Chinese hospitality continues to define the future of air travel

Accepting a record-breaking eighth consecutive Skytrax 5-Star Airline Award for quality, general manager of cabin management of Hainan Airlines, Wang Qi, tells Dialogue what it takes to deliver tip-top service at 37,000 ft

The trophy cabinet at the headquarters of China’s largest civilian-run airline, Hainan Airlines Holding Co., Ltd, holds more stars than in the sky above Beijing.

Already proud holders of a place in the world’s top ten airlines and recipients of the World Travel Awards gongs for World’s Best Business Class, World’s Best Inflight Entertainment, World’s Best Flight Attendants and World’s Best Cabin Service, fleet is among an elite group of only ten airlines on the planet to boast a Skytrax five star rating.

Awarded the Skytrax Five-Star Airline Designation for the 8th consecutive year, in addition to receiving the prize for Best Business Class Amenities, Best Airline China, and Best Airlines Staff in China,  the airline now moves up the Top Ten Airlines rankings to claim eighth place. It’s also the first mainland China-based airline to win a place on the list for the second year in a row.

“We always adhere to a policy of ‘the safest flight with the best service’ and aim to bring the most distinguished flight experience to passengers,” general manager for cabin management and the man responsible for cabin service on all Hainan Airlines flights, Wang Qi, told Dialogue on the occasion of Hainan Airlines’ eighth consecutive Skytrax 5-Star award.

“Awards are always an amazing achievement for us, and we are so proud that our cabin attendants, in-flight products and catering are also ranked among the world’s top ten.

Hainan Airlines can be said to be a “young” emerging aviation company compared to other world leading airlines. In the short span of 25 years, Hainan Airlines has advanced from an outstanding national enterprise brand to one of the top ten aviation companies ranked among the world’s best airlines. Our goal is not only to guarantee the service quality and crew performance of each flight, but also to continuously improve and innovate in our services and products to exceed the expectations of passengers.”

What that future might look like, though, Qi is unsure. “Similar to other industries, it’s a challenge,” he ponders. “In the future, we will continue to invest more of management’s efforts and costs, based on personnel training and product research and development and,” he smiles, “true-hearted service. We are looking to innovate, and will strive to provide better services to the general public.”

Management at dizzying heights

Qi and his team are exclusively responsible for cabin service quality and service product design and quality enhancement at the airline – no easy feat, considering Hainan Airlines employees are spread across 1800 routes, 220 cities and +30,000 ft into the atmosphere.

Management at this scale, says Qi, comes down to four key components:

  • Strong service capability

“Traditionally Hainan Airlines paid attention to the standardized management and requirements of our crew, emphasizing the standardized landing and implementation of processes. In 2017, however, we upgraded this approach to look at more personalized services, hoping our cabin service will realize its true value and really emphasize the company as ‘people first’ on all fronts.”

In practice, he explains, department management explores the concept of personalized service with frontline crew members in real time, putting ‘customer experience’ at the centre of all services. At the same time, the management team uses feedback from the frontline as the primary guidance for improvement at policy level, achieving a combination of management and training that keeps ‘people’ at the core.

Qi also bears the mantle of building and implementing a service quality management system.

“My team and I have to extend risk management and control to aspects such as training, instructional flight, inspection, and daily supervision, continuously strengthen flight attendants’ safety awareness, continue to carry out internal monitoring and audits, and identify and improve upon the weakness in personnel management to ensure the safe operation of each flight. But at the same time, we always insist on starting from the customer’s needs, constantly optimizing personnel training and product development that will provide meticulous care to customers… with, hopefully, thoughtful services.”

The origin of human-centricity at Hainan Airlines

Hainan Airlines’ passion for people began with its founder, Chen Feng: industry folklore remembers the first days of Hainan Airlines see Feng serve not only as the chief executive officer but also as a member of cabin crew. “We wanted to establish Hainan Airlines, to distinguish ourselves from everyone else as a fully service-oriented company, starting with myself. I pushed the cart serving the passengers to set a standard and set a difference” – Chen Feng

  • A NICE crew

“Hainan Airlines pursues excellence in crew teams via personnel responsibility, optimised service concepts, lean service processes and transformative training.

Being human-centric, we cultivate NICE (Nature, Intelligent, Confident and Energetic) crew-members. More NICE flight attendants naturally and confidently establish relationships with passengers, and use their wisdom and passion to provide passengers with personalized services, creating a vibrant cabin atmosphere and comprehensively enhancing customer experience.

The aim is for our excellent crew to set the benchmark for the whole industry.”

  • Solid foundation

Grounded by a human-centric, Buddhist-led philosophy, the personnel management chain in Hainan Airlines is anchored to a unique Core Service Capability Construction, Qi explains.

The Hainan Airlines Construction:

Image Creation + Verbal Communication + Observational and Adaptation + Environment Creation

“That includes everything from service culture, training systems, daily management of front-line organizations, and most importantly, systematic advancement cultivation and promotion.”

  • Great management training

“Head Office pays attention to the demand for personalized services and continues to build the distinctive core service capability of Hainan Airlines. To this end, we have established a number of quality monitoring channels, and a scientific training system promoting the management training of an internationalized service team that is natural, confident, dynamic and intelligent and adapts to a multicultural environment.”

Get the best from your crew 

“Hainan Airlines encourages employees across the company to take on the airline’s goals as their own, personal aspirations. As such we work hard to motivate and cultivate employees by offering a wide range of training and personalized career development plans to help them build their own capabilities and understand the company’s corporate culture and ideas.”

Staff ‘cultivation’, as Qi puts it, is one of his favourite elements of Hainan Airlines.

“Personnel cultivation is carried out through online and offline dual-channel staggered training mode,” he explains. “From group training to optimization of on-the-job promotion courses and internal training courses, crew members are encouraged to expand their professional service skills, in particular – so team members are learning and growing, but can also use their new, exquisite skills to bring high-quality service experience to passengers.”

Through this program, Hainan Airlines is building a small army of professional tea and wine tasters as well as a fleet of chef-less full-service kitchens.

“Our awards for in-flight catering and cabin service are some of my greatest personal achievements at Hainan Airlines,” Qi proudly smiles. “Together with Hainan Airlines’ provision of personalized career plans, we see team members motivated to strive for management positions and to acquire more skills.”

Cabin crew, prepare for take-off

Members of the award-winning Hainan Airlines cabin crew debut their new uniforms at Paris Fashion Week 2017

It is not just crew members who are encouraged to upgrade; Qi and Hainan Airlines leadership are passionate about innovation for years to come across the service.

Already featuring Michelin starred food on international flights and celebrity chef collaborations for domestic flights, PriestmanGoode designs and a Sofitel partnership for Hainan Airlines in-flight sleeping products, you would be forgiven for confusing a Hainan Airlines flight for a quick stop in a five-star hotel.

“Safe travel with natural and surprising service is definitely what we are aiming for,” Qi grins. “We continuously look to enhance the quality of our products, comprehensively innovating and improving cabin catering, supplies and entertainment.”

“We listen closely to our customers, and use big data to monitor the daily quality of flights. For international long-distance inbound flights, we arrange on-site interviews between the person-in-charge and passengers on a weekly basis to understand face-to-face the problems and expectations encountered during their travel.”

And for those dashing off to the Arrivals Hall, Hainan Airlines has set up a post-flight passenger comment system via WeChat and SMS, meaning passengers can comment and respond to cabin services anytime, anywhere.

“It’s a heavily upgraded closed-loop management of services that allows us to effectively monitor the operation of each flight and quickly respond to passenger needs and suggestions,” says Qi of the system.

“Around the core brand values of ‘humanistic concern, cultural experience and beyond expectations’, we will continue to integrate more wisdom and ingenuity to continuously promote green-friendly, safe and wise service product upgrades and technological innovation. And, ideally, deliver a flight experience beyond the expectations of the global passenger today, and onwards.”

As our interview draws to a close and Hainan Airlines’ leaders board the stage to accept their eighth consecutive five-star ranking in 2018, it is clear: Hainan Airlines is very much still aiming for new heights.