While in the past the cabin crew profession was a job for life, in the last decade or so, because of the transformation of airline business models, the profession has experienced a growing turnover rate. Mario Pierobon finds out more.

The positive growth the industry has witnessed during the last few years, with the relative difficulty in finding new hires, has brought about new challenges. Developing cabin crew professionalism remains a key practice for effective airline management.

Turnover Rate

“In the past 10 years the aviation market has been developing at an extreme pace. Even though some airlines fail to withstand the competition, they are quickly replaced with the new or bigger airlines,” said Loreta Krupenkiniene, head of cabin crew and safety training at BAA Training. “Therefore with such high development in the market, we are witnessing growing cabin crew demand. Naturally, trying to keep up with such demand airlines escalate cabin crew career possibilities, while the cabin crew career starts to gain a new face.”

“Lufthansa is a very attractive employer, therefore the turnover rates are relatively low,” said Lufthansa Airlines HR Manager Martina Niemann. “New hires are mainly required as a result of natural fluctuation or an increase in capacity. Some other factors include demand for part-time job models, family planning or parental leave, fluctuating absence due to illness and changes in aircraft productivity planning, which result in specific crew requirements.”

Louisa Fisher, cabin safety programme manager at FlightSafety International notes that “aviation becomes more active when the economy is doing well, and we have seen this for the past two years. Most airlines are busier than ever and new airlines have opened. For the cabin crewmember and flight attendant, overall turnover is reduced and new opportunities are becoming available.”

In the past becoming a flight attendant was considered an extraordinary and exclusive thing; today airlines change their requirements making the profession more easily reachable. “For example, there was a time when every flight attendant had to have a medical education, while today you only have to successfully undergo the first aid training,” said Krupenkiniene.

Organisational Belonging

As part of the professionalisation of cabin crews it is important that they are instilled with a sense of organisational belonging, this is also achieved through training. Organisations should always seek to recruit the best employees. When competition is high, like in the airline industry, there is the need to select the best people in order to face competition with the best resources at hand.

Krupenkiniene points out that “these are good times for flight crews, as there is a heavy competition among employers chasing for professionals. That is why every organisation understanding the importance of stable human resources appreciates their employees and takes an extra mile when creating more attractive working conditions. And that is not limited only to the salary, but also all other bonuses that may come with the job: appealing flight base location, discount for air tickets for leisure travel, medical insurance etc.” she said. “Equally important is the quality of cabin crew training, in fact airlines are looking for exclusive training solutions. As the initial cabin crew training programme is regulated by EASA, the programme itself is the same, however, you may see the difference in the training equipment and the quality of facilities, instructors’ professionalism and the complexity of training. For example why go somewhere else, if you can undergo all the needed training (cabin crew or even cabin crew and pilot) in one place? That not only gives the opportunity of very convenient time-saving training but also saves money for the airlines.”

Organisational belonging should be part of any safe flight operation as a natural extension of crew resource management (CRM). “Emergency procedures training clearly states the need for clear and respectful communication between all aircraft crewmembers. Communication utilising the techniques recommended by CRM are not only trained throughout the academic training elements but exercised through the scenario training drills,” said Fisher.

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The cabin crew training programme may be the same, but you may see a difference in the training equipment and the quality of facilities. Image credit: BAA Training.

Training Effectiveness

Given the developments in personnel retention, cabin crew training courses are being adapted to maximise the effectiveness of training. Fisher points out that “airlines that have been operating through the last 10 years are more interested in scrutinising costs than they might have been previously. Training providers understand that training costs are a focus and therefore they must be regulatory compliant but also must be cost effective. Some aspects of required training can be accomplished online thereby reducing crew down time as well as logistics expenses.”

Another important aspect that training needs to face in order to be effective is the number of participants. A real example of this is given by Ola Hansson, managing director of Lufthansa Aviation Training (LAT), who commented that “the high number of Lufthansa flight attendants is a constant challenge in regard of effective crew training and therefore LAT is in close contact with Lufthansa’s training division and is regularly assessing the courses.”

In order to reach greatest effectiveness, a high degree of standardisation is required as well as an activation of course participants. “Therefore we have adapted the initial training course in the area of ‘blended learning’ and integrated some features of our digitisation initiative. Also the senior cabin crew courses have been adapted lately to encompass up-to-date focus areas of Lufthansa and to strengthen this multiplier group. We pay special attention to our classroom elements in order to enrich them with modern ways to reach the educational objective,” Hansson continued.

Addressing Motivation

Motivation is an important factor when it comes to professionalism. “There is no doubt that self-motivation is a really important feature of the candidate to become a flight attendant,” said Krupenkiniene. “This job is not for those who aim for a routine job. It is always accompanied with changes and new challenges, so it is important that a person eagerly and responsibly overcomes them. That is why self-motivation is one of the core features that are looked for among the candidates to become a cabin crew member. Professionals running the assessment procedures will always notice whether the candidate has it or not.”

In addition, professional instructors should work hard to raise motivation, so that a flight attendant acknowledges the important safety role they have in flight 10km up in the air.

“Passengers see calm and pleasant faces of the flight attendants, but behind that, there are years of practice and training, motivation to improve and confidence in handling every situation to ensure passenger safety,” Krupenkiniene observed.

Motivation is only a part of training. Members of the crew must be flexible and capable to deal with all the types of issues which may arise and this means that they should have problem solving skills.

“A successful and effective cabin crewmember must ‘wear many hats’. They must be self-starters and also 100% team players. They must be able to think quickly to accomplish an unexpected request of a passenger as well as a potential medical or aircraft emergency situation,” acknowledged Fisher.

“LAT training plays an important role in the on-boarding process of flight attendants to make sure that they feel as they are part of a team. When it comes to the long-term, Lufthansa emphasises the importance of motivated communication between the management and employees, a concept specific to flight attendant management and product and brand identity,” noted Niemann.

LAT emphasises that all course participants be treated with respect right from the beginning and invited to get involved throughout the courses. “We give and challenge constructive feedback and all our instructors are creating a learning environment that will support different personality types. Some other important aspects besides training are to relay the core values that are part of the Lufthansa community and setting a good example with all our staff in the daily together with all course participants. This way we promote a professional intercourse,” concluded Hansson. 

Published in CAT issue 2/2019