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.
I agree that the opening of the new training facility is a golden opportunity to elevate service and educate staff on what ‘Good Leads The Way’ strives to accomplish. As someone who pays attention to details, I find those little and big gestures to be of the utmost importance when reflecting back on my inflight experience and detailing them in the surveys I fill out. As you said, in Premium Cabins especially, using my name, filling my glass, checking in with me during the flight are the basic expectations… but going beyond( which most United FA’s already do in my opinion) should be the new normal of the overall training. Safety and deescalation techniques come first, but I’m hoping for consistent attention to detail and the feeling of ‘being seen’ on my future United flights regardless of class of cabin. That will certainly resonate with passengers and create loyalty with the airline.
Have we ever seen a U.S. airline do what you are hoping will happen in the past 2-3 generations? Even on the US airlines I have considered to be the best (like DL and AS) I haven’t. I just don’t see UA ever getting to that level of consistency and such detailed service. Sometimes even the true world bests (like QR, EK etc) don’t do this.
Agreed. United’s service culture has improved vastly from its lowest points (not just the dragging incident) but the perpetual perception that United’s front line employees hated their customers, but the airline is too big, complex, and with hubs in challenging places to make such a massive effort scaleable and effective across the board.
Can part of the training program for service please include the exercise “ How would you like to be treated and served( especially in premium cabins)” ?
But will that capitalize on this? If not, why did they bother.
Initial training typically spends just a few hours on service training. Has UAL announced plans to increase that? I don’t remember any training on conflict resolution.
At this point, I’d be eternally grateful if the airline would rein in some of the awful pursers who create their own policies and yell at those of us who are trying to offer a semi-decent service with the little we have to offer. There’s just nothing more fun than being screamed at in the aisle for handing a customer a mattress pad or offering a glass of port with the cheese.
Yes, I’ve noticed that the tempo of a flight is (logically, I suppose) set by a purser and so many pursers are just terrible (to the determinant of their wonderful colleagues who do most of the work in the cabin).
While not hostile, I detest when I am just settling down in my seat and the purser shows up, does not welcome me onboard, does not address me by name, does not even ask if I’ve had a chance to review the menu. Instead, it’s just, “What do you want for dinner?” That can be fixed and it costs United $0…
I disagree about the part about addressing passengers by their surname. It is creepy to me. If they address me by name, then give me their phone number and which hotel room they are staying. (Does not mean I will call them)
That’s very odd, Derek.
Even if UA did it like the Australians do, “How do you prefer to be addressed?” that is far better than simply, “Beef or chicken?”
Pan Am set the standard. Today no US carrier can compete.
The biggest issue at play isn’t junior flight attendants and it rarely is. It’s the senior flight attendants that are often the issue. They essentially can clear all their desirable trips and get exactly what they want with top pay. There will be no motivation to change for them anytime soon, but nice try.:)
Bashing the very workers that are there to save your life is just sad!
“Bashing” in what way?
Matt was not bashing the FAs in any way. Reading comprehension is not your friend, clearly. In fact, he was stating the company – as a whole – should use this opportunity to invest in service culture. And he’s not incorrect. This whole “We’re here primarily for your safety” garbage is cliched and incorrect. While I hesitate to say FAs are sky waiters/waitresses, it’s not necessarily untrue. The VAST majority of their job revolves around providing customer service as it relates to serving food/drink as if it were a flying restaurant. And service culture at ALL US airlines has been on the decline for a couple of decades. And if UA continues to provide lip service to being the “best” airline – a VERY high bar they will realistically never meet, ever – then they need to start implementing changes to affect that.
You sound like a seniority-based FA who’s a total bitch to customers and plays Candy Crush in the galley for 90% of the flight.
I’ll believe it when I see it. Had a Polaris flight from SFO-SYD where the service was so bad I could scarcely believe I was flying in international Business class, and not Spirit on a Vegas redeye.
Flew IADBCN and wrote a nice note for the FAs and brought them a box of chocolates for their trouble and to thank for them for all the BS they’ve had to deal with post during and after Covid. The FA serving my side took a shine to me and provided great service, but also felt that made us closer friends than we really should be and disclosed to me that the purser was a bitch and that she kept haranguing her about how her shoes were not authorized. This was my first TATL UA flight in years as I’m primarily AA and DL, but I thought that was just pathetic and completely unprofessional – and that’s what I come to expect for UA. And while I appreciate this site, Matt is 100% biased in favor of UA at all times so all his ideas about UA’s service (soft and hard product) are completely and unapologetically one-sided and should be taken with one (more like a thousand) grains of salt because he isn’t a neutral observer of the product. Especially when he uses superlatives like “always” and “never” to describe things that other regulars to this site see to the opposite.
Interesting that UA is striving to be the best, yet persists understaffing. Staffing levels have not returned from pre-pandemic levels but the service is trying to. Hard to be the best when mantra is do more with less.
A multi million dollar facility to trained flights attendants “hopefuls”,versus a 3 percent profit share for those already on the payroll(& a laughable .83 percent for frontline employees)
Meanwhile,at Delta,5 percent for the above mentioned
Best airline in the world with the worst inflight catering…..
Yet United lags its competitors with 18-month recurrent training… this is a lovely new facility which replaces a 90s-era Continental facility that was woefully inadequate.