Women in Public Affairs to Know: Tracy Montross

January 15, 2020

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This interview is part of a series on “Women in Public Affairs to Know,” by the McGuireWoods Consulting Women in Public Affairs initiative. To learn more about the initiative or recommend a woman for a future interview, please visit our website.

Tracy Montross joined American Airlines as a Regional Director of Government Affairs in January 2014. While based in Charlotte, Montross serves as the airline’s representative in North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and Tennessee. Throughout this territory, she is responsible for developing and executing regulatory and legislative proposals that may have a material effect on the company’s business operations; coordinating strategies that support operational efficiencies, tax relief, noise abatement, labor relations, corporate real estate, environmental goals, and corporate philanthropy; and represents American Airlines with various state and local governments, economic development agencies, Airports and Aviation Divisions, and industry associations to advocate for corporate and customer interests. Montross currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority, Charlotte Regional Business Alliance, and UNC Charlotte Foundation.

The interview below was conducted by Michele Satterlund, senior vice president on McGuireWoods Consulting’s Virginia State Government Relations team.

Question: Before joining American Airlines, you served as Chief of Staff for Charlotte Mayors Anthony Foxx and Patsy Kinsey, and prior to that, as the executive assistant for U.S. Sen. Max Baucus of Montana. Can you talk about constituent services and how your past experiences have influenced the work you now do for American?

Tracy Montross: Constituent services is the thread throughout my career. I started out as a gatekeeper, managing the schedule and access to a senator and then two mayors, which taught me how to prioritize and how to help constituents feel heard and respected. The job required speed and response, but also a resourceful approach. Case-work could go on for months – I took a great deal of pride in finding resolution.

Both mayors I worked for were very accessible to their constituents, which made for many long hours attending events, responding to letters and requests, crafting policy positions, drafting proclamations, and more. Here, again, I made sure I was representing the office of the mayor in a proactive, responsive, authentic and respectful way. I bring that same kind of constituent service approach to my role in the private sector. I take pride in treating our customers and community stakeholders like constituents. I am always responsive and when I don’t know the answer, I am resourceful in tracking one down. Our industry depends on our customers, but also those who lead in public office and regulate our industry. It’s part of my responsibility to ensure that they are receiving a direct, speedy response from me on behalf of American Airlines.

 Tracy speaking with NC and SC Governors at an event for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

Tracy speaking with NC and SC governors at an event for the Charlotte Regional Business Alliance.

Q: I know you are passionate about economic development and serve on a number of pro-business boards. Can you talk about the intersection of government affairs and economic development, and your thoughts on how commercial airlines can play a bigger role in state or regional economic development efforts?

Tracy: It’s a privilege to work with airport communities in the territory I oversee, including the regions around AA’s hubs at CLT and DCA. All of my states are actively competing against each other when it comes to economic development, business recruitment, and private investment. Airports are often the tie that binds their regions together.

For example, in Charlotte, it’s not just the Charlotte communities that benefit from having American’s second largest hub, but it’s also the 16 counties in two states that surround the airport where our customers come from and where our employees live. CLT Airport is the catalyst that connects the region. Other cities in the southeast also benefit by having frequent daily access to CLT, which is the seventh busiest airport by aircraft movement in the world. The ability for communities as small as Florence, South Carolina or Greenville, North Carolina to depend on and have access to the American Airlines network through Charlotte to destinations across the world is a big responsibility and a big opportunity for those communities’ economic prospects.  Airlines depend on local businesses and tourism to support air service in the markets we serve, so we want them to be successful.  That’s why we’re investors in so many local chambers of commerce and convention and visitors bureaus, and economic development agencies.  I would love for airlines to be even bigger players in the act of recruiting business and growing jobs for our airport communities, but we also have to stay focused on delivering an on-time operation and improving the customer experience and their likelihood to recommend.

Q: What’s a skill, quality or perspective that uniquely defines who you are, and what do you want to be known for as a woman and / or a professional?

Tracy: I think I am uniquely good at scheduling, prioritization and to-do lists. In my job, no day is the same and I am rarely pinned to a desk. My to-do list includes everything from tracking legislation and working with officials and government agencies, studying airspace operations related to noise impacts on communities, promoting Real ID, supporting local tourism and economic development initiatives, and monitoring airport construction schedules and costs. Given the variety of those tasks, I’ve figured out how to effectively prioritize my day, week, month, and quarter. I like to be known as someone who sees the project through and gets the job done. 

 Tracy Montross with her family.

Tracy with her family. 

Q: Since you are truly a “flygirl,” tell me about a trip or travel adventure that has had a significant impact on who you are and how you think.

Tracy: I would love to point to one vacation or exotic travel experience, but honestly the thing that has changed me the most is business travel. I am now part of a very special community of people who work on the road, earning their share of perks and loyalty points, who try to exercise patience when things go wrong, and who enjoy the thrill of being on the road exploring new places, but also the guilt of being away from home and family. Eight-five percent of American Airlines customers travel once a year, and they’re often easy to spot in an airport.  But I’m often looking for the 15 percent of customers who are pros at life on the road and in the skies. I like to watch how they interact and experience the airport, our airline, and other hospitality partners. Regular business travel also allows me to see the aviation system at work – safety, security, technical operations and air space management, customer service delivery, the IT and web platform, and recovery from irregular operations. Watching all of those components come together gives me a great appreciation for my airline colleagues and how far we’ve come as an industry.