How does an airline down under stay on top of its service standards? We visit Qantas’s state-of-the-art training facility in Sydney to find out
Before the Qantas Centre of Service Excellence launched in 2009, a large number of the airline’s employees had, remarkably, never actually been inside a Qantas aircraft—a challenge for customer-service representatives that saw the Australian flag carrier’s standards slump in the years prior. Today, efforts to boost productivity and service ratings see more than 18,000 staff sent “back to school” at the center annually—everyone from executives to cabin crew to sales staff.
Located in the Sydney suburb of Alexandria, the multimillion-dollar center is the first of its kind for the airline and the first point of contact for new staff and those returning to work. “It’s an interactive hub designed to let employees experience products in person,” says the center’s manager, Maria Olivieri. It’s here that flight attendants are trained in everything from grooming to food appreciation and customer management; there are also aircraft “training pods” where cabin crew are put to the test preparing meals as they would in a galley in flight, pouring champagne without spilling a drop, and assisting passengers to their seats. Crew-in-training also undergo their final assessments here, before they’re given access to actual aircraft.
Apart from a 126-seat auditorium, most of the space is dedicated to “customer experience zones” that showcases Qantas’s in-flight offerings by class, from domestic economy and regional QantasLink products all the way up to first class. In each zone the airline’s hardware is on show: the seats, the meals and drinks, the uniforms, the reading material. When you reach first class, there’s a display of spa products, pajamas, champagne, and amenity kits, with offerings compared across the airline’s Boeing 747 and A380 aircraft. The pre- and post-flight experiences are also detailed, with lounge furniture, meals, and menus laid out.
The 5,000-square-meter facility is also one of the airline’s primary hubs for product testing and innovation. “Our engineers and designers work through different stages of seat development here,” Olivieri explains. The airline’s menus are also conceptualized and tested on site, with culinary ambassador chef Neil Perry from Sydney’s Rockpool restaurant brought in to develop new menus for Qantas lounges and in-flight meal services. While visiting the center, we walk in on a cheese-and-wine tasting session: a row of soon-to-be flight attendants sampling the airline’s latest fromage with new vintages.
And then there’s the innovation zone, where staff can give their input and raise any issues. “We’ve seen cabin crew engagement soar since the center opened,” Olivieri says. “It’s important to give staff a voice.”
This article originally appeared in the August/September 2014 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Center Stage”)