Ready for takeoff

  • TEXT AILEEN TIEDEMANN
  • PHOTOS JENS GÖRLICH

A new era has begun for flight attendants at Lufthansa: The first state-approved training program is opening up additional career opportunities

What makes a good announcement?” voice coach Jana Schmidt asks. “You have to mean what you’re saying,” says Lufthansa flight attendant Matthias May, who’s been with the airline for three years. “That’s the only way to gain passengers’ attention. I try hard to make my voice convey my positive attitude.”

Talking shop: Heike Weidmann, CIC, Frankfurt, flight operations consultant Christine Finder-Ott, Group Leader Matthias Heine and flight attendant Matthias May of Lufthansa (from left to right)

 May, 22, hails from Frankfurt and wants to become a purser – a cabin boss. That’s why he’s taking the service management consultant (SMP) training course that was introduced in 2017. Not only is it the first course to offer flight attendants a recognized professional qualification and better chances of promotion in their field, it also makes it easier for them to secure openings in other service segments. There are two parts to the course: After an average seven to 11 months of preparatory distance or class learning, the students sit an exam at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce (CIC) in Frankfurt, which tests their conflict management, communication and leadership skills, as well as business expertise. Those who pass the exam then attend an eight-day internal qualification course at the Lufthansa Aviation Training Center covering all the different cabin duties. “A key aspect of the course is clarifying the role the future service management consultants will be expected to fulfill, such as learning how to act with confidence and poise, and understanding the tools they have at their disposal – like their own voice, for instance,” says Andrea Hentes, Team Leader of Lufthansa Cabin Training and Development.

The students next practice making announcements with a wine cork between their teeth to improve their enunciation, making them easier to understand. Coach Schmidt, 36, a trained musical performer and a flight attendant herself for 11 years, explains: “It’s best to speak without a script and look at the passengers – then they’ll listen to you.”

Matthias May hones his articulation

Cheese and wine seminar

 But how does the airline benefit? “The high level of service on board will naturally become even higher,” says Matthias Heine, Group Leader, Cabin Operating and Business Conditions at Lufthansa, who played a key role in developing the new program. “The better they are at communicating, the better flight attendants will react in a conflict situation.” Heike Weidmann, Deputy Director of Training and Further Training at the CIC in Frankfurt, pinpoints an important motivation from the industry’s perspective: “Until now, cabin staff merely ‘acquired’ their vocational skills: Our priority now is to secure the job of flight attendant a place in the vocational training system.”

After studying politics and law, Shareenah Rupp, 25, intended to work as a flight attendant only briefly as a way of “seeing the world.” But the new training program encouraged her to stay: “This way, I can learn more and also work as a purser or in First Class. And if I ever decide I no longer want to fly, there are plenty of other jobs open to me on the ground.”

Rupp could train other staff or develop new cabin concepts, for example. After all, cabin crews are the experts when it comes to running things on board. The more they know, the more they can pass on. That’s why the goal is also to improve flight attendants’ business acumen and organizational and leadership skills. “As a purser, I would like to be a motivator for my colleagues,” says May. “Passengers can tell if the crew atmosphere is good. But for that, you have to generate positive energy prior to the flight, during the briefing. And this is doubly important because team line-ups are always changing.”

Flight attendant Shareenah Rupp is training to be a service management consultant

 The next item on the training agenda is a lesson on cheese and wine for First Class. As aircraft land and depart outside the window, course trainer Jürgen Henze explains which wines and cheeses taste best on board: “The flavors should be strong because the dryness of the air inside the cabin dulls our sense of taste.” He recommends a German Pinot noir and a Spanish Chardonnay and then describes the professional way to serve blue cheeses and brie. “Use a different knife for each cheese so as not to mix the flavors,” Henze warns, as his students stand at a service trolley with a white tablecloth, trying their hand at dividing up round, rectangular and tapered cheeses. The aim is to provide a truly perfect service. “You have to know which wine to recommend to a connoisseur for saddle of venison,” says Henze. “And you should also know the Bordeaux region.” “Working in First Class is like working at a top restaurant,” says flight attendant Alexandra Montagner, 53, who decided to train as a service manager because she enjoys the work in First Class. “At 50, I returned to work as a flight attendant after a lengthy break,” she says. “What I like about First Class is being able to use my initiative because we usually work in teams of two,” says Montagner. “Also, you get to know the passengers better and can fulfill individual wishes.”

Bettina Volkens, Lufthansa Head of Human Resources, sums up: “The SMP qualification contributes to our flying staff’s employability.” The new qualification has even attracted interest from companies in the health, fitness, transportation and logistics sectors. The CIC qualification wasn’t created just to improve cabin staff skills, but to acknowledge the complexity of their job. “Flight attendants encounter new situations and passengers every day, and we want to be as well prepared as possible,” says May. “That’s the great thing about this job: You fly around the world and become more and more open to other countries and cultures.