We caught up with some thought leaders in the Cabin Crew sector leading up to WATS 2024. What tech should be considered in training, and why? What’s new this year to the exhibitor floor? Should you attend every year? And what topics will be explored this year in the Cabin Crew Stream? So grab yourself a hot beverage, while we spill the tea.

When new, dazzling tech is available, does the current, “tried and true” method still outshine the new? Or is there a need to evolve with the trends? With so many new technologies rapidly emerging in the training sector, perhaps the most important questions are: what are the results we are trying to achieve, and how can we best prepare our crew?

Industry Catch Up

We spoke with Marc Van den Broucque, Managing Director at Spatial and exhibitor to WATS this year, where he recounts the advancements cabin crew door trainers have gone through over the years.

Remembering a time when LED lights flashed either red for “fire” or “blue” for water, Marc said: “In the past, an instructor would tell them what they are training for, and not engaging them in the training. An instructor would tell you everything, and the problem with that is that a trainee cannot figure out what’s happening for themselves and evaluate what to do next. Instead, they are fully engaged in conversation.”

Training has come a long way since then, and one area Spatial has been able to push boundaries on has been with its Virtual Slide Trainers, which have been made since 2015. Instead of the old-school LED lights, crew are able to look outside through virtual window displays and see for themselves if it is safe to exit and if there are obstructions.

When asked if Spatial would be integrating more virtual reality or augmented reality into their new products down the line, Marc expressed that regulators have seemed to move away from virtual environments in cabin crew training, and that new technology might not be necessary for every scenario. For cabin emergency evacuation door training, the value of using a real door will always be there.

“The weight of a door can’t be replicated in a virtual environment,” said Marc. “There was once a cabin crew member thinking a door was obstructed during a scenario when really she did not push hard enough and didn’t realize the full weight of the door.”

However, he does believe the value of VR/AR/MR is there, it is just dependent on the training scenario as to whether one of these applications should be used.  

“There is a place for new tech. For example, Lufthansa was able to use virtual reality in a Dangerous Goods training. A virtual environment is possible here, because there’s no touch and feel to it so you can replicate it quite easily.”

Cabin Crew L1 Anna.jpgCabin crew training prioritizes environmental awareness. Source: Inflight Institute.

With regards to AR or VR, Marc prefers the former: “In maintenance training and pilot training, it is very task focused, there’s not a lot of looking around and evaluating. Cabin crew training is more environment-focused. A headset only allows you to see 90-degrees around you. You wouldn’t get that 360-degree view to see if their colleague is struggling with a passenger, or if someone is going down a slide. The crew member needs to be aware. Virtual reality is only 90 degrees of vision only, so you are missing half of the picture when you need to be aware of everything around you.”

“We are not just trying to tick boxes, we are trying to put them in a situation and see how they react,” said Marc.

Instead of diving into the trends of the newest and greatest gadget of what’s available to use, Marc suggests the industry should focus on the training outcome and what technology would be best to support that training.

“We need to look for the best applications for it. We should be asking how best can we train, and then find a solution to fit those needs. Not the other way,” said Marc. “We keep a very active watch on new technology trends, and what we can enhance with, but we need solutions for our customers that do not offer a substandard experience in training.”

With the needs of the trainee in mind and how to maximize training potential, we spoke with Ivan Noël, President of Inflight Institute, who will be speaking in the Cabin Crew Stream during WATS. Inflight Institute, in conjunction with Empower Communications Group, have recently launched a new interactive, online program to train cabin crew for de-escalation.

While Empower has been doing the live version, Inflight saw a need to bring it to online learning.

“We at Inflight saw a need to come together to bring it into the advancement of online leaning so we could get the message out to more people,” said Ivan. “In today’s age, unruly passengers have been an issue for quite some time, but we felt this new approach would be really beneficial for airline personnel.”

The course can also be delivered as a hybrid module.  

“In doing pre-qualification training, even for this de-escalation training, it provides more time in the classroom if you are going to do online and then live learning as well,” said Ivan. “It provides more time and is more efficient if everyone is able to come in at same level of knowledge, and then you can actually do practical training after that. Or it can be woven into recurrent training for example, where there are a couple of hours of live learning. The hybrid model, we feel, is one of the best ways that it can occur.”

Ivan believes strongly in pre-qualification training; that’s what inspired him to start Inflight Innovations.

In the past as an instructor for an airline, Ivan witnessed first-hand the influence pre-qualification training can have on the trainees and the outcome of their training performance. A cabin crew trainee had previously quit her job at a bank to pursue her dream career in aviation. Upon starting initial ground school, she was not able to pass her exams.

Her words still leave a lasting, emotional impact.

“She was sitting in front of me crying,” said Ivan. “These words still give me goosebumps: ‘Ivan, I have two kids at home, no husband, and I quit my job at the bank. How am I going to feed my children?’ She has disrupted her entire life to follow her dream. If she knew she had an ability to pass and what she was getting into, then that wouldn’t have happened, and that’s where the idea of pre-qualification for cabin crew training started at Inflight Institute started.”

Inflight Institute has found the most success by offering pre-qualification training, which gives trainees the chance to see if their skill sets match what the job requires.

“We need to do a better job as an industry of telling and showing people what they are getting into before they disrupt their lives and change their careers, when it is not the right fit for them or they don’t have the ability to pass the exams that are required,” said Ivan.

This includes retention of crew.

“The last thing you want is to go through all of this training and become a cabin crew member and then go eh, it’s not for me,” said Ivan. “In today’s market for staffing, I think it is absolutely vital that you’re making sure that the people who are showing up to your training have the ability, the desire, and the knowledge in order to really be the best representation for the airline.”

“I’ve talked with ppl who have been pre-qualified and ppl who haven’t been pre-qualified, and there’s almost this sense that ‘I earned my place here’, in the classroom, and there’s a cohesion amongst the students right on day one.”

 What’s New This Year at WATS?

Inflight Innovations will be introducing its new Cabin Crew Cost Saving Calculator, which Ivan will present on during the Cabin Crew Stream. The tool allows airlines to evaluate what their current loss is in initial training. After a few numbers are inputted, the calculator can help airlines see how a small reduction in training days, and an increased success rate, can help their bottom line.

“Some airlines have significant loss during initial training,” said Ivan. “People show up, and don’t come back to finish for whatever reason that is. If you can reduce that GO SEE rate, you can save money, but also have the right people in that classroom who have a greater chance of success. The certificate program we offer covers entire ground school, it is a starting point. When everyone shows up, they are all on the same level of knowledge. That’s how we approach it.”

When the GO SEE rate – the percentage of trainees who do not become a part of the crew – can be reduced, this translates to a higher success rate among the trainees, and the airline also saves money.

“An improvement in efficiency can save quite a bit of financial costs,” said Ivan.

This topic will be explored in more detail in Day 1 of the Cabin Crew Conference Stream, where Ivan will present: ‘How Competency-Based Training and Assessments Play a Vital Role’.

What Topics Will Be Explored This Year

Facilitating the Cabin Crew Conference for WATS 2024 is Ian Mitchell, Lead Designer of Cabin Crew Training at Air Canada, who provided a preview of the upcoming presentations.


Ian Mitchell, Lead Designer of Cabin Crew Training at Air Canada, is facilitating the Cabin Crew Stream this year at WATS.

“I am kind of excited about all of it,” said Ian. “I am a bit of a nerd when it comes to aviation stuff. Most of the topics excite me quite a bit. It’s hard to pick out one thing that I am really excited about. All of the abstracts that I received this year really have something interesting and worth hearing about. There’s a lot going on in the industry now and there’s a lot of hot topics out there.”

Here are some of the topic highlights:

  • Flying Post 9/11 vs. Post-Covid - how mental health education has changed over the years.
  • More than the Average Person - cabin crew suffer more from sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety and fatigue than the average population.
  • De-Escalate Before it Comes Out of Hand - disruptive passengers and challenges crews may experience and how to manage it with de-escalation techniques.
  • Realistic Disruptive Unruly Passenger Training – how to create effective and realistic scenario-based training.
  • Keep Your Crew Safe During Layovers - equipping crew members with the necessary skills and knowledge to reduce their exposure to illness, injuries, and security incidents.
  • Be a Caregiver and Authority Figure – how passengers view crew and how to navigate the challenges of being both.
  • Competency Based Training and Assessments – bridging the gap between efficiency and improving safety and performance. How profitability increases as well.
  • Adapting to Gen Z – how to adapt training to accommodate a multigenerational workforce.
  • Customers with Disabilities – what qualifies as a service animal and what to do.
  • Extending the Training and Evaluation Cycle with AQP – instead of training every 12 months, what if you could change it to 18 months without knowledge degradation?
  • What Tech is a Best Fit - if you are going to use VR, how can you make it the most effective?
  • American Airlines and VR – data that shows an increase in scores of flight training after VR training.
  • FAA and XR – is there quantifiable evidence to support tech in the classroom? Work is underway to develop guidance.

Some presenters are also incorporating workshops. One workshop will run the entire length of the session, giving hands-on practice. Several presenters are incorporating workshop sessions within their presentations.

“What I like about them is that they are interactive, it engages people, people can interact with each other and the presenter, and there’s a variety of topics,” said Ian. “One of them is a virtual game on CRM, where people can use their smartphone, and the people at the table can participate as a crew. They are given a scenario and are forced to make certain decisions. A similar exercise is also CRM-related and will be a scenario on disruptive unruly passengers. American Airlines is also bringing some of their VR equipment, so people have a chance to experiment with it.”

“There will also be a training methodology on accelerated learning that increases long term retention. It’s an interesting concept where you are presented with a topic, and it’s condensed,” said Ian. “You listen to a video at faster-than-normal speed. So you get a 10 minutes video, then a 10 minute break where you are asked to do something else that is not related to the task you were doing – like drawing an image upside down. Then you come back and get the same content presented to you but in a different way, and then you get another 10-minute break. And then the content is presented to you a third time in a different way, and then another break. Then by doing this, they test long-term memory. Typically we test short term memory, and not exactly how much someone will remember three months down the road.”

When asked what Ian hopes to see for WATS 2025, it was clear: more submissions.

“I’m hoping next year I can get 30 or more to pick and choose,” said Ian. “I think there is a good sign there are more submissions than last year. It has created some buzz.”

Should You Present Next Year?

“If you have attended WATS before and you think you have a topic that you think you would like to talk about that would be relevant, you should consider it,” said Ian. “Don’t be shy.”

While this will be his second year facilitating the WATS conference, Ian has also become a seasoned speaker for the conference.

“I never aspired to speak at a conference,” said Ian. “I like going to conferences, but I never thought about speaking at one. It was only because of my friend Anna, who suggested that I speak, that it inspired me to think about it.”

Shortly after that encounter, his employer also announced that people at the company would only be reimbursed for attending one conference per year unless they presented at a conference. That was all the encouragement he needed to turn the thought into reality.

“I never thought I had anything to say, and then it forced me to think about it,” said Ian.

Are you interested in speaking at WATS 2025? Stop by the Cabin Crew Stream to meet Ian, so you can ask any questions you may have about what it is like to present.

Should You Go to WATS Every Year? 

Celebrating its 26th year, we have seen people come back again and again – with some veterans having attended 15 shows or more – and we wanted to know why. What kept them coming back?

“The conference can inspire new ideas and new ways to do things,” said Ivan. “I really enjoy sharing thoughts and ideas and having conversations about new concepts and ideas. This whole idea of AI and where that’s going to take the industry. I try to be a bit of a futurist and see where the trends are going or coming from and see how we can adapt that technology to make the safest crew that we can.”


“We are all humans, and we all want to connect on a human level, and that’s part of what these conferences provide for us. That emotional connectivity that can inspire new ideas and new ways of doing things.”

There’s also the power of networking at the conference and seeing people year after year that you can build insightful relationships with.

“After 25 years you really get to know people in the industry,” said Ivan. “That’s also what makes it really great because we can call each other and write to each other, and ask each other ‘How would you solve this or have you ever experienced this before?’ You are really broadening your brainpower by including 10 different people in something that you are trying to solve that will make it safer of better for the traveling public.”

We couldn’t agree more! We hope to see you in just a few weeks. Until then, stay up to date on all of our announcements leading up to WATS.

WATS sponsor-block