Etihad Airways: when is personal communication too personal?

Many service industries focus on making their communication less robotic, they feel that people appreciate and are impressed  by personal touches to the usual service and that thinking of ways to communicate out of the box usually helps.

Airline companies, believe in order to build the most memorable moments, airlines companies’ primary focus should be a personal approach to a client and less robotic communication.

Such a personal touch can be a powerful tool to build brand experience for a client, especially in industries, where a brand can change a lot and be a reason for a company being chosen.

We all like when people are who they are

…  but if a person is an asshole, we’d prefer this person to be someone else…

Travelling in a flying machine from point A to point B can be a stressful experience, sometimes cabin crew can make it better, but it is worth  remembering, that less can be more.


In December 2013 my friend was travelling with the fastest growing Middle East Airline Company – Etihad Airlines. She left her mobile phone charging on the plane in stuff zone and when she came back to it she found some new and interesting pictures taken by members of the cabin crew on there.


 At first her reaction to this incident was  a happy one,  thinking the company was pretty special. Afterwards she felt disappointed and was left wondering how anyone could do it.

In order to understand what people think about it, I asked a few questions:

  • Opinion on cabin crew members taking their selfie on your sell phone while it charging during the flight
  • Opinion on the airline company after knowing this incident:
  • Country of residence and age of a person

Looking on the results, Only 20% of people asked during investigation appreciate the cabin crew’s gesture of personification. 




So, why did it actually happen? 

Although, Etihad is a very successful case of using personal approach in communications with passengers. During the investigation into how they interact with passengers 2 main focus area of the company was found (in their Brand Book) 

  • Signature Moments 
  • Outstanding As Standard

Their cabin crew is a multinational team with people from countries including the US, Kazakhstan and China.

“I had a small chat with a cabin crew member and I found out that she was from Kazakhstan and went to the same foreign studies university, where I am studying right now. What a coincidence!” – commented one passenger on one of  the company’s YouTube videos.


A  key value cherished by the company is taking a personal approach and it seems like kids are the focus of the company, starting with the flying nanny program. They offer childcare for families with young children to keep kids entertained, so they have fun and keep  quiet during the flight.


Perhaps it’s no wonder, that a cabin crew member decided to take it one step further and take a selfie using a passenger’s phone. Isn’t such a personal and fun approach something the company is expecting from its crew members?

But somewhere it went wrong; people just didn’t get this personalized service. 


So, important questions to ask:

Can your actions can be expected or are they spontaneous?

How style of communication on the board is inline with the strategy? One would expect something different from Virgin Airlines, for example. Virgin is expected to be fun with attitudes and a strong persona. If cabin crew start to dance on the plane, people would feel they were getting a new, fun experience. If the same people  saw the same performance on a Lufthansa  flight, some qualified help may be called.


Do you understand cross-cultural boundaries?

Are you aware of the impact of your actions on people from different countries? What is acceptable in one culture can be a total nightmare for a person in a different country. Especially in some areas.

Learn the cultural taboos is the answer. 

Taboo number one. Don’t touch Western people’s property. Ever!

During the research, an interesting thing was found. People from so-called “western societies” felt the most uncomfortable with the situation, because they didn’t like the idea of a stranger touching their belongings.

Taboo number two. Don’t make even small reference on relationship between cabin crew members. It makes Chinese people uncomfortable!

During the research not only “Westerners” were strongly upset with the situations, but Chinese people as well. The difference  between emotions was in the reasoning – why the situation was unacceptable. Some said that it is perfectly fine to find something new on your mobile, but not a picture of two people – this is just too personal. “A map of the destination or an inspirational picture would be more appropriate”, commented one of the survey participants. 

The only people, who enjoyed such personal approach were people from Russia. This result may be caused by limited sampling, but at the same time it may be caused by some cultural differences, for example by the extreme flexibility of Russian culture, yet It is impossible to draw any cultural conclusions, but this topic can be examined further. 

The main lesson to learn: make it personal, but watch out, when it gets too personal. 


*All pictures are taken from the open sources, including and accounts