Many travel bloggers love to use technical terms like “hard product”, “herringbone” and other ways of sounding “in the know” intelligent. There’s nothing wrong with it- but we’re human. The tape measure, the cost of the champagne or the size of the entertainment screen only tells a mere part of the story of a successful flight, and in this authors opinion: the largest part is missing.

Let me start by saying that like many of you, I travel very frequently. Sometimes work, sometimes pleasure- it’s all often a mix of scheduling, budget, luxury and aspiration. Sometimes I’m up front, sometimes I’m quite literally crammed next to the lavatory. It happens. Truth be told- I’ve had wonderful flights in both positions. Therefore, in my opinion: the crew is more important than any other factor, even cabin. Don’t get me wrong- I love a first class seat, but it doesn’t define the experience on it’s own.

I’ve often laughed internally at Virgin Atlantic. I mean that in a positive, “respect” way. Their economy “product ; )” doesn’t really actually do anything that another airline doesn’t- but they make you feel fantastic. They were amongst the first airlines to hand out menus and personal bottles of water. The menu essentially lists the usual “chicken or fish” option that you’d get on any other airline in economy, but the gesture humanizes the experience and makes you feel nice. Their crews, also generally are very bubbly, friendly and look sharp. It’s an instantly elevated experience.

The point: I’ve had awful experiences flying first and business class. I don’t dwell on them, because I see all experiences in the front of the plane as a privilege- but I’ve certainly felt far more appreciated and had more fun in the back of the plane on many airlines. To this point: a great crew can make up for a lackluster seat or otherwise mediocre experience. An outdated business class can feel like the greatest first class if a crew makes it “fun”.

It’s all about how a crew makes you feel. In the front of the plane, this is about personalized service, attentive service and a balance between professionalism and light hearted warmth. In the back of the plane, this is less about the personalized service and more about creating a friendly environment where people believe that the crew enjoy their jobs, are happy to help and genuinely care about our journeys. I absolutely love a simple question about “what are your plans in X city” or anything which makes me feel as if something exciting is on the horizon.

People love to generalize that younger crews are better. I don’t agree with this. To me it’s all about passion. I’ve seen entirely disinterested younger crews  sleeping off their hangovers, and I’ve seen borderline elderly crews care for me as if I were an invited guest of their family. The key factor is a passion for travel. Yes, they are traveling too. If they love the destinations they get to visit for free (and get paid to visit) the enthusiasm rubs off. If they hate the thought of “another night” in X city, the remorse and disdain are prevalent. Not that anyone has ever asked, but if I was running an airline I’d be most interested in delivering consistently upbeat, professional and friendly service. People will forget whether their entertainment monitor was 21” or 23”. First impressions last a lifetime.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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6 Comments

  1. I thoroughly agree with you. For me too, the cabin crew are the differentiator between a really good or really bad flight. An airlines products are only so good, but it’s the service delivered and personality of the cabin crew which is very important to me. It is actually one factor which really does influence in which carrier I will fly with, even if there is a very small difference in the fare.

  2. I disagrer. As a somewhat taller than average person the biggest factor is legroom. It doesn’t matter how excited the crew is if my legs are smashed into the tray table.

  3. Personally I’m in favor of crews who frog-march selfie-stick wielding, duck-face making #avgeeks who’s shot at relevance persists with clickbait ‘articles’ on the Daily Mail.

    Just my 2 cents.

  4. For me, the example would be the comparison between Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific.
    I’m sure the Flight Crews are similarly trained, and competent, and the comfort in Economy (comparing SQ 777ER and CX 359) is similar, but the big difference is the “friendliness” of the Flight Crew.
    Wander back to the galley during the quiet hours of a long flight for a drink or a sandwich and both SQ and CX will provide, but on SQ you will invariably (in my experience) be asked about your trip, or generally chatted to.

  5. Often undervalued but I doubt *any* airline can consistently offer reliable superiority… The reverse if you suffer / cause repeated industrial relations issues and consequent bad feelings / service is not however the case.
    MORE important esp on longhauls IS the hard product *where it lacks / fails* basics eg. promised food, water, working seating and IFE.
    PS. Is GSTP in any way remunerated by any airline (other than free flights for reviews)?

  6. Often undervalued but I doubt *any* airline can consistently offer reliable superiority… The reverse if you suffer / cause repeated industrial relations issues and consequent bad feelings / service is not however the case.
    MORE important esp on longhauls IS the hard product *where it lacks / fails* basics eg. promised food, water, working seating and IFE.
    PS. Is GSTP in any way remunerated by any airline (other than free flights for reviews)?

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