Feature: Service planning
George Banks had a long and distinguished career in inflight service and concludes attention to detail and consistency are key to an airline’s reputation
service matters and airlines today spend a lot of time and money on cabin service training, teaching endless regimented routines for a speedy service.
With often over 400 passengers to be served in Economy and a limited time-frame, crew need clear priorities. Passengers are scrutinising them - wondering why one aisle is being served before another, noting if the stewardess is avoiding eye contact and waiting to see if their choice is available.
In premium cabins a more flexible, personal service is expected, but whatever the inflight service plan, every element has to be translated into practical training before a single passenger gets served.
Inflight service routines are created by each airline for specific aircraft. Every airline likes to differentiate its service style.
Standard training can be anything from three to six weeks, with additional premium cabin training later. Everything is covered, from safety and passenger psychology to personal grooming, food presentation, seat mechanics and the complexities of the IFE system. Every airline has different procedures but industry standards include offering a coordinated service down both aisles at the same time, and working from the front of the cabin to the back. Traditionally drinks are offered with a coaster and savoury nibbles or nuts, and glasses are continually cleared away with
the use of a linen lined tray. Crew are expected to carefully monitor the meal choice ratios as they serve, recommending the least popular option as they go, as well as ensuring warm rolls are offered.
attention to detail
Passengers want efficient service and trays removed quickly but clearing can be harder than delivery because of the way used items are left on the tray.
Passengers are not interested in understanding ‘the horse-shoe service routine' (when one service cart is used to cover both aisles), the ‘double ended trolley' or how hot towels should be delivered with tongs, but it's these details which add up to a slick smooth service.
Detail, detail, detail sums up good customer service in the cabin, and these details are now taught through expensive modern training colleges with cabin mockups and state-of-the-art galleys, audio video facilities and formal classrooms.
Agreed routines are carefully monitored to highlight the difficulties of working in a small space and to ensure a smooth-flowing service. When new aircraft are introduced, new service routines are developed and trialled. The A380, for example, proved particularly challenging and routines were continually fine-tuned or replaced by new techniques and strategies designed specifically for the larger cabins.
Airlines wanted to offer an a la carte service in Premium cabins with an ‘eat whenever you want' strategy (as on British Airways in the 1990s) but an a la carte service in Business has proved difficult and only really successful on Qatar Airways and Etihad.
Some airlines offer what they call restaurant service in Business with everything hand carried rather than using a trolley. It's a more personal service but slows things down. Crew can find it challenging too and the re-training needed is costly and time consuming. It may however be essential to ensure an airline's service reputation.
Consistency is key for food service, reheating and delivery, especially in Business and First where meals are often plated in the galley. Plates must be hot, food arranged neatly and garnished with fresh herbs, or other items such as lemon or lime for fish.
This consistency is key to an airline's reputation and must be monitored as often crew members disagree with some service plan procedures and are tempted to do their own thing, to the detriment of the airline. In the worst case, food is delivered luke warm or overcooked and service is indifferent or overlooked.
Training has become increasingly reliant on technology but airlines still need to motivate and train crew to be reliably consistent in delivery. Those which monitor performance and run refresher training and influencing are ultimately the most successful.
Personal service with the basics of good manners and genuine smiles remains fundamentally importance and while other changes are certain to come, this fact will surely never change.
Service consistency is key to an airline's reputation
Above: British Airways cabin service without trolleys Below: Qantas used a tray service when Business launched in the 1970s; Emirates issues crew service guides for each cabin and aircraft