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A Helping Hand in the Cabin
Flight attendants can improve the quality of your journey. Here's why, and what you need to know about these crewmembers.
You may never charter a business jet that requires a flight attendant. No chartered aircraft with 19 or fewer passenger seats needs one, according to U.S Federal Aviation Administration and European Aviation Safety Agency regulations.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t encounter an attendant aboard some flights, however. Charter operators routinely put them on large-cabin jets, and the practice appears to be expanding to midsize aircraft. “The [Gulfstream] G280, Hawker aircraft and [Bombardier] Challengers—more and more, we’re hearing operators are putting cabin attendants aboard as standard practice, particularly in charter situations,” says Louisa Fisher, director of emergency training and cabin safety at FlightSafety International. The trend is also spreading among corporate flight departments, says Kristina Bauer-Selten, a cabin attendant for one such department and a member of the National Business Aviation Association’s Flight Attendants Committee.
That’s good news for passengers, because cabin attendants can make a big difference in the quality of the flight experience. They can prepare gourmet meals, help passengers navigate entertainment and communication systems and provide lifesaving help in an emergency. They can also be helpful if travelers have special medical needs or simply desire extra pampering.
Charter providers, however, sometimes hesitate to put attendants on an aircraft unless there’s a seat outside the cabin for them. Midsize aircraft don’t have the enclosed attendant’s compartment that many large business jets include, but they may have a jump seat in the cockpit. If you don’t need a big jet but want an attendant, state your preference for an aircraft with such seating.
“Flight attendant” is the FAA’s designation for a cabin crewmember who has completed a training program approved by the federal agency, but since business jets don’t require flight attendants, their training varies widely, as do the names by which charter providers refer to them. Some such providers call these crewmembers “cabin attendants” regardless of certification level.
The FAA, EASA and other aviation agencies and organizations set certification requirements for attendants. Mandated training includes hands-on instruction in emergency procedures and operation of cabin, galley and emergency equipment. Training also covers dealing with unruly passengers and communication with the flight crew in the event of a hijacking or other unusual situation.
FlightSafety International’s training facility in Savannah, Georgia, uses fuselages configured identically to those of a variety of large-cabin aircraft, an indoor pool to practice ditching procedures and a “fire trainer” cabin where electrical and non-electrical fires are created. Training often also covers food safety and cooking, first-aid and survival techniques, hypoxia awareness, wing-surface contamination, safety-management systems, fatigue management, self-defense, Transportation Security Administration procedures, cultural awareness and differences and handling of hazardous materials. The FAA requires annual recurrency training for flight attendants.
The most basic role of a cabin attendant is caring for passengers’ dining and beverage needs, a task that includes sourcing food and drink and ensuring food safety and quality. Attendants who are limited to culinary duties are often called “cabin servers,” and at minimum a server should receive instruction in onboard food handling, but many undergo basic emergency training as well. Jenifer Felan, chief cabin attendant for California-based TWC Aviation, notes that its food servers must also be instructed annually in how to deal with medical and other emergencies and must be certified in aircraft-specific training programs developed by the company.
The National Business Aviation Association sanctions four levels of cabin crewmember certification under its Standards of Excellence in Business Aviation (SEBA) program. Corporate cabin crewmembers must have training in food handling, medical situations and crew-resource management. Senior corporate cabin crewmembers must also have aircraft-specific training, ground-safety training and business protocol and etiquette training. Lead corporate cabin crewmembers must additionally have advanced culinary training and training in high-altitude physiology, fatigue countermeasures and personal security. Manager/supervisor corporate cabin crewmembers require additional experience and industry involvement. (These programs meet FAA certification standards, according to FlightSafety’s Fisher.) SEBA certification requires recurrency training every 24 months, though committee members recommend annual training.
The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO) has also established standards for flight attendants that include meeting national regulation requirements and participating in an operator’s own ground and flight training and recurrency programs. Expanding adoption of this standard around the globe has been an impetus for placing more emphasis on cabin crew training, industry professionals say.
For cabin service that’s a cut above, a so-called flight purser, who has experience as lead flight attendant on an airline, brings additional qualifications that can include advanced culinary and emergency training and a private pilot’s license. “When we’re arranging a head-of-state charter, flight-purser qualification is going to be the requirement” for a cabin attendant, says Tracey Deakin, COO of charter broker Le Bas International.
James Wynbrandt, a private pilot, is a regular BJT contributor who has also written for the New York Times, Forbes and Barron’s.