Defining the Corporate Flight Attendant

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This is a post by guest author Susan C. Friedenberg, President and CEO of Corporate Flight Attendant Training & Consulting Services. Susan was asked to contribute to this blog because of her expertise in and advocacy for the corporate flight attendant profession. Any thoughts expressed below are entirely Susan’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.

Who is the corporate flight attendant? Simply put, the corporate flight attendant (also called a “business aviation flight attendant”) is just that, a flight attendant who works on private, non-commercial aircraft (generally referred to as “business aircraft”).

How the need for corporate flight attendants arose

The presence of business aviation came into being shortly after World War II. The end of the war made available to the civilian market a large supply of military transport aircraft and veteran pilots. As private air travel increased, so did the demand for a more business-oriented environment. This environment required interiors that would support the business person by providing total comfort and office-like amenities.

In the early days of business aviation, the trend seemed to be that aviation managers and chief pilots used flight mechanics/techs in the back of the aircraft as a third crew member. There was no emphasis on specialized or elaborate food service. As interiors became increasingly detail-oriented in order to support the client’s requirements, the need arose for a third crew member in the back of the aircraft who could expeditiously accommodate specialized requests. The galley equipment became more elaborate and extensive, as did the high-tech electronic communication and in-flight entertainment systems.

Establishment of the corporate flight attendant profession

By the end of the 1980s, it was apparent that the third crew member needed to be an emergency/first-aid, culinary, and food safety trained flight attendant. Now the passengers of business aircraft had privacy, anonymity, a safe space, and the ultimate in comfort and in-flight amenities. Business aviation provides the ability to create a non-structured time schedule that is changeable at any moment and on any whim. In our environment, there is always a degree of stressful events that go along with the position of corporate flight attendant, whether flying full-time or contract. There are always last-minute schedule changes and passenger count changes, cancellations, or extensions of the trip. Unless you are working on a corporate airliner, like a BBJ, which typically requires more than one corporate flight attendant onboard, you are usually alone in the back and have to work it all out alone. In these times, there is no room for mistakes and errors. It has to be done correctly.

What it takes to be a corporate flight attendant today

In the world of business aviation, nothing is ever written in stone. It is a world and environment of total flexibility. It is a very exciting and ever-changing work place. If there is any one character trait that is most important in this industry called business aviation, it is being “FLEXIBLE.” I want to emphasize that, first and foremost, safety of the passengers and the aircraft environment is paramount.

So what are the qualities that a corporate flight attendant needs to be successful? You must have impeccable organization and resolution skills. In no particular order, additional qualities are as follows:

  • Flexibility
  • Creativity
  • Personal accountability
  • Integrity
  • Interpersonal skills
  • No ego
  • Taking direction
  • Confidentiality
  • Constant professionalism
  • Being multi-task oriented
  • Ability to compartmentalize
  • Out-of-the-box thinking

Being a contract corporate flight attendant

As for me, in all the years that I have flown, contract flying is the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding type of flying that I have ever done. On a daily basis, you find yourself interacting with the many different cultures and personalities of a corporation. You continually find yourself interfacing with the CEO, his/her corporate and personal family, the aviation manager, the chief pilot, the dispatcher/scheduler, the chief flight attendant, and the maintenance staff. Corporations, recognized by the law as “people,” have personalities as different and unique as humans.

Add the fact that, in any given month, you find yourself operating on various aircraft of different manufacture. Each aircraft has its own separate and unique features. Each plane has its own distinct set-up, different amenities, aircraft-specific emergency exits and emergency equipment, and configurations. Some of the galleys may or may not be “flight attendant friendly”. While the full-time flight attendant finds him or herself in the same environment each time he or she flies, the contract flight attendant is always acclimating and adjusting to a new work environment.

Each flight department has different standard operating procedures (SOPs) and philosophies to which you must adhere, and subtly different roles for their third crew member — the contract corporate flight attendant.

Skills needed to be a contract corporate flight attendant

In addition to those necessary skills listed above for being a successful corporate flight attendant, contract corporate flight attendants must also:

  • Effectively manage their time
  • Book trips, keep and maintain schedules
  • Manage themselves as a business
  • Interface with several flight departments
  • Adapt to various flight departments’ SOPs
  • Remain open-minded at all times
  • Be impeccably organized
  • Perform safe and creative menu planning and food execution
  • Maintain their recurrent egress training annually

Contract corporate flight attendants must also strive to maintain the new philosophy used in the flight departments of many Fortune 500 companies, also known as the Standards of Excellence in Business Aviation (SEBA). In addition, they must never lose sight of the fact that they are “a paid guest on someone else’s aircraft.” Last, it is useful to keep in mind these rules of thumb:

You are routinely challenged in a career that has absolutely no routine.
Never assume!


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Category : Best Practice, Corporate Flight Attendant, Guest Post

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Susan C. Friedenberg started her aviation career in 1970. She spent the first 15 years of her aviation career flying for American Airlines and then Capitol Air. She has been a corporate flight attendant for the last 27 years, flying both as a contract flight attendant with a coast-to-coast clientele list and as a full-time flight attendant for the Coca-Cola Company, DuPont Aviation, and American Standard Companies.

In 1999 Susan started her own training company called “The Corporate Flight Attendant Training Program,” teaching her training course in Long Beach, California and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She also conducts in-house training classes including food safety awareness courses for clients, globally and domestically. Susan does consulting within the business aviation industry/community and also does contract flying.

She is committed to raising the standards within business aviation where it pertains to the third crew member. She has been a proactive advocate for Corporate Aviation Flight Attendants and lack of FAA regulations where it is applicable to the third crew member on private aircraft. Her professional mission in life is to have the United States Congress implement and pass legislation requiring professional flight attendants on all business aircraft of a specific weight level and seating capacity, in addition to all business flight attendants being required to have corporate-aircraft-specific emergency training and attend yearly recurrent training.

Susan has been an active sitting member on the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee in Washington, DC for 17 years. She held the position of Scholarship Chairperson for the Flight Attendant Committee for two years. In that time, she raised $44,650 in educational scholarships for the corporate flight attendant. She served as the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee Vice Chairperson for one year and represented Contract Flight Attendants throughout the United States on this committee for five years. She now serves on this committee as an esteemed advisory consultant.

Susan was awarded volunteer of the year for 2011 by Women In Corporate Aviation for raising $25,000 in scholarship awards.

Susan is highly respected and considered an expert in business aviation. She speaks at various conferences globally on many topics reflective of the professional role of the business aviation flight attendant.

Susan can be contacted through her Company Web site, via LinkedIn, or by e-mail.

This guest author’s views are entirely her own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.

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