United Airlines has opened a new 56,000-square-foot flight attendant training facility at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston that it says will accommodate training up to 600 flight attendants per month. This marks the perfect opportunity for “United Next” to be broadened beyond new aircraft and aircraft interiors to a new service paradigm that will be instrumental in positively distinguishing United Airlines from its competitors.
United Opens New Houston Flight Attendant Training Facility
After pouring in $32 million into the new facility, United held a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this week attended by CEO Scott Kirby, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner, and Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee.
The new facility includes classrooms, mock-up aircraft cabins, and a 25,000-gallon pool and mock fuselage area for flight attendants to practice a safe evacuation of a plane into the water. New hires embark upon a 6.5-week training course while existing flight attendants must renew their skills every 18 months.
Here’s a look at the new facility, as documented by CBS News:
More Than A Facility – An Opportunity
It’s a beautiful facility. United plans to hire 4,000 flight attendants in 2023. Now it is up to United Airlines to hire the right people and use this facility to screen out those who may want to be flight attendants, but do not have the disposition or the willingness to learn in order to be a great one. Good should not cut it.
Competent training to handle safety issues is a given. I am confident that all new hires will be well-trained to deal with emergency situations and better trained than ever before in how to de-escalate conflict when it arises onboard.
But that’s not enough. I’ve read all sorts of press releases and watched news clips like the one above and what I’m not hearing about is how United is training these flight attendants to deliver the best service in the entire industry.
I have not had a bad United flight attendant in many years and I fly United a whole lot. In fact, I find flight attendants have been far friendlier, on the whole, than prior to the pandemic. But Kirby keeps dangling the idea that United will be (or already is…) the best airline in the world. In order for that to happen, it will require flight attendants to take service to a higher level.
Consistency is key, but it is also not enough. Smiles are always helpful. But really the only thing that can distinguish United flight attendants from others, especially in the USA, is unparalleled attention to detail and personalized service. Union issues aside, when it comes to premium cabins I would like to see new hires proactively offer to hang coats onboard, address passengers by surname, ensure drink glasses do not remain empty, promptly clear away dishes, frequently monitor the cabin during the flight, and thank each passenger individually before landing.
These are all little things, but together they truly distinguish United’s best flight attendants from those who only politely go through the motions. Many flight attendants already do this and now all should do it, especially the new hires. With so much competition for these jobs, hiring those with over-the-top excellent people skills should be a given.
United has opened a beautiful new training facility in Houston. Now it must use this facility not only to ensure flight attendants can safely deal with problems onboard, but train them to deliver world-class service that will be critical if United truly wants to become the best airline in the world.