Laura Vecvanaga has held her current position at airBaltic for only a few months. However, armed with new goals, a positive attitude and a desire to help others, she is ready to ensure that each passenger has an enjoyable flight.

You have been working in aviation for the past ten years. What drew you to this field?
In 2005, I started working as a check-in agent at the Riga airport. After a yearand-a-half I got the opportunity to take my first step upwards and transfer to the airport’s marketing department. It was interesting for me to learn how that mechanism functioned. Although the work was interesting, I understood after a year that my heart lies in being together with other people. I wanted to help passengers find answers to their questions and solutions to any outstanding issues. In 2008, the number of transit passengers at airBaltic grew very quickly and the airline established a new job position, that of transit coordinator. I took advantage of this opportunity, applied for the position and soon after began to fulfil my new duties. Airports are places where so many things are happening and where everything is advancing very quickly. In 2010, I got the chance to enter the operative side of the airline business and joined a newly established ground handling company. I was the head of the passenger service department and had about 60 agents on my team. I used my previous experience to teach other people in training courses and was involved in all kinds of activities. I really like working together in a group; it’s important for me to be a part of a team.

You then did the same thing in Helsinki.
Yes, I soon received a job offer that represented a major challenge –establishing a new full-service ground handling company at Helsinki’s Vantaa Airport. Ground handling involves all services connected to both the aircraft and the passengers while they are on the ground. From the moment that a plane lands on the runway until it takes off again, it is in the hands of a ground handling company or airline ground operations department.
Although that represented a major step and a big responsibility, I didn’t hesitate in accepting the offer. Of course, my new job involved travelling to another country, where they speak a different language and have a different culture. However, if I set out to do something, then I always try to do it enthusiastically. I put the stress aside, as being wound up doesn’t make the situation any better. I remember sitting down in my new office in the airport, opening my laptop and getting straight down to business, as there was no turning back. After several months of very hard work and a number of nights without sleep, we had created a strong team and could begin operating. airBaltic was our first client!
In the beginning it wasn’t easy. It took a pretty long time for me to understand and accept the different working style in Finland. I also had to change my way of thinking in order for the team to accept me. Although there was quite a lot of work to do, it is an interesting time for me to remember. Now whenever the Latvian national hockey team plays against Finland, I have mixed feelings. Those games are hard for me to watch!
Some time later, the company had to make a number of painful decisions, and for various reasons our station in Helsinki was shut down. That was one of the most difficult periods in my career, because everything that we had worked so hard to build up now had to be torn down. In any case, I also learned quite a bit from that experience.

How did you come to assume your current position as VP of products and services at airBaltic?
After the Helsinki station was shut down, airBaltic offered me the chance to return to Riga and join its ground operations department, where I worked with a slightly smaller team than before. This position gave me the opportunity to look at ground handling services from the viewpoint of an airline, which is the recipient, rather than the provider of ground handling services. Then in October of last year, the airline established the position of VP of products and services. I didn’t need to think twice about applying for the job, as I am always ready to gain new knowledge and expand my field of view. This position offers me a much wider range of activities. I get to cooperate with various other airBaltic departments and to come up with new ideas for improving our products even further.

What goals has your team set up for this year?
Right now our main goal is to continue upgrading our services so that passengers can choose what they want more easily. We are also trying to establish a uniform set of standards for serving our clients. Since January I have assumed additional responsibilities and am now in charge of the entire customer relations department, the call centre and the airport ticket office. Altogether that comes to a team of about 70 agents. We want to ensure that our customers are happy, we want to become more modern and quick-thinking, and we want to keep up with the times. Recently we improved the design and functionality of airBaltic’s online check-in process to make it even easier for passengers to check in online before their flights. We want our customers to embrace the most modern technologies, as there is no way to avoid them and one has to look forward.

It seems like you are in your new job posting for good reason.
I would like to be on the passengers’ side and accommodate everybody. I realise that this is very difficult to do, but it has to be done. Passengers have very high expectations when they fly. They don’t want to stand in line when they check in, they want to sit in the best seats, they want to experience a personal approach and to receive personal announcements, they want their baggage to reach its destination undamaged and in one piece. We are trying to make improvements in all of these areas. Unfortunately, some things are beyond our control, such as the weather, the infrastructure at other airports, air traffic restrictions and many other factors. But we are also looking for ways to mitigate some of these delaycausing factors.

The year has started with some really good news: airBaltic has been deemed the world’s most punctual airline.
I hope that not only those who work at airBaltic and at the Riga airport are happy about this, but that our passengers are also pleased. Surveys that we have conducted of our passengers show that punctuality is their prime concern. That is followed by baggage handling, ticket prices and service. We make these surveys every year to see how well we have accomplished our tasks and where we still need to improve our service. I believe that airBaltic is a flexible airline. If something is important to our passengers, then we are ready to work on making it happen. It is always nice to feel the support of your compatriots, to see that people from Latvia choose to fly with their own national airline and that they are proud of it. Sometimes we also receive negative comments and that hurts, as we are all working to the best of our abilities and in accordance with the highest standards so that our passengers can enjoy convenient, comfortable, pleasant, safe and punctual flights.

Do you like to fly to other places while on vacation, or do you prefer to rest at home to avoid thinking about planes and aviation?
I really love to travel! That is one fantastic thing about aviation: in ten hours you can be transported to a completely different part of the world. I don’t perceive my work trips as travel anymore, but I really do enjoy flying off somewhere on vacation. I have fallen in love with Asia and, if possible, I try to fly there and escape our winter for two or three weeks in a place where it is warm and quiet. One of my best experiences has been in the Philippines, where I spent three weeks away from the city and other tourists, in a natural setting beside the clear, blue ocean.

Do you have any free time left over for hobbies?
During the summer I like to take part in orienteering competitions in the forest. I was first introduced to the sport one day when I felt bored and just tagged along with an acquaintance. They gave me my number, a map and compass, and that was it! At first I needed some assistance, but now I really enjoy thinking logically on my own, concentrating and orienteering in the forest with the minimum that they give you. I find it really exciting and would recommend it to everybody! Last summer I started a new hobby, which is actually more a pastime of my brother’s – car racing with Lada (VAZ) cars from the 1970s and 1980s. He has been taking part in such races for a fairly long time, while I really enjoyed the role of cheering him on as a spectator.

How do you manage to maintain such a sense of optimism and energy?
I recently read a saying that goes: “You only live once? FALSE. You live every day. You only die once!” I think that this is absolutely true. Every day brings something new. Every day we can set new goals for ourselves and achieve something!