Monthly Archives: October 2012
A large amount of my trips as a corporate flight attendant are international..
And I don’t mean just to Paris or Italy, many are to places like: The middle east, China, Japan, Vietnam , Israel, Budapest, etc. Places where the culture is significantly different than my own. Prior to these trips it is important for me to do some research into the culture’s mannerisms, food preferences, religious practices, and what they will expect from me, Meaning: my service technique, catering, personal dress, and my interaction with them.
Since religious food practices vary widely within the culture, I need to be prepared for changes and restrictions that may effect my plan of service. I have also learned that depending on an individual’s adherence to a religious diet, this is often based on personal degree of orthodoxy.
I want to share some of my experiences on this subject and hopefully help others to learn from my mistakes!
About 5 years ago, I was asked, very spur of the moment, to work a trip from LA to NYC. It was an evening flight with 10 Jewish pax (passengers) I was told. When I inquired about their meal service request, I was told that sandwiches had been ordered for them from a “Kosher “deli and would arrive at the jet prior to departure.
I thought to myself- “OK, easy enough, I just need to stock the plane with the usual staple items and that’s it!”..
Well, long story short, I did not do my homework. After we were in the air for a bit, the lead passenger informed me that they were ready to eat.. I began carefully unwrapping the delivered sandwiches and placing them on plates. Of course I even garnished the plates to make them look pretty and added a side of salad.
I brought out the plates on my fancy silver platter and placed them on the passenger’s tables. The lead pax looked up at me with this puzzled look on his face and said: “ WHAT is THIS?” I am sure I had a confused look on my face when I calmly responded: “ it is the catering you ordered and had delivered by——- Deli”.
The guy was angry I could tell and this was confirmed by him yelling and saying: “ why are the sandwiches unwrapped? and we do not eat on your plates! I need to see the SEAL! What is this salad doing here?” Of course I had no idea what he was talking about.. And it was my own fault, not his I quickly realized. As I mentioned, I had not done my homework… apparently, for one, kosher food is wrapped and has a seal on it indicating it is kosher. Two, I was not suppose to touch his food at all. I should have left it wrapped and placed in on a plate ( paper plate).
He asked me to bring him the original wrapping, and when I did, he was even more angry because there was no seal at all.. Strongly indicating the food was not kosher.
Although I was not the one who placed the order, I should have looked at the catering when it arrived to the plane, and I should have known about the SEAL situation. We were now 40,000 feet above the ground and there was nothing else to feed them. I did my best to rummage through the plane looking for food that was ok for them to eat, mostly snacky things, but as I mentioned above, some individuals are stricter than others and heavily restrict there own eating in compliance to the religious beliefs.
Moral to this story ; Always do your homework.
Tips for serving this culture:
1. aircraft ovens, microwaves, flatware, etc are NOT kosher
2. use plastic paper items for service
3. do NOT remove seals
4. food items that need to be heated should be wrapped a few times in foil to prevent contamination from non kosher ovens..
Again, in my early days of flying, I did not always read up on the cultures I would be flying and when I did, I forgot certain things because at that time, I did not keep cheat sheet cards ( which I do now).
I was assigned to a trip to Paris one day with a couple of days notice. I was well prepared for the trip. I even did some French decorations for my flight and had a French and American menu prepared.
The trip to Paris went well. Everyone was happy. WE landed in Paris and was enroute to our hotel when we received a call that our trip had been changed. We were going to get some crew rest and then bring the plane empty over to China to pick up some passengers and bring them to Paris. ( where we would then rest for a few days before bringing the Americans home). Since I already had prepped the plane for the original trip, it was full of American/ French snacks, alcohol, etc. I didn’t really think much of this at the time.
I received a catering order and followed through with ordering the items listed. I need to mention, details of the food items were not given to me.. things like, no onions or garlic or alcohol.
When my Buddhist passengers arrived, they all greeted me graciously and indicated they were hungry. Once in flight, I began heating up the meals and preparing drinks. I offered a welcome glass of champagne, which everyone declined was strange expressions. I walked back to my galley thinking: “ OMG, that’s right, I forgot, they don’t drink alcohol”!! I felt bad and was determined to make sure there meals were prefect. And they looked like they were!
A few minutes after serving, I was asked if there were any other entree options like beef… well, I did not order it because it was on the list and also because I didn’t even think Buddhists ate beef! I kindly replied ,” no, we only have the requested items for hot meals, but, I could make you a sandwich? ( I always keep crew food on-board).
What did I learn from this experience? Always be prepared with many different scenarios and keep in mind the individual differences within the same culture. Also, keep cheat sheets with me that contain info for different cultures so when things change, as they always do in aviation, I will be prepared!!
Tips for serving this culture include:
1 no alcohol
2. Always have a Variety but always include vegetarian
3. Make sure there are no garlic or onions
One of the things I love so much about this career is the chance to discover different cultures and experience what this big world of ours is all about! As a flight attendant, it is also may responsibility to do my homework and be prepared on the right ways to serve and interact with all of my diverse passengers!
Cobblestones and Heels
In any occupation, you have a team of co-workers that work together towards a common goal. You hope that everyone on your “team” works well together.. has “synergy”, and respects each others positions, ideas, and needs. We all know that Success is always the goal, no matter what the task.
In my industry, not only is team work important for producing a great service, it is also important for safety. A team on board an aircraft as well as their co-workers on the ground, needs to be on the same page, always.
So what is the team structure in corporate aviation?
It starts when a client wants to book a charter aircraft, their first contact is with a broker or charter sales person. This individual will find the right aircraft for the clients needs, IE. the number of passengers, the destination, and the price range.
Once the sale is a done deal, the charter coordinator begins to assign a crew, and make all the arrangements for the trip pending approval from the client and his/he associates.
The catering order is taken and passed on to the flight attendant assigned to the trip. All of The communication, as you can imagine, needs to be prompt, accurate, and complete, in order for everything to start off smoothly. This helps to set the tone for the entire trip.
Flight Crew team-work pre-flight
While the coordinators are gathering their information and making the arrangements final with the client, they are hopefully keeping the flight crew in the loop of everything going on. The flight attendant needs as much notice and accurate information as possible in order to do the best job inflight as possible. The pilots need to know schedules, departure/ arrival time slots and possible weather concerns in advance as well. Then, the pilots and flight attendants need to communicate with each other on a pre-flight plan. IE. What time to meet the aircraft, accurate contact information for everyone, how service will be conducted, etc. If the destination is out of the country, all the required customs paperwork needs to be filed ahead of time for all crew, and passengers. If going to places that vaccines are needed, this must also be taken care of in advance. Of course, if all of this info is not communicated effectively to EVERYONE, it can cause many problems and one little detail left out or misunderstood, can make a big difference.
Communication and team work on-board
At the beginning of a trip, the interaction and communication of the flight attendant and the pilots is very important. A crew briefing ( even a basic one), is something that should always be done. Not only does it help everyone to be one the same page, it also sets the stage for the communication and interaction throughout the whole trip! I know that in my experience, when this is left out, it does make a big difference. As a flight attendant, i need to know things like: weather ( so my service goes smoothly-soup does not end up in someone’s lap!), passenger information (ages, likes/dislikes, etc), and the emergency plan ( in case, God for bid, something happens in flight). The other really important entity here is : a mutual respect for each others roles on board). The captain, first officer, and the flight attendant, ALL have very important jobs and need respect from each other.
Although the captain rules on the final decisions of aircraft and passenger related issues, without the flight attendant working hard in the back with service and passenger interaction, the flight is not going to be a success: Which ultimately means bad things for everyone including loss of company business..
Throughout the flight
Our flights in corporate aviation can be really long.. I am talking half way around the world in a day! This is a lot of work for everyone involved. The pilots need to stay awake and the flight attendant needs to keep everyone happy in the back ( actually, in the front too).
As human beings, most of us can get a little cranky when we are tired, and its important to be sensitive to this with your co-workers. Two big rules of mine: Don’t take offense to it, and try to be empathic to it. During this long flight, it makes a happier team if everyone is respectful of each others hard work, and personal needs. I know that I treat my pilots very well. I make sure they are “fed and watered” throughout the whole trip! Ha Ha.. really though, I recognize how hard it is to sit in one spot for so long and need to be alert as well. I also hope that they recognize my need to chill out for a bit and rest if possible- To clear my head and stay strong in my service. The communication again is also very important. The pilots should be kept abreast of the passengers needs and the tone of the flight. And, the flight attendant should be kept aware of the weather, arrival details, and anything else prudent to the whole trip. There should be no separation “of house and state” so to speak.. or, separation of “cockpit and cabin” in our terms..This is one thing that 911 didn’t effect in corporate aviation- because there is no lock-down of the cockpit door, typically its left open. The passengers can visit and chat with the pilots and so can the flight attendant at any time. ( and i like this!)..
At the end of a long day of flying and over the course of the overnight (s), this is the whole crew’s oppertunityto debrief and decompress. Its also a chance for the crew to socialize a little with each other and get to know one another as real people and not just as crew members. Personally I believe this is important to feel like a family in the sky! I know that sounds a little corny but it has always been a part of why I love going to work. I look forward to flying with pilots I know and working together to make the flight a success as well as having some fun on the road! ( not too much fun of course) 😉
Cobblestones and Heels
As a corporate flight attendant, it is my job to make sure that each flight, no matter the destination or origin, is catered with the highest quality food, and looks as good as it tastes!
This can be one of my biggest challenges on the job. Specifically, remote locations and FBOs that do not have a VIP caterer on hand. ( or where my iphone APP does not apply!). This is where resourcefulness and creativity come in.
Generally my trips origin will be my home city, so its really my destination and return trip that I am concerned with..
Prior to my trip, I research the destination. I always find out what my options will be. I start by “goggling “ the local restaurants, markets, and cafes in the area.. I try and get a sense of what I will be dealing with and what my restraints will be when it comes to my passenger’s requests. (Believe it or not, in remote locations, it is easier when they do not have their mind set on a specific menu). When the decisions are left up to me, , I usually have a pretty high success rate!
I also ask fellow crew members if they are familiar what that specific area and what they have found to be great sources of catering.
Lastly, I call ahead to the high end hotels and ask for suggestions from the concierge.
Flying out of the remote location, is where the fun really begins.
I compile all the information I have gathered in my research prior to the trip and I work with it.
First, Chances are good that all areas have a local produce market. This is where I like to purchase my items for salads, vegetable crudités, fruit baskets, and sometimes desert. I always want my catering to be as fresh and flavorful as possible so my actual shopping is done as close to the departure time as possible.( Depending on how much preparation time I have, I will visit the markets and restaurants a few days before departure).
Although Paris is one of the places that has many catering options, they also have one of the best and largest farmers markets!
I also love to captivate the local “flavor”. For example, If I am on an island, or anywhere near the sea, I visit the fish markets and plan a fish or seafood dish for one of the entree choices. ( I would also include a local delicacy in the menu for a surprise choice.). Although Hong Kong is a city of many catering choices, I always visit the wharf and fish market there.
Ketchikan Alaska is also a great place for fish. There is also a great little family owned Deli there that has supplied me with some great catering like tuna fish or seafood salad, and home made Salmon cakes!
For fresh bread, pasta, or pastries, I look for the best bakeries, or again local markets.
While I am walking around the area, I will also ask the locals (provided they speak some English), where I can find specific items. They will always know the best places in the area!
I was once on a trip to Sao Paulo, Brazil, a place where i did not know much about prior to my trip. As luck would have it, there was a festival going on, and it gave me an awesome opportunity to get some great catering ideas from the locals. It was also fun for my clients when i hosted a mini ” food festival” on the jet of some great local favorites!
For a list of some of my favorite finds, feel free to email me. and I invite fellow flight attendants to comment and tell me where their secret food / catering finds came from on their trips!
Cobblestones and Heels