indianapolis and Indiana,” and they trusted us. It has most certainly done that.
What’s been the most exciting day on the job so far?
We’ve had so many really good days lately, but there was one in particular. It’s really exciting for an airline to say, “Hey, we are going to fly this route.” But like I said, we’re at the mercy of the economy, so if something were to happen between that day and the day the airplane pulls up, a lot can change. I love the day that we get an announcement, but I look forward to the day—it closes the deal for me—when that airplane pulls up. When we had anticipated the Delta Paris flight for a long time, months, we announced it in September of ‘17, and then it started in May of ’18. I could not sleep the night before the flight launched. We had a big event planned. I forgot to brush my teeth that morning. I got so excited to get to the office and to see that airplane pull up and see the people who were getting on and then would be getting off the next day. That was an incredible moment for me.
What is your advice to someone who is just starting out in their career?
My advice would be to find somebody you trust and to run everything that you ever question, or that you don’t question, by them for the first six months. Just so you can get an understanding of how real life works outside of college—and it doesn’t have to be somebody you work with. It can be somebody that is on speed dial for you. It can be an older sibling. It could be a parent. It could be a mentor. It could be a professor. Somebody who has been in the real world who will have your back.
If you could fly anywhere from the Indy airport, where would you fly and why?
If I could fly on a Concorde jet to a beach in Thailand, that’s where I would want to go right now. That’s what Winter Maggie has to say. But from a business perspective, we’d love to see more international flights. Because we know at the end of the day that is what causes the most pain for people, connecting to a hub on a small jet, maybe losing your luggage and then taking a long flight. Then the worst part is coming back, going through customs not in Indianapolis, and then getting back on that small jet to come back to Indy. That is what we’re really trying to help the community avoid.
When you’re not at the airport, what are you up to? How do you find your work-life balance?
I teach yoga. I found a wonderful fitness community here over at NapTown Fitness. I can’t say enough good things about that place, and I’ve made some wonderful friends. I also live in Speedway and have fallen in love with racing. I volunteer on a board in Speedway, and I travel a lot candidly. It’s hard to be at the airport and not get on an airplane. This is a fun (story) about me: I carried my passport for the first six months on this job as if I was going to get on a plane and go to an international place. That never happened, but I just felt like I needed it.
What’s your must-have travel item?
I’ve got to have a pair of headphones. I’m a huge music junkie and that’s the only way for me to get through any kind of travel.
Chelsea Schneider is a freelance writer in Indianapolis.