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Sports & Leisure

Successful staffing in airline lounges

Working in an airport is not your average job, and attracting and retaining the best people in airline lounge operations can be a challenge.

What are the most common barriers?

“First, I would say location,” says Jane Yan, HR Director for Greater China, about Sodexo’s lounge operations in Hong Kong. “The airport is quite far from downtown, and there are no residential areas nearby. So normally, our employees face a 30- to 60-minute commute each way. Next, there are heavy regulations, such as the need to pass a permit application. Last, we have demographic challenges here in Hong Kong. We have an aging population, and jobs in the service industry are less appealing to the younger cohort.”

How do we move past these barriers?

Attracting talent:

Attracting the right people is the first step, of course; but ensuring that they can perform to your standards while loving their job (and the company) enough to stay is the bigger battle. If we start with the end in mind – making employees feel happy, engaged and empowered – we gain insight into the beginning. Ultimately, people stay when we fulfill the promise that first made them interested in applying.

We recently implemented an innovative campaign aimed at younger prospective employees, and we used Facebook to target the right geographical areas for each airport. At Sodexo, we weave our mission – to improve the quality of life for all we serve – through everything we do, and especially in how we treat employees. In recruitment, we talk about how we take care of, and invest in, our employees: 

  • competitive pay and yearly merit increases based on performance 
  • reward and recognition programs from perfect attendance bonuses to on-the-spot rewards when an employee is observed going above and beyond expectations
  • as well as the so-called “little things” – a birthday card, holiday present, or 30 minutes of time to leave work early – that show caring for the whole person.

In addition to making good on core values and promised rewards, studies show that people who learn and grow are more committed to their work and to the individual tasks assigned to them. Detailing development programs and highlighting advancement opportunities show prospective hires that you are committed to them, even before they start. Due to our global reach and the diversity of our operations, Sodexo is fortunate to provide a wide range of opportunities for employees to grow – from local  to international and frontline-hourly to executive-level positions across the organization. 

Training talent: proper training happens every day, not just at the beginning

Every employer wants excellent service, but they often don’t spend enough time training employees, giving them space to absorb, ask questions, and go through their future role in a methodical, thoughtful way.  To reduce those first day jitters (usually derived from all the unknowns and the desire to perform well), we have developed a specialized online training program specific to the aviation sector to ensure each employee arrives confidently on their first day.  We start by zooming out to the brand values, then zooming in to specific functions of the job.

“Workgroup training modules introduce the basic skills and functions,” says Daniel Zucchero, General Manager of Chicago O’Hare’s Airline Lounge, “with a day-to-day agenda that details specific points of functional tasks and personal connections that the employee will perform. Every workgroup has its own detailed list of responsibilities to learn, as well as hospitality basics. Because everyone has a different background, we go into significant detail using role-play scenarios to demonstrate service opportunity responses and verbal tones.”

Flawless service is based on more than initial training.

Jane Yan“It also requires daily observation, correction and coaching. We want our people to become accustomed to a new behavior or methodology, and it typically takes 28 days to form new customs and retain 100 percent of the guidance. If you don’t help people repeat the best practices in their daily routine, training is useless.” - Jane Yan, HR Director for Greater China 

Embedding good practices and helping employees understand how their performance positively impacts customer experience are key to improving the customer satisfaction scores that every airline prizes. 

Here are a few examples of creative and ongoing improvement.  

  • At Chicago O’Hare, managers have a specific coaching strategy: They start by forming a plan for each day, then conduct a “Pre-Flight Meeting” to ensure that each employee understands their role in that plan; employees receive correction and support during each shift, then the team has an opportunity to review their performance. 
  • The teams in Hong Kong engage in Focus Groups, in which frontline employees share service insights with their managers.
  • The Buddy System is a signature feature of the Hong Kong teams that allows veteran employees to offer peer guidance and on-the-job training. This engages both trainer and trainee by building relationships, rewarding service excellence, and develops leadership that can lead to career advancement. Implementing this system, Yan reports, reduced attrition by more than 50 percent within 18 months. 

The right training has a deep and lasting impact: Employee testimonial 

Elizabeth P., from the Chicago O’Hare Lounge, started with our unit as a Club Attendant almost 2 years ago. When we began this training program she became interested in it, knowing that it would help her career. After going through the initial course she became active in training at least five new employees in their respective workgroups.

“I remember that I was able to show them how to be more consistent, detail-oriented and efficient in their role. The training process helped me gain more confidence in my leadership skills, public speaking abilities and organizational habits. Learning this process has also shown me how to hold employees accountable to standards or expectations. Overall this has increased my service skills and made me more reliable and responsible to my fellow co-workers while giving me a roadmap to future career aspirations.”


Learn more about how Sodexo can help you meet modern travelers’ needs for your airline lounge.

February 13, 2020

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How can we help?

Interested in how we can help you build traveler loyalty?

Lynn Knight, Global Head of Business Development Airline Lounges


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