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'Competency-based' service training for flight attendants improves passenger satisfaction

Currently non-mandatory type of training shows promise

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University


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Credit: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Specialized "competency-based" cabin service training for airline flight attendants seems to improve customer satisfaction levels, according to a study in the July 2017 edition of the double-blind, peer-reviewed Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research (JAAER), published by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

Currently, individual airlines determine whether flight attendants receive "competency-based training" (CBT) focused on cabin service proficiency, yet this form of professional development clearly seems to improve passenger satisfaction levels, Latoya Gibbs, Lisa Slevitch and Isaac Washburn of Oklahoma State University reported.

Their research article in JAAER, titled "Competency-Based Training in Aviation: The Impact on Flight Attendant Performance and Passenger Satisfaction," assessed a total of 780 questionnaires given to airline passengers both before and after 109 flight attendants had received competency-based service training.

Customer satisfaction levels were higher after flight attendants had completed a two-day training program geared towards competency development based on a well-accepted definition set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization, Gibbs, Slevitch and Washburn reported. In particular, flight attendants were trained in four nationally recognized competency-focused units: managing stress, dealing with conflict situations, displaying human relations skills and delivering quality customer service.

On 317 pre-training questionnaires and 463 questionnaires completed after flight attendants had received training, passengers were asked, "Overall, how would you rate the level of customer service you received on the flight?" Passengers were also asked to rate flight attendants' performance across various categories of customer service such as courtesy, efficiency, attentiveness and so on. Researchers saw a "statistically significant" difference in customer satisfaction ratings among passengers whose flight attendants had gone through the CBT program.

"Frontline service employees like flight attendants create a critical impression of the service by their behaviors and attitudes, which can significantly affect customer perceptions and satisfaction," the researchers wrote. "CBT is to ensure that whether cabin crews encounter a special need (such as expectant mothers, unaccompanied minors, incapacitated passengers or the elderly) or a disruptive passenger, they have acquired the necessary knowledge, skills and attitudes and are competent to effectively handle each situation."

The authors noted that the study - believed to be the first to explore the relationship between CBT, flight attendant performance and customer satisfaction - was limited in scope because it assessed data from only one airline, over a short time-period, and most survey respondents were vacation travelers.


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The Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research (JAAER) is a double-blind, peer-reviewed scholarly publication serving educators, researchers and professionals in the aviation and aerospace industry. It is an editorially independent, open-access journal, published since 1990.

Other Papers Forthcoming in the Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research

The July edition of the Journal of Aviation/Aerospace Education & Research (Vol. 26, No. 2) will feature the following additional research articles:

  • "Finding the Balance Between Price and Protection: Establishing a Surface-to-Air Fire Risk Reduction Training Policy for Air-Carrier Pilots," by Earl W. Burress Jr., United States Air Force, Retired.

    Currently, Burress noted, "U.S. air carriers do not provide equipment or training necessary to mitigate the risk posed by surface-to-air fire (SAFIRE) threats" such as self-guided weapons (infrared shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles), manually-aimed threats (small arms, recoilless grenade launchers, rockets, and light anti-aircraft artillery), and hand-held lasers. "Technological solutions to counter infrared shoulder-fired missiles have been explored," Burress continued, "but were rejected due to prohibitive equipment and maintenance costs. A lower-cost option, providing air-carrier pilots with SAFIRE risk-reduction training, has not been formally addressed by the air-carrier industry or the U.S. federal government." Burress' article in the JAAER leverages cost-benefit analysis (CBA) to illustrate a method that could be used to help policy makers and stakeholders determine if the SAFIRE threat warrants the individual air-carrier expense associated with a mandatory SAFIRE risk-reduction training program.

  • "The Value of a Collegiate FAR Part 141 Jeopardy-Crew Resource Management (CRM)-Simulation Event," by Samuel (Matt) Vance of Oklahoma State University.

    Vance explores the basis, options considered and the outcomes of transitioning a FAR Part 141 collegiate crew resource management (CRM) flight simulator scenario event to a jeopardy event (a graded syllabus item) in an upper-level professional pilot curriculum course. Ultimately, the objective is to suggest this approach as a value-added curriculum consideration for other collegiate professional pilot programs.

  • "Forecasting the Air Race Classic: Lessons in Interdisciplinary Aviation Weather Support and Decision-Making," by Shawn Milrad and Debbie Schaum of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

    The Air Race Classic (ARC) is an all-female Visual Flight Rules air race held each June. The Embry-Riddle Daytona Beach Meteorology Program has provided successful weather support to the university's race teams for the past decade. In 2014, the weather support was formalized as a three-credit interdisciplinary summer course, incorporating a mix of aeronautical science (pilot), dispatch, and meteorology students.

  • "Broadening Traditional Aviation Meteorology Education to Support Spaceflight Operations," by Thomas A. Guinn, Bradley M. Muller and Debbie Schaum of Embry-Riddle, with Nicholas J. Stapleton of Leidos and Katherine A. Winters, USAF 45th Weather Squadron.

  • This paper examines the expansion of traditional aviation meteorology education necessary to support the growing commercial space operations industry. "While space-launch meteorological considerations overlap with those of traditional aviation operations, there are notable differences that schools must address for appropriate education and training of both meteorologists and operators," the authors noted.

The July edition of JAAER will go live online at as soon as technically feasible after the embargo lifts at 11:00 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 5, 2017.

Journalists can obtain embargoed copies of individual articles by contacting Ginger Pinholster at, 386-226-4811 (office) or 571-382-0537 (mobile).

About Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world's largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 80 baccalaureate, master's and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., the Worldwide Campus with more than 125 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and through online programs. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and, and find expert videos at

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