Service attitudes are infectiousBack to Forum
Anonymous7 Mar 2010
Greetings to all!! One of the more dubious benefits of living way up north is that we have few options but to use LCAs for short-haul European travel unless we want the hassle of a change en route. So, on Friday last, I was up early and at my local LCA airport (where 95% of all services are provided by the one carrer) for my 06.30 departure and was faced with indifferent, at times rude ground service by airport employees in security and elsewhere. This is the norm at this airport and a major change from what used to be a cheerful and helpful place (albeit with few flights) a few years ago.
This got me thinking that ground handling service now mirrors exactly that on board the dominant carrier at that airport – in other words, the commercial pressures applied by the airline for local ground handlers to act as proxy airline police and weigh hand baggage, charge crazy amounts for even one kilo overweight, police the tearing of boarding passes (to exactly two thirds across the printed on-line document) etc. has forced them to behave just like their air bound colleagues.
One possible explanation can be found in a recently published American book on air rage and its origins by Arlene Hunter
(Hunter, J.A. (2009) Anger in the Air. Combating the Air Rage Phenomenon, Farnham: Ashgate). This analysis, while certainly flawed from a European perspective (Wales is part of England, for example) has, as its central argument, that air rage by passengers is a direct consequence of deteriorating levels and quality of service by air carriers (and she cites the horror stories from the US of extended taxiway waits without service etc etc). One key aspect of this is that work pressure, poor pay and low status have undermined cabin crew self-esteem and infected their attitudes to service. This service culture change Hunter blames ultimately on the impact of deregulation in the late 1970s and the commercial, competitive pressures faced by airlines to reduce costs since then, particularly with respect to crew pay and conditions. With some notable exceptions, cabin crew pay is now very low in both the US and Europe (starting arounf £12,000 in some instances) and there are press reports of flight deck crew on regional carriers in the US earning as little as $16,000 per annum.
Hunter argues that if you treat people like dirt (cabin crew) and they pass this attitude on in their service to passengers, safety valves will blow and air rage is one outcome. Clearly, there are a range of other factors at play here (which the author does acknowledge) but this is surely one aspect that airlines need to think about. When the same pressures and the same attitude are then passed on to ground handling staff, the phenomenon of airport rage becomes all the more likely – my ordeal on Friday morning certainly made me realise the possibility and a few of my fellow passengers looked close to bursting as they were subject to police state treatment.
Apologies for the ramble, but this service situation appears to have got out of hand and airlines and their partners seem disinclined to see this as even partly their responsibility. And I know that some responses to this post will paint the other side of the argument, citing BA and BASSA and the crazy goings on there. But BA is very much the exception today and should not be used as the norm here.7 Mar 2010
But I think the travelling public has to bear the some of the responsibility.
On my travels I have seen some awful incidents of passengers being rude to airport staff, passengers behaving abominably on board (even in First), so it’s no wonder these people have thick skins, and perform their roles in a perfunctory manner.
Most passengers choose their carrier entirely on cost; people are simply not prepared to pay for quality, and in some respects don’t even appreciate good service when they see it.
Paying staff more from current revenues is probably not possible, so the only way this attitude is going to change is if the flying public are prepared to pay more to travel (tough when much of the ticket is Gordon Brown’s APD tax) OR if airlines make investment in training staff better to handle the stresses of working in a public facing role.7 Mar 2010
Part of the problem with low cost carriers is the lack of training in basic customer care and ensuring that a good level is maintained. Airport handlers can also fall into this category as the “wannabe cabin crew” take these jobs but are unable for whatever reason to be cabin crew, sort of second best.
I only have experience of using Flybe as a low cost carrier who I am told are better than EZY and FR, but you do get the feeling that you are treated as though you are going on holiday and this is your once a year flying experience.
VK is right that most people are not prepared to pay for quality but expect it even with the low cost. I think its a circle which just goes around. I suppose that I am lucky to be able to use either LGW or LHR or SOU so have a choice of airline and airport, clearly Tom you are not.
Interesting debate indeed.7 Mar 2010
I have to agree with you both. Passengers certainly do have to bear part of the responsibility; on the other hand, poor levels of pay and conditions of service act as a motivational barrier on the other side of the equation.
I agree that you generally ‘get what you are prepared to pay for.’ Unless you fly THY, of course…..
Simon7 Mar 2010
Yes you are right, but the travel industry has never been noted for high pay rates. Its more to do with the “glamour” than the money.
I worked in a travel agency from when I left school for eight and a bit years and even though I was a manager a lot of friends that were working in retail in lower positions had higher pay than me. But I decided to leave mainly to earn more money.
Nigel7 Mar 2010
Of course, someone in America will write a book on this subject. In US domestic routes, the airplane is like bus or train service of other countries as there is hardly any bus or train service available in USA. Hence the service is bus/train conductor and food service type. As that is the norm in domestic – the international service is not much different. Surprisingly in America, the lible case against airlines are quite low considering one can successfully sue McDonald for serving coffee hot without indicating that coffee is hot. However service at many full service airlines are quite good especially in business class (and obviously at First). Most Asian airlines where I travelled in Business class like SQ, MAS, Thai, Cathey, ANA, JAL, Jet, Air India, Kingfisher provides excellent service and in Lufthansa, BA, Qantas, Finnair, Swiss I ‘ve received very professional service. I have also travelled economy in most of the above and in general service is quite acceptable considering the economy class fare. (for example from my residence to LHR I have to pay about GBP80 for taxi fare (total to and fro) without any service and with similar kind of money I could buy an economy ticket almost anywhere in Europe if I plan early with food and reasonable service included). In each flight, there will be one or two ‘inferior quality’ steward/stewardess and a few bad passengers. These people spoil the experience/fun for all.8 Mar 2010
You point about reciprocity of behaviour (did we just coin a phrase…?) is spot on; I would suggest this is why 99% of my experiences while travelling are positive.8 Mar 2010
VK – I edited my posting to add the taxi comparison and deleted the reciprocal line. Agree completly – a simple hello and smile brings good service even in economy class.8 Mar 2010
It is strange how the prospect of moving through an airport, and especially if travelling in a premium cabin, brings out the most awful sense of entitlement in so many people.9 Mar 2010