The ‘service experience’ is what sets us apart – Garuda Indonesia VP Flight Services

CPP-LUXURY.COM Asia and Far East Contributor Kersi Vajifdar has recently interviewed, exclusively, Luigi John D’Alessio, Vice President In-flight Services at Garuda Indonesia, one of the world’s fastest growing airlines.

What are the main differences between Asian and Western carriers in general, and what in particular distinguishes Garuda from its Asian competitors?

The distinct Indonesian Culture is what sets Garuda apart from other carriers within the region and around the world. Indonesia has a diverse culture, its people hold exceptional service skills based on traditions and values of warm hospitality, which is unique to Garuda Indonesia.

Asian carriers are positioned in an area where growth will overtake other regions and savvy cliental seek quality services and product. The ‘service experience’ is what sets us apart from our competitors, constantly improving and delivering the best to our passengers, along with cutting edge technology that enables us to deliver our brand promise.

How do you feel about comments on Asian service as being servile, fawning, obsequious…. Would you put that down to simple ignorance of cultures?

Those who experience true Asian service for the first time may be overwhelmed, and it may seem to be over the top. But this is Asian
hospitality; it’s our way of offering service from the heart.

At the start of this decade, Garuda had been all but written off…. Fast forward to now, and Garuda has risen, Phoenix like, competing against other major world class Asian carriers such as SQ, CX, KE, etc….. How has this transformation been possible?

In 2009 we embarked on a corporate turnaround encompassing fleet modernization, a new in flight product and fresh corporate identity. The strategy was called “Quantum Leap”. It has taken a lot of effort to introduce improvements that give us a competitive edge to meet the future challenges.

Changing customer’s perceptions was paramount for progress and our brand was strengthened with these changes. In 2010 Skytrax upgraded us to 4 star status, thus confirming our on-going improvement in our front line product and service quality. Our aim is to
achieve 5 star status by 2015. We are now expanding our network with new routes and added additional frequencies to maintain our strong position in the market such as the recent launch of a direct Jakarta to Amsterdam flight on the B777-300ER, which will
connect onto London in September.

The First and Business class cabins are exceptional, and this is another example of Garuda’s investment in progress and a strong commitment to our passenger experience.

Further to my earlier question, one imagines a lot of your cabin crew have been with the airline for some years now – evident from the expertise when going about their duties on board. What are some new measures you have introduced to Garuda in-flight service?

As part of our on-going service improvement, we have developed a new in flight service experience. We carefully screened the best among the best to be trained as a pilot team, setting the bar of high-level service excellence. Cabin crews are given new roles and have to undergo special training and evaluation before they are able to operate the new service. The aim is to ensure that all team members deliver a flawless guest experience from boarding to disembarkation with refined skills and product knowledge, reflecting the
brand’s tone.

Where do you find have there been significant changes in the demands of premium passengers?

The premium market is extremely demanding and competitive, especially within our region, surrounded by quality 5 star Airlines each targeting the premium passenger.

Flexibility and recognition along with a seamless terminal experience at both ends along with exclusive Lounge facilities is now the norm, then an In Flight Food & Beverage experience that is not so much reliant on quantity, but a quality offering.

How has Garuda’s in-flight service changed or adapted to meet the changing demands of premium passengers… On this score, what has also remained consistent, and will never change about GA in-flight services?

What will remain consistent is the Garuda Indonesia experience which is designed to allow passengers to experience Indonesia at its best; our 5 senses (scent, sight, sound, taste and touch) along with 24 customer touch points are paramount in our service offering.

The introduction of our new First Class Suites and a world-class Business Class product as well as the introduction of a modern and refreshed fine dining experience with a modern refreshed In Flight service encompassing exclusive passenger equipment and amenities. Crews were specifically trained and revalidated before they were able to operate on new service destinations.

What expectations are placed upon GA from inclusion in SkyTeam, especially when competing with major world-class carriers known for impeccable service standards such as AF and KE?

The expectation for all SkyTeam members is extremely high, in particular In Flight Services, which follow rigid SkyTeam guidelines and standards. The alliance includes some of the world’s most renowned airlines and with the recent inclusion of Garuda Indonesia, this alliance has now expanded into South East Asia. With our membership, Jakarta is an alternative gateway to and from South East Asia and to the many destinations on the Skyteam’s global network. We will now leverage alliance resources to improve our  competiveness and support our growth, ultimately benefitting our customers who seek a seamless experience traveling across the globe.

With certain airlines introducing on-board showers, and now a “residence”, would you agree that such excess is superfluous at thirty three thousand feet?

Whilst on-board showers compliment the luxury experience, and can also serve as a necessity for long haul travel, only certain types of aircraft can support this service, and if done properly, I think this is a great addition to First class travel.

There’s no doubt that the residence was launched to compete with the Private Jet market in the Middle East, servicing VVIP and Government travel. It’s a growing market in certain parts of the world and there is a place for such superior luxury offerings in a segregated area on a commercial aircraft.

Further to that question, Garuda has also introduced suites in First Class….Why did you feel you had to introduce this feature?

The recent introduction of our B777/300 ER fleet has seen the return of Garuda Indonesia to the long haul nonstop market with our longest sector taking up to 14 hours of flying. We introduced the First Class suites as we felt it essential for long-haul travel, offering our premium customers an expanse of personal space, comfort, privacy and exclusive In Flight Service.

Most airlines are doing away with First Class, except on the highest yielding routes, and some like Qatar Airways and Lufthansa are going one step further by offering a private jet service…given the stupendous rise in wealth in Indonesia, plus certain travellers it entices to the country, is this something GA has ever considered?

There are private jet services companies already established within Indonesia and within our region; Garuda Indonesia supports the Indonesian Government with VVIP services upon request of the Indonesian government.

We have an on-going program to expand the fleet to capitalize on growth for our commercial network and always look at different market segment opportunities.

Major airlines have partnered with celebrity chefs to cater for their premium cabins…. In your experience, do you really find this entices a passenger when making a choice of carrier? And is it something Garuda has considered?

The celebrity Chef concept is not new to Garuda Indonesia. We have held on board culinary promotions highlighting our Indonesian Cultural Menus. Now that we have our fully qualified on-board chefs in First and Business Class, which number almost 100 today, we find that each and every one of these talented men and women are celebrities themselves offering a supreme culinary experience.

I do believe the food and beverage product does entice premium passengers and is a decision maker on preference and choice of Airline.

If you could highlight the most important demand of premium passengers, what would it be?

The seat is paramount; it needs to be comfortable and offering supreme personal space, enabling the passenger to work and rest. In seat electronic power charging and access to Wi Fi is now a requirement, not just a luxury any longer.

The food and beverage product is also very important. We have collected some of the worlds much loved cuisines and with our master chefs created three unique menus, each representing the essence of their origins. An exclusive Indonesian cultural dining experience, a modern European and a traditional Japanese Kaiseki Menu, all prepared by qualified chefs in our First and Business Class cabins.

People who have never worked as cabin crew… design most in-flight servicesand products on many airlines given you are the EVP of. In-flight Services,what has been your background? And how significant is the contribution of cabin crew to you in designing in-flight services/products?

With changing demands of premium passengers, in-flight product needs are changing at a fast pace, requiring the expertise of specialists who have the level of experience and know how to design exciting In Flight products and services.

My food and beverage team are qualified Chefs and ex Hotel professionals, my In Flight Entertainment team are industry specialists.
Also attached to me is a senior Cabin Crew member who is tasked to design and ensure any new product or service is pre tried, trialled and standardised, then communicated with the Cabin Crew Department before its implementation. I have been very lucky to work with a number of quality airlines and originally coming from a hotel background, find there are many synergies between airlines and hotels on the services offered and expected.

In my observation, Garuda has perhaps one of highest grooming standards of any international airline. How do you maintain such consistency?

Grooming is one of our most important criteria’s and attention to detail is paramount. Cabin crew receive grooming training not only at their initial training, but also on revaluation training, which occurs annually. Cosmetic experts also are used from time to time to give briefings and demonstrations.

Furthermore, cabin crew Managers monitor grooming standards on every flight as well as cabin crew checkers who operate on flights on ad hoc basis.

Given the emergence and massive influence of social media as well as blogging, do you feel sites like Facebook, Tripadvisor and Skytrax contribute to the choice a passenger makes when choosing an airline? If not, what do you feel is the most significant factor is determining choice?

Social media is now a form of instant feedback, advice and recommendation for travellers. Our website is constantly being upgraded and our presence on Facebook, twitter and other platforms is progressing. We are also having discussions with Google and Trip Advisor to enhance our social media options.

Traditionally choice is determined by quality of service and reputation, schedule, safety and global alliance preference and we see that this remains – particularly for premium passengers who have had experience across many airlines.

Garuda recently received an award for its amenity kits … given that most premium passengers have very set skincare and beauty regimes they would rarely if ever veer from, do you feel amenity kits are becoming superfluous to the demands of premium passengers?

The recent Travel Plus awards held in Hamburg awarded Garuda Indonesia with the First Class Gold award for the Loewe travel kit and the Business Class Gold award for the L’Occitane travel kit. These are high branded labels with popular trusted products.

The travel kits offer our passengers in-cabin access to perfume and cosmetics, which are of the very highest quality, helping them to keep revitalized during the flight; they also are a great gift.