Flying the Friendly Skies:
Working in this industry as we do, we are frequently called upon to travel internationally. Since most of these trips are by air, we all become de facto critics of the airline industry; quick to voice an opinion and point out flaws in service, food, drink or anything else doesn’t meet our exacting standards.
Many of you have travelled to Asia and experienced first hand the magnificent service levels available on most Asian airlines. Asian carriers, by and large, have cabin crews that tend to be charming young ladies, immaculately groomed and unfailingly polite – not necessarily beautiful, but pleasant in appearance. Although easing a bit, most Asian airlines institute mandatory retirement at age 40. In any case, it’s unlikely that you’ll board the plane and be greeted by someone that looks like your great auntie Mildred.
I remember taking a Singapore Airlines long-haul flight to Europe once. Every time I got up to answer the call of nature, the chief purser would step into the toilet, wipe down the sink (which was spotlessly clean anyway), rearrange the hand towels, adjust the fresh flower in the vase, and then hold the door open for me. I’ve similar attention lavished on me on Cathay Pacific, Thai and Malaysia Airline flights.
Most of the aircraft employed in this part of the world are the latest and greatest offerings from Boeing and Airbus. It’s nice flying a plane that has that new smell and look about it. When I fly in the US and I get on an aging 727, and I think that the plane is almost as old as I am, it’s a bad jumping-off point.
It doesn’t hurt that some of the newest, most modern, state-of-the-art airports in the world are in Asia. Hong Kong, for example, has a wonderful airport designed by Sir Norman Foster. They have even incorporated a luxury train that leaves from inside the terminal and travels on a dedicated track to the middle of downtown Hong Kong. No traffic, no cramped taxis, no blaring horns, but instead a smooth ride in air-conditioned comfort all the way into Central.
If there were one glaring exception to all this, it would be in Mainland China. There, air travel is seen utilitarian necessity, like taking the bus to work. Some might charitably describe it as a minimalist approach but what is clear is that the expectations and demands are completely different. As long as the plane lands safely, you’re likely to experience an overwhelming sense of relief. It’s odd that such stellar service levels can exist in Asia alongside such abysmal service just across the border.
I believe that the reasons why these differences exist are many and varied. It isn’t just that Asian carriers have better planes, younger and more service oriented crews. Rather it’s the result of a two-way interaction between the passenger and the cabin crew. It’s seldom that you’d ever see an Asian airline passenger make a public display of rude, boorish behaviour that is all too common in the West. As such, it is far easier for the cabin crew to be polite and helpful to people who appreciate their effort and make far fewer demands. While flying in the USA, I have seen passengers put their shoes up on the seats in front of them; I’ve seen them make demands in a tone of voice that would merit a good slap across the face. It’s a two way street and while I’d like to discuss it in greater detail, but I’ve got to run to the airport.
Rob Chipman is the CEO of Asian Tigers K. C. Dat – Hong Kong. He’ll do anything for an upgrade.