I’d Love to Start my Work Day with this Leader

Extraordinary inflight service: Every airline aspires to it, but few pull it off. I’ve written and read a number of articles about how Asian carriers are able to offer a superior soft inflight product. Much is attributed to hiring practices. But that can’t be the whole story, because the grueling lifestyle of a flight attendant could quickly wear down even the youngest, sweetest person.

Last week I had the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Cathay Pacific’s Hong Kong operation. On this visit, I met the airline’s secret weapon, an inflight service manager named Crystal. Here’s how she (and others like her) prepares cabin crews to deliver what they call “service straight from the heart.”

After checking in and gathering the paperwork, the crew meets in a conference room to get acquainted. Sometimes the group is quiet, and she has the next 20 minutes to excite them. Conversely, sometimes there’s a hyper individual or two, and she works to calm them or share their energy amidst the full group.

More measurable tasks follow. She checks the languages spoken—crews are assigned to ensure at least one flight attendant on the flight can speak every language represented on the passenger list. She also checks the experience level of every flight attendant, so she knows who will still be learning and may need special mentoring.

Then she’ll ask a safety question: How are oven fires handled? How do we treat nosebleeds? Each flight attendant feels a great deal of pressure when called on to answer correctly, and after they answer, sometimes Crystal will add an anecdote about an actual experience she’s had, to follow up and add more context.

Then, it’s off to customs and the airplane. CX in Hong Kong has a customs/security facility within its operations center, so crews are bussed straight from Cathay City to the aircraft. (Some airlines actually prefer to have their crews seen walking through the airport.)

During the flight, Crystal keeps an eye on things. She says, “Being the best is not doing everything perfectly. We all make mistakes. We help each other fix problems and learn something.” The inflight service manager gives marks to every flight attendant for his/her performance on the flight, and prizes are awarded for those who score well on this and other feedback like customer compliments.

I have to say, I was totally impressed by Crystal. I would love to start my work day under the leadership of an individual like this. And there’s no doubt in my mind that she is able to evoke “service straight from the heart:” from all who fly with her. Well done, Cathay Pacific and Crystal. Now, if only some of the American legacy carriers could pull this off….

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