English learning advice from Aviation English Asia.

A look at different passenger profiles and language functions to resolve problems on-board.

Written by Michael McBride

In this article,  we will focus on problematic situations that can occur during flight.  This could involve dealing with intoxicated passengers or uncooperative people in the air.  We will look at different questions to consider when faced with a difficult situation, suitable grammar forms and you will also have the chance to practise using visual examples.

Passengers – a diverse mixture

As a member of cabin crew on a commercial airline you will come across a large mix of people from all backgrounds and cultures.  Although there are many stereotypes in society, it may be useful to be aware of them for quick and efficient handling of passengers.

  • A stereotype is a cultural and social expectation that may not be wholly true and accurate but exists in society and we cannot avoid them.

Would you provide the same service to an elderly man the same way you would treat a 20 year old man heading on holiday?  What language and service would you provide someone with full religious garb, or a pregnant woman finding it difficult to enjoy the flight?  Or simply, how would you treat an angry passenger compared to a co-operative and peaceful passenger?

Of course your airline will tell you to treat everyone with the same high-class service, but you must have some awareness of different people so the language you use can be adapted for each situation.  The wrong form of service language could make a situation worse.  Let’s now consider this with grammar and context.

Passengers - a diverse mixture

Credit: http://www.telegraph.co.uk

Describing appearance and emotions – grammar and context

It is useful to ask yourself questions when you have to deal with a problem passenger and keep in mind these questions need to be answered within a few seconds: -

  • Who are they?
  • Why do you think they are complaining or not co-operating?
  • How will you resolve the situation?
  • What language will you use?

With your trainer at Aviation English Asia you will work on adapting language to specific contexts and types of passenger, but now let’s focus on grammar and vocabulary in a more general approach for difficult passengers.

After considering the problem at hand e.g. a passenger is complaining about their meal, and evaluating the situation consider your language.  It is advisable to not use overly direct and plain language.  Using formal verbs like “reject” and “decline” could create more tension and escalate the problem.   Use of apologetic language may soften the situation, look at the following and consider which is more effective?

  • “I’m sorry, sir, but your card hasn’t been accepted.”
  • “Sir, your card has been declined.”

The first example may use more words but projects politeness and calm.  Notice also the use of contractions is vital, for instance, “hasn’t” as opposed to “has not.”  Contractions are made for spoken English but long forms are also used, but they show more emphasis and authority, which is not effective when trying to calm down a passenger.

Politeness and consideration should always be used.  This can also be reinforced by modal verbs that are not strong but still project advice, suggestion and recommendation.  For example: -

  • Sir, you may like to try this meal instead.
  • Madam, would you like to try this option?
  • You could try this meal instead, sir.

Escalated problems, in other words situations you probably cannot handle on your own need to be directed to your senior colleague.  With this it will also bring a new set of language tools if your senior only speaks in English.

Basic description language includes: -

  • Use of adjectives and nouns e.g. angry passenger
  • Keep it simple and use the present simple or progressive tenses e.g. he is not moving from his seat.
  • Using stronger tone and stress will show your English speaking supervisor the situation is more important compared to if you use a lighter tone.  Think of the importance of the problem.

Practice – context and language.

Situation 1

In-flight English for cabin crew

Credit: http://www.sfballetblog.org

  1. Context.  What type of passengers?
  2. Predict.  What could be potential problems?
  3. Communicate.  What language will you use?

This picture shows a group of young travellers, maybe college students heading for Spring Break.  There is a possibility they may be noisy and even over-bearing towards other passengers.

Situation 2

Credit: Sky News

  1. Context.  What type of passengers?
  2. Predict.  What could be potential problems?
  3. Communicate.  What language will you use?

Looking at the body language and gesturing of the male passenger there could be a problem with his meal.  Did he order it?  Is there a problem with what is on the plate?  Also consider his age and background.

Situation 3

Credit: unknown

1      Context.  What type of passengers?

2      Predict.  What could be potential problems?

3      Communicate.  What language will you use?

A number of situations could be predicated here, from complaining to even an argument between passengers.  How would you handle the situation, would you need more help from a supervisor?

Exercise:

Think of some more situations and consider what you would say.

Checklist

  • Be aware of your passengers and who they are
  • Ask yourself a series of questions to evaluate the situation
  • What could happen next, will you need a supervisor?  How would you speak to the supervisor, how would you describe the passenger?

What to do next

For feedback and more information about Aviation English Asia’s cabin crew courses please visit http://aviationenglish.com

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