Straddling a high-flying international career

Diploma in Airline Ticketing and Travel Management Courses Mumbai, India

Assuming that at one of the various campus interviews held at Blue Whale Academy, you are offered the job of a flight crew for a reputed foreign airline. And supposing you have taken it up, after very carefully scrutinising the offer letter and signing it as a gesture of acceptance, here’s all the dope on the prep you’d compulsorily need before taking off.

Since it’s an international airline, they will have stringent background checks. So make sure that the contacts you share as references on your CV/job application form (in all likelihood your college teachers assuming you are a fresh graduate) are informed well in advance and a convenient time slot booked for them when the HR might call them. No teacher likes being called during lectures and we’re sure yours is no exception too. Also, give them all the dope on your selection process and expectations so that they don’t appear thunderstruck when the HR calls.

Again, nowadays, all international airlines mandate swimming as a compulsory requirement for flight crew. Even if they didn’t ask you to swim at the interview, which wasn’t at the beach anyway, chances are there that as part of the induction, there’ll be a poolside/beach party for freshmen to meet and interact – a nice way to test how well you take to water. If you’ve lied through the interview, you’ll be caught unless you’ve learnt swimming in the interim period between the interview and actual joining, which mightn’t be possible for everyone. For it is widely speculated that fire signs like Leo take to water less easily than water signs like Cancer. So, remember, lying is never a good idea, least of all at an interview. So, if knowing how to swim is mandatory, go ahead and learn before you apply. At least don’t hide it. For all you know, if they like you otherwise, they might teach you swimming at the induction level before you actually start flying.

Then comes the very potent issue of dealing with transcontinental time zones. You’d do very well to remind yourself that your body is after all a machine with a mind of its own. A mind that very often tends to be mindless when disturbed or tampered with. One of the commonest issues international flight crews face is the issue of juggling multiple time zones. Thus, it is very important to train your mind and body by adopting holistic health practices complete with balanced diets, healthy habits and six to eight hours of sound uninterrupted and peaceful sleep. This is so because like the plane you shall shortly board to reach your work destination, and the many flights you will routinely board subsequently as your career progresses, your body too is a machine. As any doctor will tell you willingly, sleep is nothing but the body’s time to be grounded and refuelled so as to take on another day. It is a misconception that the body stops functioning during sleep. If that was the case, how’d you be breathing? That’s the circulatory system at work, for starters. Plus, there’s the digestive, nervous and all other systems that are in fact working along in tandem so as to recharge your batteries. A good night’s sleep, as Nature has told us very clearly through birds and bees, is very healthy and essential. What is it that they say about being early to bed or and early to rise awarding wisdom or something such?

In a similar fashion, your body needs to be sleep-trained by opting to sleep and wake up as per the country you are flying to. This can be very easily done by logging on to the internet and looking up local times at your destination city and adjusting your clocks accordingly. This is to be followed by trying to sleep at and wake up at the host city’s timings at least a fortnight prior to flying rather than plunge into it only after you land in your hotel suite jet-lagged and weary.

Also, familiarise yourself with your destination’s cultural milieu for some cultural shock absorption padding. This is to say, for instance, if your base city is the exotic Middle-Eastern city of Abu Dhabi, where all the girls headed for Sex and the City 2, please note that they work on Sundays and Fridays and Saturdays usually serve as weekly holidays unlike India. Also, you might opt for religion-specific holidays like choosing to work during Eid while opting for compensatory offs during Christmas and New Year holidays.

Also, researching the place’s quirks and eccentricities, food practices, laws, acceptable and non-acceptable public behaviour, dress codes, traffic rules, ethics and morals on the Internet is a good idea rather than fall flat on our face when we encounter spatial oddities first hand upon reaching the destination.
Again, avoid drinking pre-boarding or during the flight. Liquors are very dehydrating and you never want to start a career with a mid-air crisis! Plus a drink too many can put you off guard to reveal a side of your personality that can only be acceptable to your dearest relatives and friends.

Also, true even at 40,000 feet above the ground – drink only after a heavy meal, never mix spirits and keep sipping water and nibbling on cheeses and nuts.
Drink if you absolutely must, or your future colleagues insist on raising a toast to you – but leave it at that. They aren’t allowed to drink on duty as it is. So mock raise a symbolic glass and clink it too, but try not to plunge into it with gusto. The flight crew isn’t your friend yet. And this could be staged under instructions from the higher ups. Plus, aren’t there cameras in-flight?

Plus, you’ll mostly be flying the carrier you’ll take up work for and there are in-flight attendants who are monitoring your every move and reporting it to the minutest details. Don’t get spooked but even drab details like your posture and body language, interaction with co-passengers, communication with the flight crew, choice of in-flight content, handling of in-flight materials like quilts and magazines, table manners, adherence to safety instructions and even toilet etiquette is being closely monitored.

So, start shopping for essentials – multi-socket adaptors, warm clothes et al – and start packing your bags. Always carry a book, essential toiletries and allowed weight only. Remember to not take a lot of fluids, never take inflammable or contraband stuff or liquor. Also, there are declaration and VISA formalities to be completed on arrival. Always be truthful in your responses as the city shall treat you the way you treat the city.
So, have a great flight!

PS: This is an unabashedly indicative list

In-flight roles you didn’t know existed!

In-flight roles you didn't know existed Mumbai, India

Presuming that after you’ve graduated from your prestigious Blue Whale Academy, you are offered the job of a cabin crew with a leading international airline, isn’t it worthwhile to ponder as to what’s it that you can expect while on the job? Well, to put it very mildly, every airline is different, so there’s always that bit of permutation & combination that you’ll have to do as you negotiate your own job. That said, by its very nature of being part of the holiday industry, there are certain universal criteria that one needs to adhere to. For instance, in general, you need to pay particular attention to

Grooming – You must be absolutely well-groomed and shining from head to toe! Yes, appearances do matter and since you are in a guest-facing role, you cannot afford to be sloppy at all. So dear ladies, please ensure that your skirts, blouses & other dresses are the right/recommended size & length, your eyebrows are well-done, you get regular pedicures & manicures done and your nail paint isn’t chipped & your lips aren’t chapped. As far as men are concerned, remember that suits only look good on men who stride about confidently rather than slouch. Also, get those ties matched to your suits & ensure that you never wear open/dirty footwear. Also, both genders must take regular breaks to groom themselves – use mouth wash, take a quick shower, dust shoes or simply hydrate your face with generous sprays of water. Again, as a thumb rule, never report late to work or report drunk – guests can make out the slur in your voice or the unsteadiness in your walk. So, if you’ve had a drink too many, call for sick leave & please get thoroughly rid of that hangover before you report to work!

Interaction – Since you are in a guest-facing role, no prizes for guessing that you’ll independently have to manage a lot of guests, a vast majority of whom will try your patience. But it’s important not to lose any of your patience for, you know, like the bosses have always told you, the guest is always right – more so if its a pregnant lady, a child or a person with special needs or that peculiar species of irate flyers – movie stars & politicians. In your interactions, be polite but firm – if they make unreasonable demands like going on to the tarmac to smoke during a lay over, or carrying in-flight warmers with them, simply say ‘You’re not permitted to do that’. Again, listen to what they’re saying very clearly before taking any action – if in doubt, ask again rather than mess up requests. Remember that the chances of a guest re-booking on your airline is directly proportional to how you make her feel now when she’s actually flying you

But all these apart, have you ever been under the impression, like most of the uninitiated masses, that the role of a cabin-crew member stops at just explaining the safety procedures, helping serve the guests, catering to their demands & helping them board & de-board the plane? If so, you couldn’t be farther from the truth! For, within the very precincts of an innocuous-looking Airbus or a Being, there is an entire paraphernalia of roles that require a high degree of specialisation to get done. Here’s a low-down on the other niche roles that in-flight crew members perform
Enhance passenger experience by giving their practical inputs to engineering teams for ergonomic seat designs which ultimately has the potential to be a product differentiator for the airline. Matters like leg-room, degree of reclining etc. are of utmost importance for such matters. This is more prominent for people who are travelling with babies as they generally prefer the front row which has more leg room and space for bay bassinets.

Coming to food, another differentiator that airlines, more than crew members, routinely ignore – it is common knowledge that the food that’s prepared for in-flight consumption isn’t exactly fresh but in-fact highly processed. And there’s precious little that you can do to help this situation – there are space constraints and other restrictions to be paid heed to. One alternative is to maybe suggest pre-preserved foods like biscuits but given irregular flight timings, it is highly unlikely that guests will have milk & cookies for lunch or dinner

Then, there’s another product differentiator – in-flight entertainment (IFE) or the movies & TV shows that play out on the screens fitted to the seat in front of you. They need the in-flight standards & practices compliance for the territory they’re operating in and general stuff like air-crash, hijack, blood & gore and generally anything anti-airline etc. that needs to be avoided. Also, in-flight media like magazines and accessories like headphones & remotes that need to be meticulously taken care of.

Then comes the uber experience of duty-free in-flight shopping. As a responsible airline staff, please be thorough with what’s available, what’s out-of-stock & what can be delivered, know credit card limits and never over promise. Remember, no one likes tall hollow claims and every good guest-facing executive will tell you that the motto should be ‘under promise & over deliver’

So, now that you’ve got the flow, please get about your doing your jobs better than you were until now!

Learning and Unlearning on the first job

Learn, Unlearn And Relearn:  Career Guide

So, you have already landed the job of a co-ordinator at the travel desk of the latest seven-star hotel that’s the toast of the town. Heartiest congratulations, do take a bow!

But while you are still popping the champagne and enjoying the last few days of your freedom, it’s indeed worth your while to remember what every employed professional will tell you. First jobs are first jobs and the lessons you learn, and unlearn (while flitting between fetching coffee for bosses to carrying laptop bags to presentations) serve you well until the twilight years of your professional lives, nay, life itself.

It is an oft-neglected universal truth that all of us come with a lot of academic hangover when we step into our first jobs. In fact, neglected is not the term. It is so universal that nobody cares to speak about it. It has grown adventitious roots and become so intrinsically part of the system, that no one notices it.

Fishing for examples, first, let’s take ‘parroting’. Yes, Indian academics routinely over-emphasises learning by rote, rather than the more practical Gandhian ‘learning by doing’ method. As was very brilliantly enacted in the blockbuster 3 Idiots, there’s a wide schism that exists between the textbook and the laboratory, or the laboratory and the industry. So to speak, it’d serve us very well if we were to pick up bits and pieces of practicum and apply them to our first jobs than tend to learn processes by rote.

And then, the shattering of notions and views we had long learnt to nurture as students. For, truth be told, there is a vast difference between theory and practice. For instance, take the twilight zone of ethics. Each organisation gives its own zing to it and subjectivity means everything is open to interpretation. Don’t look like you’re shell-shocked even if you are. Learn to unlearn.

Secondly, there’s the mass marketing mentality or to put it more succinctly, the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to work. It might have served you well in college. However, professions are an entirely different ball game. Each task needs to be seen through a different prism. As also, there are fresh ways of looking at each task, when revisited. This keeps up the excitement and sees to it that the monster called monotony doesn’t rear its ugly head.

Thirdly, the all-important eye for detail and nitty-gritty. Your professor in college or your parents were inclined to give you the benefit of doubt. Your colleagues will find ways to expose lack of eye for detail. And half-baked cakes never easy on the palate. And remember, it’s a dog-eats-dog world and no one is irreplaceable.

Fourthly, organise and prioritize. Use post its, memos, alarms, rap your knuckles, kick yourself, do everything but get your priorities right. Truth is, a lot of overworking happens because people tend to get priorities wrong. Have lists and maintain excel sheets. Also, maintain time and expenditure lists – a tad painful in the beginning, but quite enjoyable – and most importantly insightful – subsequently. Put in extra hours only if absolutely necessary but try not to make it a habit.

Fifthly, span out. Go out of your cubicle and meet people. Acclimatise yourself to the company’s culture, pedigree and DNA. Water coolers, cafeterias and smoking zones are all very well for bonding. Only, don’t monger gossip. You probably spend more time with them than with biological families or friends. So, get to know them. You will invariably come to strike life-long friendships at your workstations. Also, don’t be judgemental or stalk them on social media. And ‘stalking’ includes saying ‘good morning/evening’ to the person sitting next to you on social media and messaging apps. Be friendly and approachable by all means; don’t overdo it – that looks like you’re trying too hard to please. And nobody likes slimy people. Be a team player who is missed when he takes annual leaves.

Sixthly, maintain standard etiquette, dressing sense and thorough personal hygiene. Workstations must not look like they were just hit by a cyclone, shoes must be sparkling, brows must be freshly threaded, mouths must reek of mouthwash, teeth must not be stained, lips must not be chapped, and neither must nails be chipped. Dresses must be well-tailored and mixed and matched to perfection. Remember, you are in the business of hospitality and people tend to warm up to well-groomed people more easily.
Seventhly, don’t carry any kind of baggage or preconceived notions. Have a good chat and remember the golden rule – note down points rather than speculate and repeat instructions and also ask for advice rather than miscommunicate. Approach work with an open mind.

Lastly, by all means, let your hair down. But it is a good idea to refrain from drinking at office parties. We can never be sure how we behave when we’ve had a drink too many. It’s a small world, an even smaller industry, and tales travel. So, better be safe than sorry.

Go ahead, rise and shine. Chin-up and God bless.

PS – This is just an indicative list. Nothing is writ in stone. As you chug along, you’ll have to make your own permutations and combinations

How to be a successful guest relations executive

Guest Relations Manager Roles and Responsibilities

India has two unique and distinctive traditions of religiously following the sacrosanct phrases, ‘Atithi Devo Bhava‘ and ‘Vasudaivam Kutumbakam‘. Both are Sanskrit phrases which are essentially very similar in meaning – while the former means ‘guests are divine’, the latter can be loosely translated as ‘the whole wide world is indeed my extended family’!

As a guest relations executive at any of the sprawling three, five and seven star hotels that criss-cross the entire length and breadth of our great and vast country, you’ll do very well to adapt the above two phrases as your personal motto while dealing with guests and clients in your day-to-day lives.

This is so because guest relations is predominantly a people-facing job that requires a lot in terms of communication skills, soft skills and yes, the most-often neglected people skills that the two Sanskrit phrases which were evoked at the very outset of our conversation sought to invoke!

The first phrase – ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’ – might ring a bell instantly as it is constantly being played out on our television sets as the hugely popular television commercial campaign of Indian tourism endorsed by Bollywood heavyweight Aamir Khan!

Let’s delve into some mythology now. Legend has it that Lord Krishna’s impoverished childhood friend Sudama’s wife, fed up with the family’s unending poverty kept goading him to seek help from Krishna. But, he refused to budge. Ultimately, after a lot more goading and pestering, Sudama went to meet Krishna, now the grand King of Dwarka. Krishna received him as befits a dear childhood friend, with rare state honours and ordered a grand feast and gave elaborate instructions for his pleasant stay too. However, even when it was time to leave, the self-righteous Sudama couldn’t bring himself to ask anything from Krishna. Krishna, however, presented him a little bundle of rice that’d keep him full throughout the journey.

Once Sudama left Dwarka, he decided to keep the bundle of rice for his family and instead manage on wild berries and fruits. As he was entering the narrow lane that led to his house, he was stunned to see a palatial palace looking out from the very place where his humble house had hitherto stood. Almost simultaneously, his wife and children ran out to greet him amid peals of laughter and thankful gazes. Moreover, He was surprised to see them dressed in clothes that were well beyond their means. It so turned out that Krishna had already guessed the purport of his friend’s visit and immediately went about ameliorating their sufferings. What was even more surprising was that Sudama felt that his bag had suddenly grown heavier and as he reached for the bundle of rice so that he could hand it out to his wife, he was stunned to find that the entire clothes bag had nothing but gold coins. Without so much as a word uttered, a friend had done his deed by helping another friend in need!

The point of the above story is that you need to go out of your way to make guests feel comfortable given that as first-time guests at your hotel, they are in an alien setting and among people they don’t know yet. This is truer in case of patrons (or guests who patronise your hotel) as you’ll be expected to know their quirks, follies & foibles like the back of your hand. In both cases, it is a very good idea to take & maintain notes about the guest to give them such personalised service that they award that birthday party contract that your boss has been pestering you for so long. Maintain a separate MS Excel spreadsheet and the physically taken notes too and be doubly sure to cross check details like anniversaries & birthdays. Also, if your hotel is pet and child family, please remember that all dogs aren’t named Tommy & all boys do not play football!

As regards the second phrase, ‘Vasudaivam Kutumbakam’, it goes on to induce the very essential quality of treating people as you would your family members. Just like we all have our roles to play in our unique families and have demands from family members to cater to, remember that guests of a myriad hues will pour out into the lobby and not everyone will be good to you. Please allow for the fact that everyone has their bad days, their tipsy days and their flirty days. Be calm & composed when dealing with all of them. And remember, personalisation is the key here too. If Ms Bannerjee likes her vodka with coconut water, offer her that, rather than decide on a tall glass of iced tea. If she’s paying for the service, she’s got the right to have her way.

So, all you guest relations rockstars, please remember to adopt the above two Sanskrit phrases so that you can be the girl Mr Batra looks for every time he flies down on business from Los Angeles to Mumbai!

How to be a good Housekeeping specialist at five star hotels

Housekeeping Specialists Course - Home Cleaning - Mumbai, India

It’s campus placement season at your prestigious Blue Whale Academy and you’ve landed your share of offers too. After very carefully scrutinising each and every offer and aligning it with your personal interests and career goals, you have decided to take up the offer that’s closest to your heart – housekeeping specialist at the city’s most famous five star. Apart from being the closest to your dream job, this offer comes with a host of advantages like – proximity (in other words, the hotel is close to your home) and the freedom to opt for a shift of your choice and most importantly good work incentives.

However, when you actually commence work there, things might not exactly be the cakewalk you imagined they would. But worry not, we’ll get you sorted.

First things first – you’d do well to remember that all that your textbooks told you were meant to be used in conjunct with on-ground realities. So to say, on the job, your absolute and lone focus should be in doing things in the quickest and easiest possible manner rather than try to align it to some theory you’ve learnt as a student. In other words, your textual learning must provide only a broad framework that you must refer to only if you absolutely must, and definitely in the spirit, not in the letter or verbatim!

Since managing the semi-literate housekeeping staff can be quite a challenging staff as one often has to negotiate language barriers too, please remember that it’s never a good idea to shout at people or boss around. Be a firm, not a nasty boss by treating every person who’s not in as fortunate a position as you as you’d like your higher-ups to treat you.

Also, housekeeping is often an extremely challenging and thankless job which you can turn around by being meticulous and stringent to details like very quick turnaround times to clear, for instance, stinky rooms after a wild party given that there’s usually only around two hours between check out and check in times. Or reacting to weather-infused or natural situations like damp smells in monsoons or termite/bedbug attacks in summers especially if the room hasn’t really been in circulation for a long-ish time.

As housekeeping is both an internal and guest-facing role, you’ll have to juggle a lot of hats and pacify a lot of frayed nerves. In other words, please remember that you will be responsible for ensuring the routine upkeep and maintenance of the hotel’s property including lobbies, conference halls, restaurants, kitchens, washrooms, internal offices and most importantly, guest rooms.

And just in case you assumed that managing housekeeping is a back-end job, please wake up! You just cannot expect to be done after your staff has done their daily wiping and cleaning job. For, there’ll be boisterous kids out on a mission to ruin all food in sight, their mom’s who’ll spill wine and daintily trip over the mop to accuse the hotel staff of hiring untrained staff and the kids’ dads will most surely join in their football, smashing a few vases on the way to the goalpost, which FYI happens to be the layered glass giant teak side table, a favourite with the promoters of the hotel. So, despite the fact that the hotel management will surely have some rules in place, guests usually don’t think twice before flouting them. So, if the kids are running around, politely but firmly ask the parents to take charge of them.

The worst guests are mostly those who come on one offs like office conferences, weddings, parties and the like. Since they do not have any intention to strike up a long-term relationship with this particular hotel, they’ll most-often not care before spilling, smashing and indulging in unacceptable behaviour in public.

Also, please remember that the bar area is the most-susceptible to damages as it’s a universal human tendency to drink far beyond one’s capacity and then get garrulous, boisterous, quarrelsome and destructive – in that order. Also, people tend to drink till tipping point and then usually throw up.

Yes, don’t cringe, though not you, but your staff will have to clear that up too. But rest assured, it’s nothing too grossly close for comfort – after all, starred hotels are so priced because they employ the latest in cleaning technology and manual scavenging is just not an option!

Again, please note that you can never get away with the excuse that your uniform is stained thanks to the nature of your job. At a seven star, right from the usher to the valet, everyone is expected to be prim and proper, no matter what time of the twenty-four hour day it is. You’ll usually have a lot of spare uniforms – use them rather than turn up in smelly wrinkled clothes that are so very revolting to the human senses. So, please be a little OCD about hygiene as no-one like to be referred to as ‘the stinky unkempt guy’!

And please remember, you’re never fully dressed unless you’ve worn a smile!

Managing the Concierge desk at a Seven-Star hotel

Indian Institute of Hospitality and Management

Have you always been fascinated by the bespectacled young lady sitting pretty right at the hotel’s lobby and forever smiling and making small talk to guests? Have you ever wondered if she never gets tired taking those incessant calls? Or how come she never loses her cool even when guests demand the sun, moon and earth for all their hard-earned money’s worth?

Well, in common parlance, we call hers a receptionist’s job. In the hospitality industry, however, she’s technically managing the concierge desk. So to say, the concierge desk performs the entire paraphernalia of tasks that are beyond the ambit of the services offered by the hotel. In other words, the lady behind the concierge desk is responsible for providing comfort that lies beyond the scope of the hotel staff’s work like arranging for sightseeing tours, organising surprise parties at another hotel etc.

However, you’ll need to keep in mind that appearances are deceptive. For behind all those firm handshakes, effervescent smiles, immaculate make-up and immaculate dressing sense lies a girl just like you! So, to cut a long story short, you really can be managing the concierge desk at any reputed Seven-Star hotel.

But, please remember that it’s indeed a challenging role and demands truckloads of multitasking skills. For, your duties at the concierge desk will include, but not be limited to, seemingly doable stuff like making reservations (at restaurants, other hotels, spas etc.), arranging transportation, currency exchange, procuring tickets (for activities such as sightseeing, pub crawling etc.) arranging porter and courier services as also any other assistance that the guest might require from time to time. And, this time knows no sacrosanct limits or curfews especially when it comes to guests on vacation. So, please don’t get hassled if you get a call at 4am requesting a cab at 430am just so that they can experience the cityscape awash in the supple glow of the rising sun.

For, corporate or business travellers who are presumably in the company of their colleagues will usually stick to company guidelines on appropriate hotel behaviour. Also, considering that these business travellers might have an early morning flight to catch or a late-night conference call to make, it’s a good idea for you, as a concierge desk manager, to enquire after their needs.

So, if you’re wondering what skill sets go into the making of a good concierge desk manager, a quick check list would be – oodles of patience (required to keep your cool with eccentric guests), excellent leadership & coordination skills to get things done from an entire entourage including both internal and external parties, multi-tasking skills to ensure you can handle several requests at a time, the ability to say ‘no’ to absurd requests (like exotic or banned meats) and most importantly, great communication skills to ensure that you don’t mess up the tasks at hand. Also, taking notes or using the voice recorder is a good idea to avoid unnecessary complications.

In other words, you need to be extremely well-networked so as to be able to procure anything that the guest might require. And this will, in all likelihood, include a pregnant guest’s weird late night cravings or a drunk guest’s antics too!

Don’t baulk! Things aren’t that ugly too and the above two examples, though just invoked in jest, are possibilities many people who manage concierge desks have reported! The most common requests however are provision of room service, extension of check-out times and keeping luggage in cloak rooms after check out. This might be because the honeymooning couple wants to indulge in some last minute retail therapy or selfie sessions, before taking the cab to the airport.

And while it’s all well that they’ve checked out, your role doesn’t end until after they’ve plonked themselves on their leather sofas back home! Yes, you guessed it right – you’ll have to arrange the transportation to take them to the market, selfie spots and to the airport too. And just before you say ‘phew’, let’s tell you that your duty is far from over. In fact, as a good concierge desk person, you’ll have to call the couple intermittently to check their progress on the journey to ask whether – they’re missing any item of their luggage, they’re done with their check-in, are comfortably seated, have de-planed, and, finally, have reached home – which is when you must thank them and invite them back too!

So, if you’ve decided to pick the job of a trainee concierge desk manager, over the various options you had during the campus placements at your prestigious Blue Whale Academy, go right ahead and take it up! It’ll surely keep you on your nimble feet and be a great learning curve too!