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In for the Long Haul

From Jaguars to jaguars, Vince Yanak makes success happen for customers—one load at a time

Author A. Averyl Re

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When Vince Yanak first applied with United in 1996, he thought a lot about helping customers travel to exotic destinations, but he didn’t give much thought to what else the airline carries beyond travelers.

“I was 19,” he recalls. “I actually applied for ramp operations, and Cargo pulled my application. It was very foreign to me because I didn’t even know airlines did that sort of business. I got drawn into a very high-paced environment. I fell in love with it over time.”

In Cleveland, Yanak and his team move around 800,000 pounds of cargo a month. “I get to see a lot of cool things,” he says. “Jaguar engines and jaguar animals. We’ve handled everything from penguins and bears to live organs for transplant and the body of a fallen soldier. It’s very humbling that people entrust us with these kind of shipments.”

Once passengers and their bags are accommodated, United Cargo uses an aircraft’s remaining payload space to move shipments. A typical flight on a 737 aircraft may carry nearly 2,500 pounds of freight.

“United has a solid reputation for moving shipments and doing it on time,” Yanak says. “We’re well-known through the cargo industry with freight forwarders.”

General freight comprises the largest percentage of United Cargo’s business, with the rest divided between express freight and specialty products and services, such as small packages, temperature-controlled shipments, live animals, high-value shipments and human remains traveling to their final resting place. Cargo is a significant part of the airline’s business.

“We also move a lot of mail for the U.S. Postal Service,” Yanak adds. “They’re our biggest customer. We monitor mail daily until it reaches its destination.” United is the only carrier that has handled mail continuously since the airline’s beginning.

In his career, Yanak has progressed from agent to lead agent before rising to supervisor in 2006. Two months ago, he was promoted yet again, to east region Cargo Operations supervisor, overseeing operations in 18 cities. “In Cleveland, we’ve had huge success in our performance and customer service,” he says. “I’m trying to bring that same attitude and performance level to these other cities. I want to bring uniformity and gain that trust with our customers in every city.”

For Yanak, that success comes from a personal touch. “I’ve been dealing with many of the same people for the past 18 years,” he says. “I know them on a personal level. I know the promises they make to their customers that we are responsible to help them keep.”

Sometimes obstacles get in the way, but even obstacles bring out the best in Yanak and his team. “If things don’t go as planned, we don’t want to depend on the customer to tell us that, because we’re already in there, doing all we can,” he says. “That takes a lot of one-on-one. A dog once came in from South America. There was a Customs hold-up. It got stuck en route in Houston. Our kenneling agent there took care of the animal. They talked to our customers on the phone and let them hear the dog. They even sent pictures. We finally received the animal in Cleveland three days later. I just put it in the car and drove it down to Cincinnati for them. Anything to make it right. I arrived at their house at five in the morning. It was good to see the expression on their faces and to be that person who could deliver for them.”

Perhaps this may seem like a special circumstance, but Yanak says that isn’t the case. “We approach each shipment the same way and handle them with utmost care. We want to have the same level of business and reliability across the board to make sure these shipments move as the customer books them.

We don’t want to have any shipment left behind.”

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