Natasha Hughes August 01, 2012
Virgin Australia tones down the casual banter in a bid to put the glamour back into business travel.
Flight attendants are being sent to charm school to learn the finer points of etiquette, grooming and wine appreciation as Virgin Australia attempts to put some of the glamour back into business travel.
Cabin crew have been ordered to drop the trademark high-fives, the overly familiar greetings to passengers and the weekend work wear to instead offer "discreet and impeccable service of the highest standard", said Mark Hassell, Virgin Australia group executive of brand and customer experience.
The airline, launched 12 years ago as a low-cost carrier for the leisure market, is repositioning itself to attract the more discerning business flier.
All cabin crew must undertake a classroom and online deportment program called 'Elevate' that teaches conversational skills, body language and finesse.
"We're giving our crew the confidence to deliver discerning service which is very much about anticipating the needs of the customer," Mr Hassell said. "We're not creating clones or robots but giving them the confidence to provide intuitive style with their already genuine and authentic warmth and their backgrounds in hospitality. We're getting back to eye contact, tone of voice, bending down to address someone, interpreting their body language."
Since former Qantas executive John Borghetti became Virgin Australia's chief executive more than two years ago, the airline has almost doubled its proportion of business travellers from 10 per cent to 18 per cent.
Peter Hosper, the managing director of The Travel Authority Group, said corporate travellers want corporate treatment - but until the launch of business class on most domestic routes in January, they did not feel they were receiving it from Virgin. "People love recognition and they love being treated as a regular customer," he said.
Along with the personalised service, the new business class features luxury leather seating, an improved inflight menu and priority security screening, check-in and boarding.
Tailored new uniforms by Juli Grbac include shirt and tie for male cabin crew and scarves for women. "The appearance of our people is important. It's a great uniform and they've risen to the occasion," said Hassell. "On a 6am flight the team are standing with pride, with shoulders back and heads up."
One flight attendant said: "With the tie, the new uniform isn't as comfortable to work in on the longer flights but it's much nicer to wear. Everyone loves them; everyone's into it."
Presentation means everything to the business traveller, according to beauty executive Alice Hampton, who travels from Sydney up to three times a week. "How the flight attendants are groomed, how they speak... if it's good presentation it adds to that service and luxury experience. You do notice when it's good."
Anything which brings some romance and comfort into the daily grind of air travel is welcomed by Matthew Anderson. The Melbourne-based director of Chadwick Model Agency says he has always avoided Virgin because "it wasn't a grown-up airline". "It was all a bit g-day matey. But if they've made an effort to put some glamour back into it, without being too corporate, too cold, it's a brilliant thing," Mr Anderson said.
Travel agents say this is common response from business travellers.
"It's about being addressed by your last name, not your seat number, being greeted at the airport - 'welcome back Mr Smith'. Those little touches are very important to business travellers. They want a certain distance but a great deal of courtesy. Virgin is trying to replicate what Qantas has been delivering," Mr Hosper said.