Passion for Samoan hospitality

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 18 November 2017, 12:00AM

Whether you’re an experienced or nervous air traveller, it’s all part of the travel experience to be greeted by the gracious and smiling flight attendants awaiting your entrance onboard the aircraft.

And we can appreciate their contribution to our wellbeing of feeling secure that our travel experience will be an enjoyable one.

But behind the glamorous painted smiles and perfectly coiffed hair of these sky hostesses is a carefully crafted image and hours/years of extensive training in the art of customer service and emergency defensive flying training. 

All of this to ensure that the passenger has the best flying experience, which if basic commerce logic is applied – should convert to repeat business through customer loyalty.

The 20-member cabin crew of the recently launched Samoa Airways was introduced last Monday.

The flight attendants walked the runway so to speak showing off their puletasi uniforms designed by Tahiano’s Designers, Mata’afa Hans Wesche and Alvis Augustine Meredith. On the official Samoa Airway’s inaugural flight to Auckland earlier this week, Samoa Observer had the chance to meet five of the flight attendants on duty. 

Mary Pavitt Chan is one of them and she also happens to belong to the alumni of former Polynesian airlines flight attendants, starting her career with them in 1983. Returning to flying again but this time with the nation’s new national air carrier, MS Chan brings with her a wealth of knowledge and experience,

"Once you’re a flight attendant you don’t want to do anything else, it’s like a calling,” she said. 

“I left it after so many years and now I’m back again. I was kind of reluctant at first because I was working for myself for some time. I chose to give it a go again and when I came into a staff of fresh young people - for a moment there I actually asked myself ‘are you kidding yourself?’ but it’s something that’s in me and I love it.

“The crew is great because it’s all a mixture of people from here in Samoa and a few from overseas. There’s a different mixture of personalities and it’s great.”

Coming on board as the most experienced flight attendant for Samoa Airways, it was only natural that newer recruits looked to Ms. Chan for guidance. 

“They look up to me for advice and all that, I give it my best. I just tell them what I’ve been through, how I came through and to remember that this is a job because a lot of people think if you’re a flight attendant that life is glamourous – yes the glam is there to some extent but there is a job you’ve got to do and you have to think about the safety of the people and that is paramount.”

Grooming and etiquette standards are particularly high in this profession and for Ms. Chan these are principles that she lives by over and beyond her work. It’s a belief that if one wants the business one must look the business and she encourages her new colleagues to develop a similar mindset.  

“Image is everything, people know who you are. Even on the aircraft especially, your grooming has to be everything because you’ve got all these people on the plane and you are the first person they see, they notice everything about you. Even when you’re not in uniform, when you’re in town, image is still very important and you still got to look smart. You can be casual but look smart – you’ve got to look good all the time.”

Customer service is something Ms. Chan believes comes naturally to Samoans because of Fa’aSamoa and the way most Samoans are raised to serve our family and communities but she also notices a vast difference in modern times in attitudes towards customer care compared to when she first came into the industry.

“It’s our thing, customer service comes naturally because we are used to serving. We’re used to serving our elders and we are used to doing feaus since we were little. Customer service back then in those days compared to now I’ve noticed a big difference myself. 

“In my opinion I blame the Matai system because almost every day now everyone is a Matai. They don’t like to be told what to do.

They sometimes don’t want to serve someone they might recognize and if they do -they’ll serve you but they will give you attitude. Things have changed so much from back in those days where it doesn’t matter who you are, the job is a job and the fa’aaloalo is always there.

“Back then it was great, on board and everything.  We were still conservative because of the faaSamoa way and you’ve always got to be mindful of that and how you talk and approach people.”

Following in Mary Pavitt Chan’s footsteps is Mina Godinet who has had previous experience in both the hospitality and aviation industry having flown with Quantas Airlines in Australia and recently working at Aggie Greys Sheraton when she moved to Samoa just a year ago. The timing of Samoa Airway’s launch was perfect according to Ms. Godinet. 

“It was fitting that Samoa Airways came up at the right time. I was really excited, I was more nervous because I heard there were a lot of applicants.  It’s the greatest honour because I never thought that Samoa would ever have their own airline again or let alone be good enough to be a part of Samoa Airways. The 20 of us are all so proud.”

The 20-strong crew began training almost two months ago under the guidance of consultants from England and Italy who took the all Samoan crew through various trainings and Ms. Godinet admits that there were some difficult times because the crew had to persevere in spite of early harsh criticisms from the public.

“It’s quite disheartening to hear negative comments especially coming from our own people who are in Samoa and abroad,” Miss Godinet said. 

“It’s quite sad to see, you’d expect them to be empowering us and our new airline by supporting us. I mean we are all quite sad about it but it just gives us more motivation to prove everybody wrong.”

While the nascent Samoa Airways are experiencing some teething problems, the flight crew anticipated this would happen and they continue to remain upbeat and positive so when it is your turn to board our national airline, spare a thought for our poised and elegant flight attendants who have been taught to gracefully manoeuver the airplane in figure hugging uniforms during turbulence while serving you with a smile and ensuring your comfort and personal safety.

By Elizabeth Ah-Hi 18 November 2017, 12:00AM

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