Since leaving commercial aviation as an international cabin crew member and jumping into the world of corporate aviation as a private cabin attendant, there is a question that I have been curiously flipping around my consciousness. This is an inquiry that I have tossed out for the career-term private cabin attendants to answer. As “the new girl,” I have a lot to learn about private aviation. As ‘the new girl,’ I notice how the corporate flight attendants are all beautiful; friendly, poised, and professional. One can’t tell on the surface why some are bad, good, or great at their job. It seems (from my short time observing the industry and throwing myself into it) that there is an intense amount of competition. There are MANY good corporate flight attendants, but only the few A Listers who constantly get the calls for trips. They are trusted and in high demand. So, what separates the good ones from the truly great flight attendants? What is it that makes a great flight attendant?
As ‘the new girl,’ I don’t care to simply be good. I didn’t quit my super fun, weird, and wonderful international Flight Attendant Life to only be good. I intend to be great. Are you with me? As both commercial flight attendants and corporate cabin attendants we can strive for greatness. It will take work, dedication, awareness and understanding, but if you are doing the job anyway, why not be the cabin crew member who employers and clients rave about? Why not be great?
First of all, I want to encourage corporate flight attendants to help each other out. The industry can be competitive and cut-throat, but you need to be reminded that there is room for everyone at the top. The acts of kindness you shower on your peers will return to you. How you treat the person who can’t give you anything or get you anywhere in life is truly the way you show up with everyone. Treat everyone with respect and kindness. Be real. You might see the new corporate cabin attendant as a threat, but if you are already great (which you are), you don’t have a thing to worry about.
Commercial flight attendants— if you want to be memorable and known for being a great cabin crew member— it’s time to take more responsibility for a customer’s experience. Please show up with a smile, a commitment to work hard, AND patience. Ohhh…it’s difficult to be patient in commercial, isn’t it?!? The struggle is SO real, not just sometimes, but MOST of the time. So often, passengers arrive at your plane completely stressed, unaware, and out of their element. The great commercial flight attendants notice body language and have an ability to empathize. I know you are tired of “the flying bus” at times, but show up on your flight with the attitude and goal to, “Make at least one person smile.” You don’t even know how rewarding it has been when I’ve had passengers tell me, not just once, but quite a few times, “You are the best flight attendant I have ever had.” And really, did I do anything but smile, listen to the fact that they were afraid to fly, or held their baby while Mama used the lav? It’s not hard to show kindness, but in this day in age when we are too busy to notice, this type of work commitment will take you incredibly far.
For corporate flight attendants, there is more to the game and more required to be great. One must be cultured in culinary, quick with meeting needs, and multitask with ease. It’s you and you alone to count on to create a lovely flight and make sure all is perfect. They say no such thing as perfect exists, but in private aviation, you need to be pretty damn close to perfect and learn to hide when its not. You won’t be able to depend just on looks alone as a private flight attendant. You won’t make it far if you think your beauty is enough. There are many pieces to what will create a successful private cabin attendant career. There is not just one item that will take you to A List— but from talking to a few cabin attendants, there are a few words of wisdom they have shared with me, and I will share with you.
One woman who I really admire for her girl boss work ethic and ability to push through hearing ‘no’ is Steffany Kisling; founder and CEO of SkyAngels. She found her start in private aviation with no connections and no prior experience, and what she said made her successful, was her constant eagerness and always saying, “Absolutely— I can do that.” She’s always seen what is possible and always worked hard to make clients happy when others would say, “No— I can’t do that or that’s not possible.” She’s an inspiring lesson of how far one can go when they are constantly reaching for perfection and to be the best. Just ask her how many countries and crazy adventures she’s had over the past ten years…
Donna, founder of The Corporate School of Etiquette, told me when; I asked her what separates the good flight attendants from the great ones that, “Culinary and etiquette can be trained, but personality you cannot teach. The great flight attendants have this uncanny ability to read clients, pilots, and the people who they are around. These flight attendants know when to talk, know when to stay silent, know when to be in the cabin, and know when to ‘disappear.’”
When Donna verbalized this aspect of private aviation, I found my spirit light up with hope. I’ve felt ten steps behind since I’ve jumped into the private aviation industry. I don’t have years and years of experience plating, serving, and concocting five-star recipes. I was also raised Vegan, so I’ve never cooked a steak fillet, let alone tried one. I feel behind, but that feeling is unwarranted and unnecessary. Remember that in life and career, you will bring unique strengths and competencies into your job— and you need to play those up while simultaneously minimizing and managing your weaknesses. People will love you for what you are great at and often forgive you for what you are not IF you are always improving (Work to trick them by hiding and managing weaknesses). Find ways to improve your weaknesses and keep the downsides in check. Personally, I need to spend more time on organization and multitasking, and I can get better at that, but where I will shine is with clients. I am good with people. Eight years of flying— being forced to see over 600 people per day on some days— developed to a greater degree a personality trait that I already possessed. I see things that passengers don’t really say. I notice nuances about people. I don’t know if it’s always a conscious thing, but more of a “just knowing.” I don’t think you can teach this, but I do believe your people skills can be developed.
When I asked Cindy, a private cabin server for over 13 years, if there was one trait that a private flight attendant absolutely needed, what it was— she said, “Anticipation.” The best flight attendants will anticipate what the guests and clients need or can play out future scenarios. It’s as if the great private flight attendants are playing a chess game and looking at all possible and potential plays, while setting up a strategy to win regardless of what will present itself. Be prepared. Pay attention. Be calm under pressure. All of these are included in that one word— anticipation.
In summary, what makes a great flight attendant? Well, there are a few things, and you will learn to improve where you aren’t as strong while capitalizing on your core competencies. Be good with people, anticipate their needs, and constantly be willing to improve yourself. Of course, there are more pieces to the puzzle to get you from good to great, but start with the mindset of always asking, “How can I make someone else’s experience better? How can I improve?” This alone will set you above the rest, whether that be in commercial aviation, the private jet world, or life.
What have you noticed about the flight attendants you have worked with who are memorable and amazing? What have you noticed as a traveler about the flight attendants working? Could you tell if one was better than the others? Was there something about them that stood out to you? Comment below. I want to hear from you!!!
Curious. Bubbly. Creative. Curating a life I don't need an escape from and inspiring you to do the same.