The coffee pot gurgled as I tipped the second 330ml Fiji water bottle into the black slats at the top of the built in appliance. The action triggered a smile and a memory of the first time a seasoned corporate flight attendant showed me the secret to inflight coffee brewing. “Do you know how to make coffee on a private jet?” she asked me. I timidly said, “No.” I was so new to private aviation that I didn’t even know how to make a coffee on a private jet. We all start somewhere.
There would be many of these specific and mundane tasks that, although not complicated, I would have to learn if I was to be a private jet flight attendant. It’s funny when you think of the job as just “making a cup of coffee.” It can’t be that hard, right? And it’s not…but it is…but it’s not. If you are a corporate flight attendant, maybe you understand what I mean. I would learn that the job was much more complex than I imagined.
Snapping back to the present, it dawns on me just how far I’ve come since the days when I first stocked airplanes and brewed coffee. The work can still be complex and I still stress, but there now exists a knowledge that only experience can bring. I’ve become familiar with my office in the sky. I know that there are usually little handles on the bottom or back of the ice drawers that need to be opened or closed so that the drawer will drain. I know that many private aircraft galleys have a little pocket door in front of where the sink is located. The mini-soap, sponge, and dish washing gloves will usually be found there. That little office/flight attendant drawer is always clutch and, if well-stocked, the advil, mints, and hand sanitizer come in handy. I’ve become accustomed to every aircraft having its own personality, while also expecting an intuitive layout. This will be found here, that will be there. I also expect a client to be described as ‘particular.’ Particular is part and parcel to private jets.
The frustration to find experience is felt deeply as a new flight attendant. The inexperience will be a god-damn and HUGE hurdle that you never thought would be such a giant leap to overcome. I say this especially to the commercial flight attendants thinking that they will “just make the jump” to corporate aviation. It’s tougher than you imagine. That being said, miracles happen. I started in aviation in 2009, right after the economic crash.
In 2016, I didn’t have a CLUE how difficult it would be to switch from being a commercial flight attendant to being a corporate flight attendant, and trust me, it’s hard. So, how do you get experience as a corporate flight attendant when no one will give you a chance? As cliche as some of these may be, Here are my top three tips— A) Don’t give up B) Be humble enough to take a ‘shitty job’ if it will help you learn and grow towards your goal C) Find a mentor, and when they give you simple advice, take action. Most people say they want something, but are not willing to make the sacrifices and commitments to make the dream possible. Just saying.
Experience in private aviation is absolutely essential. It’s often too much of a liability for a company to hire someone when there is a surplus of experienced crew members that have already developed a relationship of trust with both a client and an operator. I don’t blame companies for this. There simply is a lot at stake. You stepped yourself into an oversaturated field that is sifted through via connections and experience— two things you don’t have when you are new.
To conquer the problem of no experience you face it, fail, and figure out a solution. Success in corporate aviation comes down to your motivation, determination, willingness to grow. Lest I lead you astray, you also need ‘the personality,’ and if you ask me what that looks like, I’m still not sure. What I can say is this— when I pass along work to a newish flight attendant with less than 6 months to a year of experience, the reason I do is because I know, “She/He will just figure it out.” I trust that they will approach any situation with a savvy, hardworking, quick learning, passionate and attention-to-detail focused attitude. Give someone a good reason to trust you.
There also is a beauty to naivety; in believing that corporate aviation will be a swift and smooth transition from wherever you are entering. For those hoping to get into private aviation, let this be a cautious warning to you. I’m not sure you have what it takes, and every single gate-keeper to the career will be thinking the same. They won’t expect you to make it, so you will have to prove to them that you will. This disbelief from those with jobs to give will include all but one or two individuals. These one or two people will become your mentors, your lifeline. One day in the future, when you find yourself slammed with trips and booked months in advance, you will know that you owe everything to these select few who believed in you. Everything. They guided you. They saw something in you. They risked with you. They are why you are where you are. NEVER, ever forget that. Your personal success is not a solo mission but a group effort. Remember to pay it forward when you do succeed.
Any sustainably-successful and experienced corporate flight attendant has earned the right to work for the clients and the companies that they do. This right has come from what could be years of grinding, networking, and failing. The hustle never truly stops, either. The experienced corporate flight attendants that you envy probably go through their own hell. You will never hear about this or see what really happens. Everything in private aviation always looks so pretty on the outside. Just know there is always more to the story, and most corporate flight attendants bust their asses to earn their keep.
I’m honestly not sure why anyone would want to be a flight attendant (says the girl over ten years into it). Maybe this career is simply an addiction. We become trapped by the high of 41,000ft and far away destinations. I know that this career becomes a trap for many. Hard to get in, but easy to stay and become complacent. With good full-time corporate flight attendant jobs going at $150k/year salaries, it’s so hard to leave and walk away. To what? A 9-5? To be truthful, I know we say we work hard and we do, but our uniquely designed lifestyles would be hard to replicate unless we become like the clients we work for.
I can’t say that this job is ever “bad.” It has its awful moments. It’s definitely not boring. To me, it now exists to serve a purpose. It’s my career, and I hope not my life. I’m simply not so interested in devoting my entire attention to Flight Attendant Life. All I cared about when I was a new corporate flight attendant was being a corporate flight attendant. I wanted to fly as much as I wanted to breathe. That was ok, then, and probably why I was able to accomplish what I did. It was rewarding and confidence boosting, but to consider going back to the grind again (whenever flying picks up) makes me sick to my stomach. I care more about my relationships now. My mental health. My physical health. I’ve learned a lot in my few years in private aviation, but I am still learning boundaries. I am still learning how to say no to work and yes to what is best for me. I think this is one of the biggest and most important lessons of our entire lives.
As a new flight attendant it must be your mission to place yourself in the path of learning. Find a mentor, and utilize the resources that are available. Make it your goal to give hiring managers the assurance that, once the door of the aircraft is closed, you will handle whatever situation arises with grace, poise, and professionalism. Maybe you need to take hospitality courses, work in the service industry, or invest in private aviation trainings. As every private jet job is a bit different, so what you will need to succeed will be a bit different than the flight attendant next to you.
I took a minimum wage job that introduced me to various jets, aviation professionals, and parts of what a corporate flight attendant had to do to ‘go to work.’ I needed a broader foundation than some do when entering private aviation. Some flight attendants enter the industry with a yachting, restaurant, or hospitality background. Some work at FBOs. I look back at my path, and I even have a difficult time understanding how all of it came together. I truly can’t believe it worked out. I was very, very discouraged when I faced “not having experience.” I think ultimately, your success will hinge on how you approach the seemingly insignificant tasks in life, because “How you do anything is how you do everything.” Private aviation is about the little details.
To give you hope, there will be a day in the future when you will realize that you no longer interview and fly based on recommendations. Sending resumes is more of a ceremony then something that is reviewed. In two, four, six or ten years, you will find yourself pouring water into the coffee machine, as if on autopilot. You feel the satisfaction of knowing that you are good at something that challenged you at one point. It also feels really nice to not be ‘new’ anymore. Yet, you look back fondly over who you were then and how it felt. Now, the glamour of flying is a bit tarnished, but every so often it glistens. When it does glisten— whenever it glistens— hold that moment close, and please be so grateful for it. What you have earned and have been given in this life is such a gift.
Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.