World joins Chinese carriers' cabins

Updated: 2016-01-08 07:57

By Wang Wen(China Daily Europe)

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Saturation of domestic market spawns global routes that attract foreign talent

About 50 Italian young men and women turned up for interviews in Rome for cabin crew jobs with China Eastern Airlines Corp Ltd in late November. Only half will likely receive job offers.

"China is the future," says Veronica Goslino, a female applicant from Rome. The Italian flight attendants will work on the carrier's Shanghai-Rome route after training in early 2016.

 World joins Chinese carriers' cabins

China Southern Airlines flight attendants, who come from several countries, pose for a photo in front of the Sydney Opera House. Provided to China Daily

It is the first time China Eastern has recruited in Italy, but recruitment of foreign talent is becoming common for Chinese airlines that operate international flights.

China Eastern has hired crew this year in Japan, South Korea, France and Germany, and it plans to recruit in Australia and Spain in the future, says publicity director Liu Kunqiang.

"We expect to bring in different faces through international recruitment," adds Wei Bo, the airline's deputy director of security, who handled the recruitment in Italy.

China Southern, the largest carrier in Asia in terms of fleet size, employs as many as 215 foreign flight attendants. About 40 are Malaysians who reported for duty on Dec 1 after finishing training.

Hainan Airlines, the fourth-largest carrier in China, which flies to 18 international destinations, has been recruiting in Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic and South Korea since mid-2015.

More than 1,000 applications, including from experienced candidates, were received in Romania and Hungary, says Zhao Yuan, deputy general manager of the airline's human resources department. "With our international routes increasing, Hainan Airlines has to deal with the challenge of offering quality in-flight services, taking into account cultural differences between the East and the West."

Although Chinese and foreign flight attendants receive the same training, carriers offer customized contracts to foreign staff members, as per their nationality and labor laws, says Shang Zhao, manager of in-flight services for Hainan Airlines. Foreign workers' compensation is higher also because they do not receive local insurance and housing allowances.

The airline also has a special team to manage its foreign flight attendants.

The growing demand for foreign flight attendants reflects the fast expansion of Chinese airlines into international markets.

Statistics from the Civil Aviation Administration of China show that domestic airlines added 84 new international routes in the first half of 2015, up 35 percent year-on-year. As the domestic market becomes saturated, carriers are investing more in overseas markets.

The fast-developing, high-speed train network in China has also driven airlines to introduce longer routes and intercontinental routes, says Li Xiaojin, a professor at the Civil Aviation University of China in Tianjin. "There is more market potential in international routes for Chinese carriers."

Growing outbound tourism in China has also encouraged airlines to offer more international services. In fact, last summer, Chinese airlines overtook their rivals in the United States for the first time in the number of flights across the Pacific Ocean.

Overseas trips by Chinese residents were forecast to hit 120 million trips in 2015, up 16 percent year-on-year, according to the China Tourism Academy.

Since Chinese carriers alone cannot meet such demand, foreign airlines are reaching out to Chinese travelers and exploring the second-tier market in China. And foreign airlines are hiring more Chinese candidates as cabin crew to serve the increasing number of Chinese fliers.

For instance, on Dec 1, British Airways hired 65 of 2,500 Chinese applicants for cabin crew jobs. They will be based at BA's bases in Beijing and Shanghai, which were opened two months ago. They will undergo eight weeks of training in London and then work on the Beijing, Shanghai and Chengdu routes from June.

"We're looking for applicants who have a passion for delivering excellent service, who will understand and anticipate the needs of our Chinese customers," says Jacques Hijlkema, head of in-flight customer experience at British Airways. He says the standard of Chinese candidates is high, adding that all BA flights from China will have at least two Chinese crew members on board in the future.

BA operates daily flights from Beijing and Shanghai to London, and five flights a week from Chengdu.

(China Daily European Weekly 01/08/2016 page29)