Delta, American, and United think it’s unfair they should have to compete against the better Gulf airlines because of subsidies (though they’re plenty subsidized themselves). Nevermind that US airlines account for 49% of world airline profits.
But it isn’t subsidies that make the Gulf carrier flying experience better. On the whole US airlines invest more in the hard product. While service from non-US airlines is infinitely better. Good service isn’t expensive, and most US airlines will even complain they spend more on labor than their competitors.
For those who think it’s simply asking flight attendants to do too much to offer predeparture beverages to a domestic first class cabin, I thought it might be worth passing along the Emirates inflight service guide for required elite treatment.
I’ve written about these service standards in the past, but reader Jerry F. sent me documentation.
In contrast United brought back ‘the Friendly Skies’ without friendly people, describing their features and benefits as ‘flyer friendly’.
Flight attendants can be there primarily for your safety or can provide an experience of true hospitality. In the U.S. outstanding crews are generally great by virtue of their own choice and drive rather than company culture. I give those US airline flight attendants my deepest respect, because they aren’t following requirements outlined by the company the way Emirates crews do, and don’t suffer consequences for failing to follow through.
In the heavily unionized airline sector, there’s little relationship between customer service and pay or advancement. Service standards are very difficult to enforce. However this isn’t always and everywhere a problem of unions, Southwest and Alaska manage a higher proportion of friendly flight attendants than the legacy carriers while being unionized. Delta’s non-union flight attendants aren’t friendlier than Southwest’s unionized ones.
There are lots of things that an airline can do to demoralize their employees, and not doing those things is a good start. Operationally challenged airlines are depressing for employees, they are constantly dealing with unhappy passengers. Cost-cutting airlines are depressing for employees, because it chips away at the product they need to be proud of and because they’re the ones who bear the brunt of customer displeasure when there’s a mismatch between expectations and product (“but we used to get a meal free”).
Not demoralizing your employees though doesn’t create a service culture where crew members:
- feel empowered
- go out of their way for customers and are rewarded for doing so
- see it as their job to make the travel experience better for guests onboard, and therefore offer hospitality
The destruction of the culture is not the fault of workers or unions. But the airlines need flexibility in work and compensation rules to turn around a culture that management has ruined. And they need a commitment from the very top as well.