What You Should Expect from FBOs: Personal Security and Food for Thought – A Corporate Flight Attendant’s Perspective

PT 7 M minute read
What You Should Expect from FBOs: Personal Security and Food for Thought – A Corporate Flight Attendant’s Perspective

What You Should Expect from FBOs: Personal Security and Food for Thought – A Corporate Flight Attendant’s Perspective

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.

Fixed-Base Operators (FBOs) are the ground liaison for transient business aviation aircraft. In many cases, FBOs may act as “landlords” for some aircraft that do not have their own hangars out of which to operate. Because FBOs host many visitors on a daily basis, it’s important to address concerns like security and catering protocol, thereby ensuring a higher standard of service for your passengers.

1. Security is important to passengers

When entering an FBO from the street, I am always curious about security in the lobby. Different FBOs may take different security measures to secure their lobbies. Most FBOs have locked gates monitored by surveillance cameras to allow passengers and crew onto the tarmac. Other locations may have security measures that aren’t as visible to entrants into the lobbies. In either case, it’s prudent to check with the FBO about security measures and always be aware of other people in the lobby. Such alertness is especially important for passengers entering through the lobby. For this reason, it’s recommended that pre-trip research be conducted to determine all the FBO’s security measures. This will enable you to keep your passengers informed prior to leaving the facility to the aircraft.

Additionally, it’s important to keep an eye on any personal effects. Just as at any other public location, you always want to ensure that your personal property is with you, and that your flight bag with personal items is closed. No one would like to lose their personal property or have foreign items placed in their bags, which can cause problems at customs. I always have a false sense of security in a business aviation environment, and I have to remind myself that it’s still a public environment.

2. Ordering in-flight catering and aircraft service items

At times FBOs have their Customer Service Representatives (CSRs) order in-flight catering for transient aircraft without a flight attendant (F/A). It’s best practice to provide as much detail as possible to the CSR, as he or she hasn’t received the in-flight catering training that most corporate F/As have. Such additional information would include the aircraft configuration, packaging requirements and galley equipment, as well as the aircraft’s galley size. Doing so will allow for better communication with the in-flight caterer, resulting in a better catering outcome.

3. Holding in-flight catering safely

FBOs receive and hold (refrigerate) in-flight catering orders for many operators transiting through their location. However, some crew members may not be familiar with the FBO’s kitchen area where in-flight catering is held and stored. This is vital knowledge for any crew member, as it pertains to the safety of the catering. Specifically, crew members should ensure that certain standards are maintained for the quality and safety of the in-flight catering. The FBO should have a commercial refrigerator in the kitchen area. In fact, every FBO should have two commercial refrigerators: One that is designated just for newly delivered in-flight catering (It should be dedicated to new food only and never touched by anyone except the in-flight caterer who processed the order and delivered it to the FBO), and one designated for employee food and catering that has been on inbound aircraft that the F/A or pilots want held for the next leg out. No employee food or food being held from other aircraft from a F/A for overnight holding should be permitted in the new outbound catering refrigerator to avoid cross-contamination. All refrigerators should have a temperature log that is accurately maintained. The inside of the refrigerator should always be at 40°F or 4.4°C.

Additionally, in order to prevent cross-contamination, the refrigerator(s) should not have stacked trays of food. If the in-flight catering was not delivered in sealed boxes or in open shopping bags, and the packaging is individual trays, they should not be stacked in any refrigerator. For example, if you have a tray that has an item in it that has gone bad and is now possibly tainted with bacteria such as E. coli/salmonella, and if it leaks into a tray stacked below it, you now have two trays of contaminated food. If a caterer can’t package your catering in a way that prevents it from leaking, instruct him or her to “shrink-wrap” it. This is a precautionary measure not only to keep anything from leaking down and into another tray but also to prevent anyone from gaining access and possible food sabotage.

In addition to the above food safety measures, it is important to ask what the FBO is doing to ensure that not everyone has access to catering orders. We are flying global leaders. Food sabotage is a reality. Refrigerators should have a locking mechanism of some type, and standard operating procedures (SOPs) should be in place to define who is going in and out of refrigerators.

The following is a list of concerns crew members should observe:

  • FBO standards for cleaning and maintaining the kitchen area
  • Ice-machine cleanliness/sanitation, and cleaning schedule
  • Ice scoop cleanliness/sanitation, and cleaning schedule
  • Proper handling of ice scoops – If you see one lying in the ice or on top of an ice machine to gather dust, this is an indicator of a contamination risk.
  • Is your ice being delivered in bags or buckets that may not be properly sanitized
  • Type and number of refrigerators
  • Temperature logs for refrigerators (Is there a cooler temperature log which is a charted record on the inside of the refrigerator?)
  • Individuals with access to the refrigerator(s)
  • Means of locking refrigerators

4. Safety and in-flight catering

It’s best practice to not accept unwrapped catering from an in-flight caterer or an FBO. If the wrap used to seal the food is broken or ripped, and the catering was not delivered in a sealed environment, anyone has access to it. Remember catering sabotage: Food sabotage is a reality.

Also, for security reasons, make sure your tail number and company name is on the box or open bag of catering but not left on a counter where everyone can see it. The catering should be placed in the refrigerator immediately upon arrival to the FBO to ensure that sensitive information like the aircraft’s tail number and company name isn’t shared with the public or wrong individual. Do this is to ensure that sensitive information like the aircraft’s tail number isn’t shared with the wrong individual, and that other people do not have access to the food and contaminate it. Again, we must ensure the safety of our passengers.

The following are some questions to ask:

  • What is the process for FBO employees handling my catering?
  • Were the proper sanitation steps followed prior to handling my catering?
  • Does the caterer deliver the catering to the customer service counter person, or is it taken directly to the refrigerator to prevent people in the FBO from seeing proprietary information?
  • How long does any catering order stay at the front desk before being moved to the refrigerator?
  • Do line service employees wear food handling gloves when delivering catering?

5. In-flight catering delivery process

Another important issue to consider is the FBO’s process on delivering ice, in-flight catering, washed dishes, coffee pots, newspapers and other services to the aircraft. Are your aircraft items delivered by a CSR or by a line service person? If by a line service person, did he or she wash his or her hands after performing a lav service before touching any galley/catering items? It’s best to ensure that appropriate safety measures have been taken to avoid cross-contamination. Check with the FBO to ensure those measures take place. If the line person is wearing dirty gloves while delivering the items, you should not accept it due to the possibility of cross-contamination. It’s also best practice to ensure that your food items aren’t being delivered on a tug used for other purposes such as carrying chocks or luggage, again to avoid cross-contamination.

Here are some additional things to ask an FBO:

  • Who is tasked with delivering services such as in-flight catering, coffee, etc., to the aircraft?
  • What transportation means are being used to transport those services?
  • How does the FBO ensure that processes are followed by all personnel?

6. Best practice for washing service items

When service items are to be washed, they should be placed in a dishwasher for sanitization. The correct operating temperature for a dishwasher is 198°F or 92.2°C. This will ensure that all the items are properly sanitized prior to being returned to the aircraft.

The following are some questions to ask the FBO:

  • Who will wash the dishes and aircraft galley service items?
  • Where are they washed?
  • Are they hand-washed or washed in a dishwasher?
  • What is the process for returning those items to the aircraft?
  • Does the FBO have a copy of my aircraft dish-tag sheet with all of the service items to be washed, so as to ensure that all items are returned to my aircraft and not accidentally given to another aircraft?
  • What is the process for de-catering international flights?
  • What are the catering fees?

The United States Department of Agriculture has begun to put pressure on U.S. Customs to enforce regulations for the disposal of international garbage from aircraft returning back into the U.S. from international destinations. There is now a compliance issue regarding the handling and disposing of regulated garbage. It is important to check with the FBO to ensure processes are being implemented, and if there is a de-catering charge added to your bill. Additionally, some FBOs may charge a fee to handle and expedite all in-flight catering that arrives to their facility for holding it in their refrigerator and then returning it to the aircraft. It is important to check in advance with the FBO to inquire about any fees regarding de-catering services, as well as receiving in-flight catering for your operations.


There are many aspects that an operator needs to consider when planning all phases of a trip, including any aircraft movement through an FBO. Security processes, food safety, in-flight catering sanitation and de-catering are just a few. It’s always important to follow best practice measures like the ones above that will allow us to be prepared for any unforeseen eventualities in terms of security and in-flight catering at FBOs.


If you have any questions about this article, contact me at Scffatraining@aol.com.

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