Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience…
Imagine you’ve gone to your favourite restaurant – be it a fast food joint or a premium full-service eatery. Chances are you know exactly what kind of service you’re going to receive and you’ve set your expectations accordingly. And restaurants know that. In fact, it’s quite deliberate – they craft workflows and service standards to ensure every customer gets a consistent service.
But things can go awry when customers go ‘off menu’ – not just literally, although that’s clearly a problem but also metaphorically. Generally speaking, the more you’ve paid for the experience, the more personalised and attentive the service will be.
It’s not just restaurants that create these workflows and standards – it’s a common practice in the service sector from hotels to shops and even airlines. They guide customers along a certain path and by and large, they meet most peoples needs.
Yet airlines have a curious problem. They not only have to deliver a restaurant service but also act as a hotel, business centre, cafe and on occasion, even a hospital. On top of that, they’re providing varying levels of personalised service – all within a pressurised metal tube, 40,000 feet in the air.
Somehow, most of the time they get it right. The service works because flight attendants stick to a rigid workflow, attempting to personalise the experience wherever possible, but in reality delivering a relatively consistent service – even at the pointy end of the plane.
“Flight attendants are here primarily for your safety and security”
But delivering an exceptional service isn’t a flight attendant’s only priority. We’ve all heard the familiar refrain – “Flight attendants are here primarily for your safety and security”. Which, whether you agree with that statement or think some flight crew use it in an attempt to justify a lousy attitude, is absolutely true.
Let’s not pretend for one second that flight attendants spend all their working time preventing an aviation disaster. But we shouldn’t ignore the very real responsibilities they have – most of which, passengers won’t see or appreciate.
For the most part, flight attendant’s are providing a hospitality service in addition to their safety and security responsibilities. The majority want to serve passengers – and enjoy doing so but safety and security are non-negotiable.
Spurious safety-related excuses?
Which can at times make things tricky – telling a passenger, who has no doubt spent a small fortune for their ticket, that they can’t have something, or that they’ll have to wait – for some spurious safety-related reason can be a tough excuse to sell.
You see, most airlines only employ just enough flight attendants to cover mandatory safety regulations. Do you really think, airlines would bother spending so much money on cabin crew if they really had to? It’s rare to have supernumerary flight attendants – but when they’re onboard, you’ll no doubt see the difference in service levels.
To put this into context, here’s an example of something that happens really often – onboard lots of different airlines around the world:
A classic example: The complimentary welcome drink
A decision is made that flight attendants will start offering orange juice or champagne to passengers prior to departure. It’s one of the busiest times for flight attendants but its a really nice touch and can create a good first impression with passengers.
The majority of people are happy to either have a glass of champagne or orange juice but one passenger asks for something ‘off menu’. It probably wouldn’t take much for the flight attendant to fulfil that request – but should they stray from their service routine?
The situation is made more complicated because when a passenger receives a particular service on one airline, they expect it on every other airline. Or what if one flight attendant fulfiled their request, while a flight attendant on the passenger’s next flight decides to stick to service flow?
A large, mobile and absent workforce
Clearly, this isn’t the only reason some passengers are getting lousy service. There are some flight attendants, like in any walk of life, who simply don’t like their jobs and don’t make the effort one would expect – but when you employ a large, mobile and absent workforce it’s a difficult situation to manage.
Then there are the airlines who are probably setting expectations a little too high in the first place – promising the world while cutting costs, reducing the service offering and expecting flight attendants to shoulder the blame. In the outside world, our quality of life has got ever better – but that doesn’t always translate to what’s available onboard an aircraft.
By and large, the service and product offering of many airlines has actually dramatically improved in the last few years – despite all the negative things you might hear.
But while competition has helped to increase service levels, it’s also forcing airlines to cut costs – largely driven by our desire to have cheap airfares. That may well mean the service levels we expect can’t be matched in reality.
Mateusz Maszczynski is a serving international flight attendant with experience at a major Middle East and European airline. Mateusz is passionate about the aviation industry and helping aspiring flight attendants achieve their dreams. Cabin crew recruitment can be tough, ultra-competitive and just a little bit confusing - Mateusz has been there and done that. He's got the low down on what really works.