P1 explores the not-so-exact science of finding, hiring and training corporate flight attendants.
Discretion, creativity, flexibility and professionalism are all qualities an individual should possess before they consider pursuing a career as a corporate or VVIP flight attendant. Once those boxes are ticked, there are even longer and mission-specific lists of key skills and experience that aircraft owners and operators will look for. Most successful corporate flight attendants have in common a commitment to ongoing improvement and a willingness to connect with and learn from veterans of the industry.
Even with global business aviation growing at a steady clip, the cohort of applicants to the VIP flight attendant (FA) market far outweighs the number of actual positions available. In mature markets like Europe, the competition is doubly tough.
A person entering the world of corporate flight service will often, but not always, come from a background of commercial aviation.
A few years of looking after first and business class passengers with a top international airline is a common stepping-stone, but no guarantee of success, in this incredibly demanding and competitive field.
Former five-star hotel and superyacht staff can make excellent candidates – and in some exceedingly rare cases, a person with no flight experience can slide in through sheer determination or luck.
For the past three years, veteran VIP flight attendant Yasmin Milner and her small-but-experienced UK-based team have been helping corporate FAs break into the business, or brush up on the skills that enable them to hang onto highly coveted top-jobs (and typical basic pay of up to £45,000, or US$68,000). Her company is called Corporate Flight Training and it’s enjoying steady growth.
“In the EU especially, business jets tend to fly with only one flight attendant and there is a low rate of conversion. That means we don’t see the same type of mass recruitment drives as in the Middle East, for example, where large royal aircraft are common,” Milner tells P1. “In the US it’s not uncommon for a person with no commercial aviation experience to be preferred, but on this side of the pond that sounds crazy. Here In Europe, there is so much competition that the owner or operator can take their pick, and they want experience.”
Specially-designed FA training courses can improve chances of success for cabin crew transitioning between commercial and business aviation. Those already working in VIP aviation can attend a refresher course to update their skill set or get fresh service ideas that can prevent them falling into what Milner calls the ‘familiarity trap’.
“You have to be creative,” she explains. “It’s not so bad when you’re with a charter company and flying with different people all the time, but when you’re with the same people day in, day out, you’ve got to be prepared to go out there and find new ideas for service so the passengers don’t get bored.”
Corporate Flight Training offers a ‘Taste of Corporate Aviation’ mini-course to serve as an icebreaker for people who want to learn more about the VIP FA career path. For some, the journey begins and ends there. But those who are truly committed can carry on with the full VIP flight attendant training course (3 days), a safety and emergency procedures course (which is Department of Transportation compliant and fully customisable) and a food safety programme which is Milner’s pet project and passion.
“Safety is the unspoken priority in this business, especially in the case where you may be the only flight attendant on a jet. It’s a huge responsibility to shoulder,” she says. “In recent years safety standards have improved and we’re seeing more flight attendants go through proper training for things like medical emergencies, evacuation procedures and, increasingly, food safety. This is critical because food poisoning can incapacitate someone onboard the aircraft, or worse.”
Matching a corporate flight attendant to an aircraft owner can be a delicate task. While charter companies often recruit large numbers of crew at once and provide group training, individual owners often have unique qualifiers and want someone who can literally step onto the plane and go. Sometimes experience and pedigree are not enough; attitude, compatibility and yes, even someone’s appearance, can factor largely into the equation.
Though it had been quietly operating for about a year, VIP FA Recruit launched officially at EBACE 2015 in Geneva. The flight attendant recruiting and training outfit is owned and operated by two friends, Emma Woolley and Melina Neocleous. Each boast more than 17 years of experience working as VVIP flight crew and cabin service directors for large Middle Eastern royal family jets, managing the recruitment and training of dozens of other girls.
Neocleous and Woolley admit that recruitment was not part of their company’s original business model. However, with their vast combined network of industry contacts, they soon found they were uniquely qualified for this task.
“We began predominately as a training program assisting flight attendants from commercial airlines to transition into private aviation,” says Woolley. “But almost without us realising it, we had soon begun to focus much more on the recruitment of FAs throughout the MENA region. It’s really gone sky-high in the last six months. We are currently working with a royal operator in the Middle East, recruiting a large volume of flight attendants for their new fleet of aircraft. We also have private clients in Europe, Russia and soon a large operator in Saudi Arabia for which we will be recruiting and providing training and support.”
Having established VIP FA Recruit as a resourceful, capable and budget-conscious recruitment and training partner for VIP jet operators in Europe and the Middle East, Neocleous and Woolley are eyeing the North American market – home to half the world’s private jets. They are also steadily adding useful ancillary services to offer clients a more “turnkey” cabin crew solution, built around predictive and superior customer service.
We asked Milner, Neocleous and Woolley what they see as the most common misconception with regards to working as an executive flight attendant. And while each response differed, a common theme was easy to deduce – it’s not easy.
“A lot of commercial FAs thinks it will be a straight step into working in corporate aviation, but it isn’t so simple,” says Milner. “People think it’s quite glamorous but don’t realise how much work is involved. In the past I worked with manufacturers to design aircraft galleys, coordinated with owners’ other staff, planned travel and worked with ground handling agents, ordered catering from multiple suppliers, and even picked up birthday cakes and pets … and that’s just the beginning.”
For many private jet owners, the FA clearly doubles as PA in transit, which is why so many owners and operators are taking a more discerning approach to hiring corporate flight attendants, and why those staff need broader skills and experience to prove a success.