Inside United Airlines’ Network Operations Center

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CHICAGO — The next time your United Airlines flight is delayed or canceled, take solace in the fact that a bunch of airline employees in Chicago are probably working hard to get you back on your way.

The airline, which has had some operational challenged as part of its merger with Continental, is proud of its new 52,000 square foot network operations center in downtown Chicago. One phrase officials kept saying was, “best in the industry.”

From the facility, United coordinated its emergency response on Saturday after Asiana Flight 214 crashed while landing. United operates a hub in San Francisco, and its employees helped first responders and victims. The crash is the type of thing airline officials drill for often, but rarely happens.

On a regular basis, employees at the operations center design flight plans, forecast weather conditions, calculate weights, schedule flight plans, coordinate with air traffic control and make sure every airplane goes where it should. One of the key facets, I was told, was to make sure that planes are scheduled for maintenance on a near constant basis.

The center, which is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, has about 350 workstations. United appears to be particularly concerned with two things: safety and on-time performance.

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