Lufthansa seeks to offer service with a smile

Lufthansa serves sushi in premium cabins on flight to Japan. As yummy as the plate above looks, it’s fake.

Lufthansa serves sushi in premium cabins on flight to Japan. As yummy as the plate above looks, it’s fake.

It can’t be easy running Lufthansa German Airlines.

On one hand, the carrier is being squeezed by discount European carriers, which can offer considerably lower fares for flights within the continent. On the other, Lufthansa is facing increased competition from worldwide, high-end airlines, like Etihad Airways and Emirates.

But Lufthansa officials say they’re up for the challenge. For one, they’re building up subsidiary Germanwings to compete with cheaper airlines like Air Berlin and Easyjet for shorter flights. For another, they’re investing in their on board product. That means new first and business class seats. But it also means Lufthansa is seeking to become a friendlier airline. The goal: to become the only European airline to receive a five star rating in all three classes from Skytrax. (Lufthansa now has five stars in first class, three and a half stars in business class and four stars in economy.)

I visited Lufthansa headquarters in Frankfurt recently, where I was introduced to Klaus Ammermann, senior manager for cabin crews. Klaus wasn’t expecting an interview, but he was kind enough to answer some of my questions. I have edited the interview for space and clarity.

Brian Sumers: Why is it so important for Lufthansa to continue to raise its quality in all three cabins?

Ammermann: We must be a quality airline. We cannot offer cheap prices because our locations are expensive.  We have high salaries. We have all those costs.  We have no chance to be cheap. So we have to be a quality carrier. I think the people are rich enough to in our area to pay a little bit more for a little bit better service.

Sumers: Beyond the seats, which are you upgrading in all three cabins, what else are you working to improve?

Ammermann: The hardware. The seat, of course.  But now since three or four months, we are working to improve service quality. It needs to be in you. If you are a service man, you have to feel it. We are working hard to ensure that are people are willing to serve. Germans are not very good in serving. We are good in processes. You can trust in a perfect process. But you cannot trust in smiling and having eye contact and so on. The Asians are much better at this.

Lufthansa officials are very proud of their new fully flat business seat. The carrier was a little behind others in installing a flat business class seat. This one is part of a mock-up in Frankfurt.

Lufthansa officials are very proud of their new fully flat business seat. The carrier was a little behind others in installing a flat business class seat. This one is part of a mock-up in Frankfurt.

Sumers: And so is the issue changing the training?

Ammermann:  A little bit. It’s less about processes – to build your trolley like this, like that, like that. It’s (not necessary). You learn it on board.  To go into the training department and tell the people you have to put the pot here and not there? If we do that, we are perfect,  but we are not friendly. Now we train a little bit more in terms of service improvement and soft skills.

Sumers: You told me that you’re in charge of about 120 pursers based here in Frankfurt. Tell me a little bit about your job. 

Ammermann: My job is to train my people to get the fifth star. That’s what I do from 9 to 5 or 6 or 7.  Our CEO told me, ‘When I enter an aircraft and I see the purser, I see which quality the flight will have. If he stands in the door like this, (hands in pockets, relaxed posture), there’s no chance of having a good flight.’ The purser is the most important influence of a good service. We have a briefing one and half hours before the flight leaves, which is 30 minutes, and that is the determination of what makes a good flight. If (the purser) is a friendly guy, an open minded guy, you will have a good flight.

In first class, you’re one of the only airlines that still has a caviar service. That must be very expensive. 

Ammermann: I know that one fourth of the costs of the first class (food) service is caviar.

Sumers: And yet you keep it. Why?

Ammermann: It’s a sign of quality. It’s a sign of luxury ambiance.  We made some research about showers on board. Nobody will pay $1 extra for having a shower. But the research says they do pay for caviar. And I think it is also a symbol.

Have you had good or bad experience recently on Lufthansa? Did the crew smile enough? Tell us about it in the comments section.

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