Or how to become from Qatar Airways cabin crew a Lufthansa ground staff and then an employee in private aviation
by Nicoleta Gherman, Founder & Trainer
Crina Fulea is a former colleague and friend of mine, from the time we were both flying in the Middle East. She was born and raised in Romania (Cisnadie) and did her studies in Munchen, Germany. After flying for Qatar Airways around the world for few years, she ended in the USA happily married to the love of her life, pilot Sarju Lakhani from Kenya. In Florida she started a new life, getting the chance to still work in aviation and where on a daily basis she got to meet and introduce herself to amazing aviation enthusiasts, crew members, pilots, engineers, army personnel and so on. Looking back at her vast experience of 10 years in the aviation industry, we decided it is about time to let her answer few questions about the aviation jobs she has done until now as she even declared that she loves aviation <and wouldn’t change for anything in the world because it is my passion! There is a saying: “Do what you love and you won’t work one day in your life!” And that’s what I do!>
How did you get a job in the US and how was your experience working for Lufthansa?
When I moved from Qatar to Florida in 2011, after working as a cabin crew for few years, the first thing I had to think was about my future. What do I want to do? What should I study? What is next? After I tried hard to get into a different field (banking) and failed miserably, I thought life just ended. It was a time when I doubt myself, I felt helpless and no matter what family and friends would tell me, I was disappointed! How come a 35-years old with plenty of customer experience background can fail so miserably?!? It took me some time to realize that all I wanted to do was to go back to what I loved: AVIATION!
I started working with a private agency in Orlando and they helped me out find my first contract job with AirTran Airline as a check-in/gate agent. It was a 3-months contract and the time was flying. AirTran Airline was merging with South West Airline and I knew I had a limited time to find another job. Working at Orlando International Airport opened my eyes and I started networking and feeling more confident that the future is going to be great.
One day I met one of the managers for Lufthansa and I asked if they were hiring. She told me to apply online and the phone call I received for an interview change my life forever. The interview was more a discussion about the operation of Lufthansa flights in and out of Orlando, about the schedule and what to expect. However, my previous flying experience was a great advantage and the fact that I speak fluent German was the perfect fit for the job.
What motivated you to get a job into aviation as a ground staff?
The love for people! My personality dictates the need for human interaction. People from all over the world are my inspiration! I exist thru them and I feel that my call in this world is to love, serve and protect the people. What a better place could I search more than at an international airport where I can be between millions of travelers with different needs.
First of all, you have to do your homework in advance even if you apply for a cabin crew or ground staff position: research about the company as the more you know, the better is. In case a question pops up during the interview this is your time to shine. Find out if the company has a good reputation and if this is what you want. Try to get in touch with employees, friends and ask questions. They are the best people to give you an advice. Read the requirements for the position you are applying and don’t get frustrated. Some applicants will be successful for the first time, others will have to learn the process step by step. Learn from your own experience and never give up!
Prepare a professional Curriculum Vitae which highlights your experience in customer service, make sure you are fluent in at least one foreign language. The competition these days is aggressive and your knowledge will make a difference between you and other candidates!
During the interview process be polite and friendly. Mingle with everyone around you! And don’t forget the recruiters are watching you when you expect less to observe your body language while in public. Always remember that the first impression is the last impression! Have a genuine smile on your face. Look good and feel good! Be yourself and believe in yourself. Be prepared to answer tricky questions.
The key to success is to take a preparation course for the job where everything will be explained to you in details. Make sure you are trained by specialists in aviation with flying or instructing experience. The more you invest in yourself, the more successful you will become.
Can you tell us some of the qualities that a professional ground staff should pose and what is the job function?
Ground staff personnel are responsible for the safety and security of passengers from the moment they check in until the aircraft is pushing back from the gate for departure. The company has usually two teams sharing responsibilities. Everyone starts the day by checking-in passengers for the flight. They check passport validity, visa requirements, follow firearms procedures, live animals and other customers with specific needs. They make sure UM (unaccompanied minors) are escorted and paperwork is correctly filled out. They will take over the child from the guardian parent and they will pass it over to cabin crew members doing the flight against a hand-over signature. They also make sure WHCR (wheelchair) passengers are transferred to the gate on time for departure. Important is to remember the company rules and apply them on a daily basis.
The first team will meet the inbound flight and follow arrival procedures. They will assist passengers for disembarkation, escort VIP passengers (I had the honor of escorting the tennis legend Andre Agassi) and make arrival announcements via interphone to inform the customers about the procedure to follow for the immigration process. Entering the US territory for people coming from different parts of the world might not be as easy as they expect. After an 8 hours flight people are tired and inpatient. All they want is to meet their families waiting outside at the arrival hall. However, they become irritated when after arrival they realize they have to wait another hour to pass immigration and to collect the bags. The ground staff needs to be extra tactful to keep the crowd under control. The responsibilities continue after clearing the arrival area and after making sure that all passengers clear immigration and left the area. Another team member will transfer to the lost and found an office where they will take care of passengers claims: lost bags, damaged or misplaced bags.
The second team will take care of gate procedures. They will escort the pilots and flight attendants to the aircraft. Make announcements at the gate to keep the passengers informed in case of any delays, bad weather or in case of aircraft technical problems which some days might lead to cancelation of the flight last minute. The gate agent is also responsible to do sales at the gate. In case the flight is not full they will promote and upsell upgrades from economy class to business class and from business class to first class. They will face other situation when the flight is overbooked and they will have to find volunteers to remain overnight.
A professional ground staff should have a multitude of qualities: punctual, organized, good communicator, team work player, responsible, problem solver, computer literate and the list should continue. You have to be quick in taking decisions and have the ability to solve the world problems with a smile on your face.
Just imagine working for a German airline in Florida and not speaking German? Imagine every day having to face German tourists traveling in and out of Orlando to Frankfurt and not being able to communicate with them. It is the image of the company that matters! The fact that I speak German fluently brings me only positive feedback from passengers and benefits the company. It brings back happy customers, revenue for the company and contributes to the success of the business. The more languages you speak, better chances in life you have: it is crucial to learn, educate and use another language to your advantage.
There is a time in life when no matter how much you love what you do and how much fun you have in life, you have to move on. I always wanted to settle down and my husband got a great job opportunity in the US. I decide to follow him and what he offered me was the life change I could only dream about. Thank you, Hubby!
After 3-working years with Lufthansa, I was grateful for everything I have learned and achieved. However, deep inside I knew I had the qualities and qualifications to move to the next level: private aviation. I was confident and lucky enough to pass the interview and at this moment I am proud to say I have loads of accomplishments with the new company. In another interview, I will tell you everything about my new job.
As you are part of the VVIP private aviation lifestyle, tell us please what does customer service means to you?
I will answer very simple – it means GREAT service: to be genuine, respectful, efficient, accomplished, tailored and so on. If you dream of becoming a flight attendant or a ground staff, this will become a daily question in your briefing room before every flight. Now you know it!
What have you found to be the toughest aspect of your job?
I am a detail-oriented person. I like everything to be perfect! However, when you work in an industry where everything is moving with the speed of light, you have to compromise in order to find the solution. I got stuck a couple of times and I have been saved on time. I have to remind myself that every day is a new challenge and there are no days alike. The business is full of surprises and I love to face them and learn along the way.
Honestly, I believe it is a combination of both. I love to travel on duty and on my days off. In Qatar, I felt that life was a continuously paid vacation. Who wouldn’t like to wake up in the morning, on a 3-days off and feel like: I want to take a flight to Paris and have a coffee next morning on Champs Elysee? I used to love flying to Germany, Austria, Turkey and other countries when I had the time off. I didn’t miss one single opportunity to see the world for free. And I also felt the financial part was a compensation of my achievements and a reward for my sacrifices. A few months ago I got even the Employee of the month award.
What would you advise the young generation who would like to make a career in aviation?
If you feel that aviation is your call, do not waste your time and follow your dreams! If your dream is to take wings and fly, don’t delay your “take off”. Remember, if you believe in yourself everything is possible and the sky is the limit! I also recommend Nicoleta Gherman as a mentor for your future plans. She is not only a dear friend but also a person I trust and know will do everything in her power to help you become successful. Good luck, future aviators!!!