Why Can’t US Airlines Provide Great Service Like the Asian Carriers Do?

Over at Lucky‘s blog yesterday he wrote about the American Airlines 777-300ER flight he and I were both on from New York to London last month. He noted that some of the flight attendants on this flight were less than endearing, and one in particular was downright rude.

At the same time, he also mentioned that his return flight (he hasn’t posted that part of the trip yet) featured a fantastic crew. And though we were on different flights coming back across the Pond, my return crew was excellent as well. In fact, here’s what I said about the service on the return:

The return flight was a different experience entirely.

.. the cabin was mostly empty and the crew was in fantastic spirits. The flight attendant serving my aisle, Vanessa, could easily have been working Singapore Airlines first class and would have been a standout there.

…She was attentive, kept my drinks refilled, kept encouraging me to eat things and try things. She was there just the right amount and at the right times. And her colleagues were equally welcoming and engaging. Whereas the crew on the outbound was a little bit grumpy even before the delay, on the return it was a party.

And as if to underscore that very idea, the lighting theme they selected on the touch screen controller was the pre-programmed “AA Party”

That’s the thing about crews with US-based airlines — there are some really wonderful flight attendants, there are some really surly ones, and it seems like luck of the draw which you will get — and also that there’s little that US airlines have been able to do about it.

Commenter Santastico on Lucky’s post asked,

Why does AA invest in new planes, new technology, new seats but still insists to not learn from Cathay, Singapore or Emirates on how to treat customers well. If you read other bloggers that also tried the AA new 777 to London and Sao Paulo most of them share the same impression: flight attendants were rude, service in first and business class was done in a hurry so they could get over it and food and wine selection was not up to what one would expect for a business or first class ticket that can cost over $10K. I guess they could have a partnership with Cathay (since they are both One World) and have some of their flight attendants to spend some time in Hong Kong to learn how to treat customers well.

I thought I’d take a stab at beginning to construct an answer to this question, because surely it isn’t as easy as partnering with an airline that has good service in order to teach that to the crews of US carriers. (And let’s avoid over-generalizing, there are very much fantastic crews working for US carriers, just as there are lackluster crews working for Asian ones — and certainly for some Middle Eastern ones — but in the limit airlines like Singapore are known for their service.)

There are, I think, two factors at work: culture and institutions.

First, culture. Leaving aside ‘good’ and ‘bad’ service (although some cultures are more given towards what we usually think of as one versus the other), service in different cultures is very different. American flight attendants may be engaging, they may tease, they may call you by your first name. On the whole German flight attendants might be more formal. Japanese flight attendants certainly are, you’ll often see their name tags are formal and they are referred to by last names. Aussie flight attendants, well, they’re Aussies.

Sometimes Asian airlines will appear not to offer very good service, at least that’s what Americans will often think, and it’s frequently a language barrier. I find that in general Korean airlines — Asiana in particular –will have flight attendants serving US routes that don’t necessarily have very good English skils. German flight attendants may appear brusque to a US passenger both because of differing cultural norms and because a given flight attendant’s English language skills may not be as strong as their German (or even their French).

It’s going to be hard not to get reasonably good service, at least if you understand where they’re coming from, out of a Japanese airline. Although I’m often surprised by how variable the service can be on Thai Airways.

And clearly it’s not all culture. Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific has entirely different service standards from mainland China’s Air China or China Southern, despite all being ‘Chinese’. Taiwan’s airlines are different still.

So you get into differences in institutions.

I don’t want to oversimplify and overplay the role that unions have in (lack of) service delivery from U.S. airlines, but they’re certainly part and parcel of a larger institutional phenomenon which is that U.S. airlines really do not monitor service performance at the individual employee level (other than dealing with the occasional specific complaint) and do not incentivize good service — both positive (better pay or perks that would lead to job satisfaction) and negative (removing poor performers from customer-facing roles).

U.S. airlines can make hundreds of millions of dollars of investment in new seats, billions of dollars of investment in new planes to create a better flying experience. But like hotel programs which ultimately rely on front desk agents to delivery their product to the customer, the investment can easily be undone by poor front line service. And yet it seems the airlines do little to change the way service is delivered.

And much of this does involve unions, though I don’t blame the flight attendants or the unions that bargain in their own perceived self-interest. Instead, I blame management — and not just for agreeing to demands, but for hosting upon unions many of the roles that they have today. (One could bargain for wages and specific working condition items without ultimately coming up with a scheme that outsources scheduling and discipline to union proceses.)

When I first became fascinated with airlines and aviation a little over 15 years ago, I read everything I could get my hands on from Robert Serling, R.E.G. Davies, and Robert Daley (but mostly Robert Serling). And then there was the book that really got me started on the journey of aviation, before I found my love of miles and points, Thomas Petzinger, Jr.’s Hard Landing: The Epic Contest for Power and Profits That Plunged the Airlines into Chaos. It remains probably the best introduction to the airline industry I’ve come across, though it’s sadly in need of an update to add in events from 1997 to the present.

What I desperately wish I could remember is which of these books it was where I read extensively on United Airlines President Pat Patterson. Patterson had been the Wells Fargo loan officer who authorized funding for Pacific Air Transport, later acquired by Boeing Air Transport, which was ultimate merged in with other carriers to become United Air Lines. Patterson moved over to Boeing and then to United, becoming General Manager and ultimately President of the airline.

While he’s perhaps best known for approving the hiring of in-flight nurses which morphed into onboard flight attendants, he’s also more than any other, the man who brought union control into the operation of the airline business. The version of the story I recall is that he believed that the unions were closer to their workers, and better understood their needs, than management was. It wasn’t just a matter of collective bargaining, but deeply held belief, that the workers would be better off (and that this would benefit the airline) if unions and union procedures handled scheduling.

I’m not a scholar in this area by any means, but the shift from company control over its employees to union control — and from management evaluation of employees to roles and responsibilities determined by seniority — has consequences which reverberate across the industry today.

Great flight attendants provide great service because they’re proud to do so, because they’re driven to do so, internally. In some ways the exceptional US flight attendant deserves much more praise because they are doing it on their own, when there is little if any benefit to them to do so. They aren’t going to lose their job as a result of occasionally grumpy and often lackluster service. They aren’t going to get paid more for going above and beyond for a customer. They do it because they’re internally driven and believe it’s the right thing to do. I truly thank them and honor them.

But as long as scheduling is done by seniority, and pay is doled out by route, and as long as commendations and criticisms are only ancillary to performance evaluations, pay, and perks, airlines aren’t going to be able to align the incentives of their frontline workforce to deliver outstanding service.

It isn’t all institutions, and it isn’t all culture, but the two of them combine so that superior companies drawing on service cultures and fostering those cultures can provide a superior experience. Mediocre companies drawing on a service culture will offer good and bad, just as companies here in the US without strong service institutions will occasionally offer flashes of brilliance (but often ‘good enough’). And in most cases I don’t expect either the cultures or the institutions to change very much.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. In March my wife, daughter and I flew ATL-ORD-HKG and returned HKG-JFK, LGA-ATL. The domestic legs were in first on RJs but the rest was business on CX. The good on CX? The lavs were cleaned continually, the FAs seemed cheerful and the seats on the 777-300ERs were as good as reported? The rest? After being served a drink on both flights I had to call a flight attendant for a refill after nearly an hour. The meals were nothing special. After not finishing the dinner on the outbound I tried for the snack service, supposedly available throughout the nearly 16 hour journey, but no one responded to the call button. A trip to the galley (this was about 1AM CDT)disclosed nobody around. I went to sleep instead. On the return I didn’t finish the first meal but was able to get the snack. As I’ve read elsewhere, this is what one should eat in lieu of the entre at dinner. As mentioned, drink service was lousy. I had to call for a refill and ask that my wife get her second glass of Champagne.(No wine for me there or at The Wing lounge. The selection is OK-just didn’t feel like any). So, what’s the upshot? My other recent international flights were a couple on DL to LHR, AF to DUB via CDG and KLM from AMS to ATL. Delta food was very good and the FAs good to great. AF was OK, but there indeed were some language barriers. KL, even though there was a very late departure, found a way to accommodate everyone, even me who wanted to just chill and eat as late as possible. My verdict? Delta was as good as Cathay, AF need not be avoided and KLM was terrific. So much for the Asian airline issue IMO.

  2. If there is no threat of being fired or really disciplined for bad service employees will generally just do enough to not get in trouble hence inconsistent service on the very same airline.

  3. something else — from talking to AA FA’s, i don’t think any of them have ever been in an int’l F/J cabin on another airline, much less an Asian carrier.
    i really don’t think the AA FA’s (nor any other domestic carrier) know what they’re being compared against, so how can they be expected to understand the problem?

  4. Great posts, and great discussion here in the comments. It really is a multi-faceted problem.

    I’ve talked to travelers who flew on airlines before deregulation. Since prices were set by the government back then, the only way to for airlines to differentiate themselves was to compete on service. Which was why the service was generally excellent. Now that price is the main factor, that’s what airlines compete on.

    Cool idea by other commenters was to have a way of passengers to rate the flight attendants. I imagine a tablet would work well. Have the names and photos of each attendant on the flight. Rate each one on a scale of 1-5, plus a small box to write in comments.

    Then arrange to have some kind of incentive for the best flight attendants, as well as some kind of formal interview with any low-scoring attendants. Instead of a ounce-a-year, more frequent awards like every month could work really well.

    There are a lot of challenges, though. Management would be resistant to paying more, and unions would be resistant to performance-based compensation. I think if an airline became wildly successful and proved that better customer service led to spectacular profits, other airlines would pay attention. Especially if they rapidly lost a lot of market share to a high-performing airline.

  5. @Joe (#41): Ever fly BA to Africa? The planes they send down there have been “rode hard and put up wet”. They fly, but they are beaters. BA has three fleets – long haul, short haul, and mixed. Long haul are the senior FA’s and you cannot transfer into that from the mixed fleet. The mixed fleet has younger FA’s. As I understand it (correct me if I am wrong) all the growth and new FA jobs will be in the mixed fleet until the others are gone.

    I generally fly overseas from DFW and really like the DFW based crews. Maybe it’s a regional bias on my part, but it seems more often than not, they are pretty good.

  6. The best management advice I ever heard:

    “If you take care of your employees, they will take care of your customers.”

    Unfortunately, the reverse is also true: if you go to war with your employees, they will tend to go to war with your customers.

    If I were treated the way that flight crews are being treated by management, I’d be pretty surly as well.

  7. Aerodark hit one of the nails on the head here. If the FA KNEW what kind of service was being offered on the Asian carriers – it could make a difference. I flew with a former FA from a major U.S. carrier from IAD to NRT in first on ANA. He was astonished at how polished and professional the service was (as well as unobtrusive). His comment (paraphrasing here) to me was “if only we had been exposed to this kind of service in basic and recurrent training on my carrier! We (in the USA)could do this!”

  8. @msmcmotown I can’t agree more on what you started. Employees whether they are unionized or not are not blind to the fact that average wages for mid level management and down have consistently went down as a percentage of revenue while at the same time they rose up exponentially for the senior management. This has been a case in most big companies and not just airlines and that caused a general “why should I care” attitude among them. Hopefully it will change for good at some point.

  9. In my experience the one “service” where US carrier crews usually outperform their Asian based counterparts is the most important one: tending to passenger safety when things go wrong.

    True story. A colleague and I were flying on AA from LHR to DFW. FA’s were a seasoned crew–professional but on the gnarly side. They certainly did not keep the glasses full, much less anticipate every need for creature comfort. My colleague had recently flown SQ, and kept carping about the inferior attitude of the AA FA’s compared to those on SQ.

    By time we got to TX the entire region was being hit by wave after wave of tornado spawning Tstorms. We circled for over an hour in bone-jarring turbulence, and that landing was the first time (in a plane) I felt the grim reaper hovering. Throughout the entire ordeal that gnarly AA crew was incredible, staying composed and tending to the needs of passengers. My colleague (and several others) nearly lost it. The continual reassuring words from the crew worked wonders. They were top notch.

    Afterwords my colleague admitted that he felt ashamed for having badmouthed the crew to me for not being like “attendants at a 5 star restaurant.” The primary job of the crew is customer safety.

    It could just be my limited experience, but in the dozen or so very stressful situations I’ve been in due to weather or equipment failures, I’ve never had a US flight crew freeze up or become hysterical. The training kicks in and they do their jobs. That’s not been a universal experience (nor that of colleagues) on some of the Asian based carriers, where I’ve seen FA’s holding each other, weeping, and simply freezing-up. I think the US carriers continue to train their crews well on passenger safety.

  10. Actually I just thought about that in the trip NRT-MSP yesterday. But it is from airline lounge part. The Delta Lounge in NRT is so good with sushi, chick soup, fish soup, etc. while the MSP lounge is much inferior and crowded. (though much better than UA’s lounge in SFO). Can’t think why the service in Asia is much better than the US, even in hotels.

  11. I just flew UA from HKG-EWR, there were 3 meal services, in between each service NOT ONCE was water brought through the cabin, and this is not just in Y, my buddy was in C and he did not receive any FAs checking through the cabin at all either.

    When they did do service it was rushed and rather rude, my buddy doesn’t want to fly UA anymore in C again after that.

  12. AA can be a hit or miss depending on the crew base. Usually NY is a mixed bag with some grouchy characters. But that can be seen as well on UA. Usually southern/midwestern states based crews are much better than LA/NYC/BOS crews.

    Personally I enjoy CX as they are efficient and polite. Singapore the service can be overwhelming.

    Lufthansa and Swiss are very formal. It is not very common to be addressed by first name, that is generally the custom in Germany and Switzerland.

    Avianca provides excellent crew service 90% of the time. New planes, friendly and honest service make me feel like this is my airline.

    Worst crew members of any airline: Iberia and Aerolineas Argentinas!

  13. @Jim L Makes a great point about how the age of the FA has increased and the older we get the crankier we are

  14. Anytime your job is more or less secured because of your seniority, performance suffers. You simply have no incentives to do better.

    Flying to Asia frequently, I couldn’t help but notice a big difference in the FA’s. On United, many of the attendants are quite old and quite grumpy. Once, I had turned on the FA alert light, and the FA would shut off the light and not show up. I would turn on the light again, and the light would get shut off. This went on for 20 minutes. Finally an attendant came by, and told me sternly that she “would get to me later!”. What kind of service is that?

  15. Interesting post, Gary. However I don’t think you can really just lay all the blame on the unions. For example BA have unions too yet they manage to consistently deliver much better on board CS. Perhaps American staff are expecting tips? 😉

  16. Gary, thanks for (re)raising this topic. So many fascinating and frustrating intertwined issues; wish there were equally compelling and certain answers for improving U.S.-based-airline service. As someone who had his first-ever non-U.S. premium-travel experience… in Singapore Suites (!), you can imagine how gobsmacked I was by this situation!!!

    I wonder if fuel surcharges / taxes plays a role, too. I could be misreading or not have enough data points, but it seems that often airlines with higher award fuel surcharges/fees offer better service than those without such charges. Thoughts?

    And lastly, on an orthogonal note, I’ve linked to your post here on my Google+ account, and I had hoped to +you there; do you have an account on Google+? If you’re indeed not active there, had you considered using some of your copious free time (ha!) engaging with the many passionate travelers over there? 🙂

  17. There’s nothing culturally wrong with the US: you have a much higher chance of getting excellent and curteous service at a McDonald’s, which manages a far larger workforce than the largest US airline and pays its employees a fraction of what the US airline does.

    You hit it in the head: management abdicating quality to the unions, and neither understanding how critical SERVICE is in a SERVICE industry, is the real problem. AA just finished renegotiating with its FA union and it was all about $$, nothing about regaining the ability to manage (and fire) its workforce. It was a shame.

  18. Usually I find your comments defensible even if I disagree, but this one seems full of unwarranted and unsubstantiated bias. Having traveled variously last year mostly in business class on LH, BA, QF, EK, UA, AA, AS, , WN, LOT and Aeroflot I can tell you that I had great FAs on some flights and not so good ones on others. Really there was no consistent pattern for any carrier or even demographically in terms of age, nationality, etc. Some of the best FAs I’ve ever had were getting near retirement age (contrary to the oft-repeated bias that younger ones have better attitudes).

    Now looking at this list you’re bound to say – well Boraxo that list doesn’t include any Asian carriers and you’d be right. So I really am not in a position to assess the consistency of product for these airlines. But IMHO it is not fair to tar the US carriers when the European (and MidEast?) are just as inconsistent and lazy (or fantastic, depending on your flight)

  19. Definitely a mix of cultural and institutional… Does anyone else get the impression that we are making more of an effort in this thread to figure out how to improve service on US carriers than the carriers themselves are?

    cultural: We have a strange mix when it comes to service in america. We are good at the superficially friendly, interrupt your dinner 10 times to see if there is anything else I can get for you, etc. kind of service. On the other hand, we don’t value jobs in the service industry. They are not generally viewed as a proper “career”. So, everyone suffers. Especially when there isn’t the instant incentive of better tips to motivate the person who needs it. (“most” people, I think, want to do a good job and don’t need feedback quite so direct as a variable tip from each customer)

    institutional: I appreciate the important role that unions play in protecting workers, and I enjoy getting health insurance, overtime, weekend, off, etc. But unions’ role should not be in hiring and firing workers, and setting schedules. There is an ideal balance in power between workers and management and when this is out of whack productivity, profitability and customer service suffer, as do the workers themselves (nobody wins when unions are too powerful and their demands are unrealistic).
    Clearly US carriers have long felt they are competing on price, and let everything else fall by the wayside. Look at, for example, how long foreign carriers have had IFE at every seat, and how long it took for US carriers to catch up even on the long haul routes (have they?).
    We fly from the US to the UK fairly often, and I just will not chance it on a US carrier again. Coach on Virgin, BMI (rip), BA still manages to be a pleasant flying experience. But AA’s MAN-ORD flight is what put me off US carriers. The FAs were never outright rude (though close), but they did a very good job to giving the impression that you were an inconvenience to them and they were just along for the ride, doing you a favor by giving you something to eat/drink along the way. On our last flight with AA my daughter was at that nearly-walking age, where all they want you to do is hold their hands so that they can walk around. We were going up and down the aisles (in our socks), and the flight attendant (from her seat) told me that I shouldn’t do that, because who knows what might be on that floor. My daughter could get broken glass in her foot or something?? Great, an airline that can’t even manage to reach that level of cleanliness can try to survive without my help.

  20. I find it very stupid that american passengers complain of the lack of language skills of the cabin crew of Asiana. It’s a matter of accents, but EVERY flight attendant on any airline speaks english… What would a German passenger think of American Airlines Flight Attendants, who do not speak a word of German!
    On any US carrier, If you are lucky, you can get a latino flight attendant that will speak Spanish…and that’s all. So really, don’t think the accent should be an issue.

  21. As I mentioned before, I find it stupid to complain about the accent of the Asian Cabin Crew…
    but I totally agree that on American and United you can get amazing cabin crew that will make your day, or horrible ones that will ruin it.
    I haven’t found middle point on AA. Fortunately I always remember the good ones, and I have many stories of amazing flight attendants, I like their casual aproach, while stil being profesional. Also I like that they are allowed to show their individuality by having their own hairstyle, and choice of trousers or skirt.
    Not all is bad in US carriers.
    One thing I love about flying Emirates is when they say the amount of languages that are spoken on that particular flight, one day I counted 14!!!!

  22. Here’s our story

    This Airline Has Gone Too Far…

    Ok,United/Continental (whatever they call themselves now, I honestly don’t care) has officially lost me as a customer going forward, unless they are the only stinking airline that flies to some remote destination I absolutely have to get to in the future.

    Had to cancel a $543 ticket last September because Suzanne was feeling awful, too awful to try and go to her Parents 50th Wedding Anniversary party. That means she was feeling bad! So tonight I’m trying to use the credit to buy her a United ticket to Houston for her July scans and check-up with her Oncologist. Found a itinerary for $361, but of course there is a $200 change-fee and then another $50 “agency” fee because I bought the ticket on Expedia or somewhere instead of buying the original ticket directly from United. Anybody else ever heard of this “agency” fee before, that was new to me.

    But the cherry on top is that they won’t even apply the $182 remaining credit ($543 – 361 = 182) to the $250 in fees. They want me to pay the $250 outright and then still have the extra credit sitting out there which of course they’ll probably charge me another $250 to use later.

    I even talked to a supervisor and then another supervisor and explained the circumstances that the ticket had to be cancelled due to effects of Cancer treatment and that I’m trying to use the credit to get Suzanne down to Houston for more check-ups related to her cancer. I was barely finished before she cut in again with the same Blah, blah, blah. “The change fees are a separate fee and not a ticket so I can’t apply the credit and you have to pay the whole $250 right now. If you get a doctor’s note they might refund part of the $200, etc, etc, etc…”

    If most of the airlines are going to continue to think up new ways to screw us with fees, fees and more new fees, why don’t they just go out of business already. United can take they’re whole $543 credit (which is really only worth $111 in this case) and SHOVE IT!!! They’re not getting $250 more from me, I’m going to go use it to buy a ticket on SOUTHWEST instead!

    Feel free to tell your favorite United story here in the comments. I might just send it all to ’em…

  23. The problem with US carriers is not the unions or airlines themselves. It is the stockholders of America, who have demanded doing more with less, thus squeezing the US flight attendants. Look at the stock market. The flaw in the model of capitalism is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. They have created an unlevel playing field with the foreign carriers. As we have seen the distribution of wealth in the USA change dramatically in the last 30 years, it has lead to great inequality. So if the flight attendants are not compensated well, the service will suffer. Maybe if a private equity firm came along and purchased one of the US airlines, and invested greatly in aircraft, personnel and benefits, the US carriers would be able to compete.

  24. I have flown on Cathay and Korean Air. Planes are clean and modern. The flight attendants are very attentive to the needs of the passengers. No attitudes what-so-ever. Always service with a smile. Hell, some of them even look like models. Only issue is the language barrier, but it is not much of an issue.
    I have flown on United, American, Jetblue and Delta. The only time I can remember service like I encountered on Cathay and Korean was on my last flight from Utah on a Delta flight. The flight attendants were super attentive and looked like they loved their jobs. I was pleasantly surprised by their customer service since I have always remembered a few rude attendants on past domestic flights. The Delta flight had a younger staff and the female attendants were good looking too. Though the plane did seem kind of old and not so well kept.

  25. I just saw this article and while my comment may be a little late, I thought I’d just add in my 2 cents’ worth. 🙂

    Firstly, I am an AA Flight Attendant. I also worked for an Asian carrier in the past, so I’ve had the unique privilege of having been on both sides of the fence.

    I must say I’m impressed by your comments; you all definitely know what you’re talking about, and your views are expressed objectively and fairly, taking all factors into consideration.

    I will agree that culture plays a big part as to why service seems to be better on the Asian airlines. Basic and recurrent training in the Asian airline covered every single aspect of fine customer service and I remember it being very comprehensive on both the safety-related and food service fronts.

    Plus, the airline industry is extremely competitive in both Asia and the Middle East, so the airlines are constantly trying to outdo one another. And the good ones understand that their employees are part of the product, therefore the stringent standards placed on looks, weight, service etc.

    I will have to refer to msmcmotown’s comment, “That’s not been a universal experience (nor that of colleagues) on some of the Asian based carriers, where I’ve seen FA’s holding each other, weeping, and simply freezing-up. I think the US carriers continue to train their crews well on passenger safety.”

    His/her comment was what triggered me to post here. I lost a friend in a plane crash in the year 2000. She slipped and fell and got stuck in the burning debris while trying to save a panic-stricken passenger. The passenger who got out unscathed, expressed her deep sorrow after learning about my friend’s death. Incidentally, the pilots were the first to evacuate the plane, leaving everyone behind.

    I was also in an emergency once where one of the plane engines caught fire shortly after take-off. I remember distinctly how my fellow crew members acted immediately after learning about what happened, and with the Captain’s help, we all brought the plane safely back to the ground while ensuring no one got hurt in the process.

    I know we’ve all had different experiences so far; even I have had bad experiences with jaded crew members both at work and as a passenger; but it’s very easy to generalize things and no matter how well-traveled one may be, they still will not understand what it is like to be a Flight Attendant until they step into their shoes.

    While I’ve observed how so many things are done here in AA so differently, I do enjoy many aspects my job here. Ultimately, traveling is about exercising common sense, managing one’s expectations and getting to one’s destination in one piece 🙂

    Thank you for taking the time to read my long comment(if you did ha ha) and safe travels everyone!

  26. I’m a westerner who used to work for Cathay Pacific. Cathay crew are graded for performance on EVERY single flight. Passengers are also passed survey forms on every flight. There is still a union protecting crew rights. The customer service training is amazingly detailed and highlights the commercial importance of providing excellent service and the simplicity of doing the thing westerners often desperately avoid; taking responsibility. When things go wrong it viewed as an opportunity to deliver beyond expectations, not the time to be defensive and pull the “it’s not my fault”. Asian passengers do not respect crew more than westerners. If anything they have even higher expectations. So that is also not an excuse. In our ore flight briefings we would sometimes read out negative and positive reviews from skytrax so we were aware of what was going on in the market. In so many of these analysis I read westerners comments and notice that there is so often excuse making. At Cathay there was never any excuse acceptable. Just provide the service. Simple. That was our job and ultimately made the job a lot more satisfying. If American cabin crew were able to learn that valuable lesson, then service would improve and so would their quality of work life. No matter how much the company invests and designs service offerings, without the front line taking responsibility nothing will improve.

  27. america is based on dollar driven mentalities and making money at all costs. there is little focus on quality, service, etc…hence why the country is a sinking ship. International carrier are FAR superior to anything the us tries to put out–b/c of these greedy crapitalistic fools trying to squeeze out another buck from the sheeple.

  28. Moreover, most americans despise their jobs–they are burned out, cannot think clearly, overworked, underpaid, or protected by sleezy unions that embrace mediocrity. Virgin America is pretty good for domestic–otherwise, would never travel on a us carrier for foreign flights b/c of very poor service, quality and dollar driven mentally ill attitudes.

  29. Hi Gary! I currently work for a Mainline carrier here in the US as a flight attendant.

    Ever since I was a kid I always wanted to be a flight attendant. Weird enough, when I say this to my colleagues here in the US, they laugh at me.

    Well, here’s the thing. I am from Asia. Born and raised. I grew up along with my friends looking up to cabin crews who work for our flag carrier. I wanted to be just like them. For some reason, becoming a cabin crew is a profession worth aspiring for and something to be proud of back in my country.

    Fast forward to the present, yes I have fulfilled my dream to become a flight attendant however I am not working for my country’s flag carrier which was always my goal. I work for a Legacy carrier here in the US now.

    What really struck me the most reading this article is this paragraph:

    “Great flight attendants provide great service because they’re proud to do so, because they’re driven to do so, internally. In some ways the exceptional US flight attendant deserves much more praise because they are doing it on their own, when there is little if any benefit to them to do so. They aren’t going to lose their job as a result of occasionally grumpy and often lackluster service. They aren’t going to get paid more for going above and beyond for a customer. They do it because they’re internally driven and believe it’s the right thing to do. I truly thank them and honor them.”

    It feels AMAZING meeting even just one person who actually notices US based flight attendants who actually do really have passion for what we do and yes I am proud to say I am one of these flight attendants (I am not bragging in any way or making myself look good.)

    I wear my uniform with pride and I truly respect this job. I respect my airline. I am a proud flight attendant.

    In training, they keep reminding us what our primary role is. SAFETY, SAFETY, and SAFETY. That’s what we are there for however it frustrates and saddens me how other flight attendants compose themselves and treat passengers.

    When I am working what really motivates me is my childhood dream. As a little boy, I had this image of a flight attendant I want to become and whenever I am up in the sky at 30,000 feet working as a flight attendant, I make sure I become that flight attendant.

    I love my job so much and I am very grateful that I get to do this.

    I love my airline however I also want to work for an airline with people that upholds the same values that I have. I want to be surrounded with people who actually are passionate in what they do and who have the heart to make people happy.

    I just recently flown on Cathay Pacific and I was just in awe! They’re flight attendants are extremely polite, they look their best, and the whole flight was very pleasant even though I was just in premium economy.

    When I got back to the US, I used my experience flying on Cathay for the first time as motivation and a challenge to even do better at my job. I told myself that yes I am just one person but I being just one can touch lives of many passengers still and somehow it will reflect good on company.

    Yes, we re safety enforcers and they keep on reminding us that Safety is what we are there for in training EVERY DAY. I hope other flight attendants realize that this post talks about the kind of service that is given to passengers. It is not talking about which airline is more reliable when it comes to safety. It talks about service and how passengers feel when they are sitting on that cabin chair on an 8 to maybe 14 hour flight. There is no doubt that all airlines train all its FAs intense Safety procedures and other related tasks. NO DOUBT.

    My point here is PROVIDING GOOD SERVICE doesn’t make anyone less equipped and prepared when it comes to emergencies and safety risks.

    I will continue what I am doing and I don’t care how many flight attendants laugh at me for dreaming of becoming a cabin crew.

    At the end of the day, its not the airline, not the uniform, not even the service standards. It really is all about HEART and PASSION and this can never be taught in training for this comes from within. It comes internally and I really hope that one day I can work with the same kind of people.

    Thank you again for this post!

  30. To say “maybe it’s not a culture thing” because CX service contrasts with other Chinese airlines is misguided and not accurate. They are two completely different cultures. Coming out of a communist regime is not the same as coming out of Hong Kong not to mention the different cultures of mainland vs HK … Completely two different worlds. Not sure how they got lumped together. Might as well say all Asians are the same.

  31. PS I agree Japanese airlines offer THE best service. It’s a mix of culture and meticulous nature of the job and high standards. Japanese FAs are the most attentive. They often try to predict what you need before you ask for it, and then overdeliver.
    I recently flew SQ11 on suites class and was not impressed. The service was sub par to some business class flights on other Asian carriers. The flight attendants were reactive, I even experienced witnessing twice male flight attendants leaving the bathroom when I was entering and they left the seat up. And every time I asked for Perrier they never kept track of my preference of not wanting lemon. I think a lot of this has to do w the fact that service workers in Singapore are not Singaporean but from other southeast Asian countries. the more “north Asia” you go the better the service as the more homogenous the culture. They are just not attentive. Hence Japan being the best. I notice they really strive to delight the custome. Go figure.

  32. Another late comment, I know, but I did want to say that perhaps we, the travelling public, can do something to encourage good service as well.

    For sure, the overwhelming majority of passengers will board and leave the aircraft and won’t remember much about the experience, except in those unfortunate cases where they feel that service has been exceptionally bad (and whatever the truth may have been, how the passenger feels is just that: the passenger’s personal experience).

    However I would encourage everyone who has experienced good service to leave a comment on the airline’s web site whenever you’ve received good service. BA has such a place on its web site; I hope most other airlines do as well. Speaking personally, it would mean a lot to me to see my name against such comments and it would definitely encourage me to try harder in future.

    I don’t work in the airline industry BTW.

  33. Because Americans since the 90s have been stuck in the Clinton/Bush/Obama blame game regime and hopefully Trump will clear the path unless he is working for Hillary and she wins then either everything will go really good or everything will collapse and we experience worse then 1932 conditions.

  34. As a result most Americans the words *vote with your wallet* is foreign concept to them. They will complain but then support the brand because it’s what they are comfortable with doing.

    Most Americans are afraid to leave their comfort zone based on politics and public brainwashing by the media so are totally outside of reality and live in a bubble of their own.

    Especially in the big liberal cities where they don’t feel the economic crunch as much due to the government keeping things as covered as possible with high spending and few if any permanent jobs being created to sustain a tax base.

  35. I’ve flown on several Asian airlines after having taken American, United and Delta (the major US carriers). Despite what some of have said, one of my best experiences with was Air China (not to be confused with the flower Taiwan-based airline). Someone, I’m assuming, either broke their leg on the plane or needed help, the FA’s really helped her out, try to get her room, while also attending other passengers. Rather than complain as American FA’s might tend to do, they were cordial despite having to deal with her foul smell etc.

    Despite what many people say, CX attendants were run of the mill, no different than any other Asian airline. The only crew that cleaned the toilet after usage was Korean Airlines. I noticed that from LAX it’s a hit or miss. It really depends, I guess, your geographical location. However, I’m never been on Asian airline (CE, CS, AC, CX) that has any language barriers whatsoever.

    And I’d argue it’s not just cultural. These FA’s may get incentives, but it’s also who hires them. I guess in the US, perhaps because we have too many flights going out every day that they have to hire who they can. But in other countries, this seems to be less of an issue.

  36. All these anti-capitalist posters need to realize a few things:

    1. All businesses exist primarily to make a profit.
    2. Cathay is based in Hong Kong, one of the most capitalistic societies in the world.
    3. Singapore Airlines is based in Singapore (obvious, I know, but not sure it is with the target audience) and Singapore is possibly rage only more capitalistic place than Hong Kong.
    4. Unions and governments interfere with capitalism.

  37. I recently made 2 airline journeys – one round trip from LAX to KTM on Cathay Pacific, with a total of 18,170 air miles; and one round trip from BTR to LAX on American Airlines, with a total of 3,218 air miles. I flew “economy” on both airlines.
    The cost of the LAX to KTM trip cost $1,200.00. The BTR to LAX trip cost was $830.00 (including a $25.00 charge for 1 checked bag).
    Thus, the per mile cost of these trip was 6.6 cents per mile on Cathay Pacific; and 25 cents per mile on American Airlines.
    Boarding the flights was qualitatively different: on the American flights, the system of “zone boarding” was nothing less than a “cattle call” with a ridiculous procedure of the “elite” entering on one side of a sign, and the peons entering via the opposite side of the same sign. On the Cathay Pacific flights, passengers boarded by rows in each seating section, making the process easy and efficient.
    On the American flights, I received a cup of soda and 2 cookies on each of 4 legs.
    On Cathay Pacific I received 6 full gourmet hot meals, free alcohol and non-alcohol drinks, a travel amenity bag, a wide seat with plenty of leg room, a personal video screen with a choice of dozens of programs and music selections.
    The quality and safety of the aircraft was not in question. I presume that the fuel and maintenance costs were proportional for each airline.
    The American Airline had one flight attendant who was dressed in a poorly fitting uniform, who kept bumping into the aisle seated passengers with her overly wide hips, and who never smiled and who appeared bored with her job. She was only available for questions by pressing the “call” button.
    On the Cathay Pacific flights, there were 12+ flight attendants who were dressed in stylish uniforms, who were always cheerful and attentive to the passengers, and were always visible for assistance.
    On the American flights, there were a number of passengers who were from foreign countries. I felt embarrassed by the lack of quality and service of the U.S. flights which was the exact opposite of what I had received on a foreign airline.
    My conclusion is that the differences in service are the result of the greed of the U.S. based airline industry. Isn’t it time for the U.S. airline industry to begin showing some pride?

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