Corporate Flight Attendant Training 101 for the Middle East
This is a post by guest author Dietmar Duller, founder and course leader of Training Solutions. Dietmar was asked to contribute to this blog because of his expertise in business aviation flight attendant training in the Middle East and Europe. Any thoughts expressed below are entirely Dietmar’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Universal Weather and Aviation, Inc.
Adjusting to the cultural differences of their clients is a constant challenge for corporate flight attendants. As they are flying clients from all over the world, their knowledge and skills need to be up to date at all times. Understanding and respecting cultural differences will not only make their daily work routine easier, but also enrich their lives. That is especially true when serving clients from the Middle East. Here are some recommendations and considerations for flight attendants who find themselves onboard a flight for a Middle Eastern client:
1. What is the appropriate dress code in the Middle East?
Before female corporate flight attendants travel to the Arabian peninsula, they should understand that in this part of the world you have to dress conservatively. Skirts must be below the knee, and arms must be covered. In Saudi Arabia, a woman should observe the strict dress code and wear conservative, loose-fitting clothes – including a full-length cloak called an "abaya"(a dress [usually black] worn by women in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Islamic world) – and keep a scarf with them in case they are asked to cover their head. Men should not wear shorts in public or go without a shirt.
2. When and how do I serve Arabic coffee?
Middle Eastern clients are accustomed to being welcomed with their traditional Arabic coffee, which should be served as soon as possible. Serving Arabic coffee is a ritual designed to make the guest feel welcomed and relaxed. The coffee cup is about the size of an espresso cup and is always held in the right hand, while the coffee pot is always held in the left hand. Cups are filled about one-third of the way. Filling the cup any higher is not considered good etiquette. It is also important that Arabic coffee be served first to high-ranking officials, leaders or elders. It is traditional to serve dates with Arabic coffee as a replacement for sugar. Do not pour coffee and serve by placing coffee cups on a tray, as done when serving tea. Rather, hold the cups in the right hand and pour coffee in each cup before serving the guests. It is customary to serve no more than three cups of Arabic coffee. It is also customary for guests to accept at least one cup and wiggle it from side to side when finished. Besides coffee beans, ingredients for Arabic coffee include cardamom, saffron and other spices.
3. How does the religion affect service onboard a private jet for Middle Eastern clients?
Religion affects your service in many ways, as the Middle East is religiously diverse. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are interconnected, and each originated in the Middle East. Islam is by far the most represented religion in the region, and one of the pillars of Islam is praying five times a day. Therefore, corporate flight attendants should have a prayer rug on the aircraft for clients to use when praying onboard. It’s also important for the flight attendant to know the direction of Mecca. Mecca is a city in Saudi Arabia, and it is the most sacred place in Islam. All Muslims are expected to face Mecca when praying.
4. Are certain food items and beverages expressly forbidden in the Middle East?
Yes. Pork and any pork byproducts, carnivorous animals and birds, unscaled fish and any kind of alcohol are not allowed to be served to Muslims. Muslims eat Halal foods, which are specially-prepared foods allowed under Islamic dietary guidelines. According to these guidelines gathered from the Koran, Halal food providers and business aviation catering companies which comply with the Islamic dietary standards must be certified, and they must maintain the highest standards.
5. What is the eating etiquette in the Middle East?
The most honored person is in the middle of the table, with the second-most important person, or the honored guest, seated next to him. The oldest person is served first, and it is also common to take food from a plate in the center of the table. Rather than using forks and spoons, clients may scoop up food with pita bread. Business jets in the Middle East frequently have space, as families like to sit together when eating. You should always serve food with your right hand, and never pass food items with your left hand or put your left hand on the table. Lamb and chicken are the most common types of meats served, and dishes are often served from trolleys.
6. How important are family values?
Fathers and grandfathers are the heads of the family. Arab families are patriarchal and hierarchal, have great influence on the family members, and are frequently quite large. Women are mainly entrusted with running the household and raising the children. Young children are often pampered, adored and treasured. Respect and honor are very important, and friendship is of high value. An Arab’s first honor is the family, which should not be dishonored under any circumstances.
7. What are the don’ts in the Middle East?
The following is a list of items to pay attention to when serving Middle Eastern clients:
- All magazines and newspapers must be checked thoroughly before the flight, as no image of a partly naked person is allowed to be visible. Often, a black marker is helpful in marking out images that aren’t acceptable.
- As the left hand is considered unclean in the Arab world, always use the right hand and avoid making gestures with your left hand. Also, don’t point with your left hand, as that is considered impolite.
- Taboo topics are Islam and its leaders, which should never be criticized. Avoid conversations about increases in oil prices, the Middle East political troubles and dogs. Many Arabs do not care for dogs.
- It may be discourteous to ask about a man’s wife and daughters. Only ask about his "family and children."
- Do not explicitly admire a possession of your Arabian host; she/he may feel obligated to offer it to you, even if it is of special value to her/him.
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