World leaders and fine wine: the life of a corporate flight attendant

Alud Davies
By Alud Davies January 21, 2014 16:53

World leaders and fine wine: the life of a corporate flight attendant

Sophie Fry talks to Corporate Jet Investor about what it’s like to be a freelance corporate flight attendant and the differences between her and her airline counterparts.
Corporate flight attendant, Sophie Fry

Left to right: Sophie Fry and her favourite aircraft, a Bombardier Global Express.

Every single day is different. I have flown all kinds of passengers from A-list celebrities to presidents, sometimes even pets – flying a dog on its own was particularly memorable.

Flight Attendants are our best friends in the air; not only do they look after our every whim, they are also trained to a very high standard just in case anything goes wrong.

But what is it like to be a corporate flight attendant and how does it differ to being an airline flight attendant?

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UK-based Sophie Fry is a corporate flight attendant who started her career working for an airline. Jumping at an opportunity to work on corporate jets instead, she joined a well known UK private jet operator, before making the decision to go freelance.

Corporate Jet Investor caught up with Sophie to ask her about being a corporate flight attendant, and to see if she had any advise for anybody hoping to become one themselves.

How did you first get into being a flight attendant?

“Having graduated and choosing a stable career path as an HR advisor, after six years I quickly realised office life wasn’t for me. Determined to fulfil my desire to travel the world, I started my flying career at London Heathrow with British Midland (BMI). Six week of training and I was ready to hit the skies.”

After being an airline flight attendant, how did you make the switch to becoming a corporate flight attendant?

“Although I enjoyed my time at BMI, I didn’t enjoy the monotony of doing the same routes on a weekly basis and there was little room to make any personal influences day-to-day. I was keen to investigate other options to further my career in the industry. With my BMI training behind me and solid experience dealing with complex employee relations matters, I managed to secure a job as cabin crew for one of Europe’s leading operators of private jets.”

Are there big differences between an airline and a corporate flight attendant?

“The transition of going from commercial to private aircrafts was fast. Working as an flight attendant in business aviation is unique and sometimes very demanding but also incredibly rewarding. As a corporate flight attendant you become a ‘jack of all trades’ and no two days are ever the same. Your ‘boss’ may be the owner of the aircraft, royalty, government or even a world leader.

“One huge difference to working for an airline is that you are working completely alone  – apart from the flight crew. You take responsibility of everything from sourcing catering and writing menus to buying supplies downroute for the aircraft.

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“The role of corporate flight attendant is completely autonomous and encompasses far more duties than that of an airline flight attendant. Even when your flight is over and you arrive at the hotel, there is still laundry to arrange and the next catering order to sort. Free time down route will be spent buying stock for the aircraft and sometimes sourcing specific things like fine wines or whiskeys for client requests.

“The job itself is far more demanding during the actual flights. You have to be prepared for anything and have the ability to improvise at times. Imagine providing five-star quality, three course meals to eight passengers in one hour flight time?

“Working hours massively differ to that of airlines. With an airline you have a secure published roster a month or more in advance. As a corporate flight attendant you are on call 24/7. If you are lucky you may be on a rotation working one month on and one month off. Also, there are no flight time limitations yet in the private sector, so you’re working day can often be more than 20 hours long (passengers who charter their own jet are often late.)”

What do you enjoy the most about being a corporate flight attendant?

“It goes without saying, the travel. Unlike an airline you will sometimes spend days or even weeks in one place and due to the eclectic mix of passengers you fly, you will find yourself in all kinds of destinations, sometimes completely remote and unusual. I have been everywhere from the beautiful lakes of Lugano to the bustling streets of Freetown, Sierra Leone.

“Every single day is different. I have flown all kinds of passengers from A-list celebrities to presidents, sometimes even pets – flying a dog on its own was particularly memorable – which means each flight is completely individual to the next, in terms of your catering, style of service, and general demeanour with the passengers. You really have no idea what each day has in store so the ability to act quickly and think on your feet is essential in this job.”

And the least enjoyable part?

“The downside to freelance is that jobs can sometimes be few and far between and you might not know when your next work will be. So, often a back up plan, some studies or alternative career might be in order.”

So what made you decide that freelancing would be best for you?

“Having worked on all different kinds of rosters and rotations and being bound by the phone ringing at any time this becomes somewhat arduous after a few years and home life suffers as a result. Freelance is the perfect solution to working when you want, without being tied to one aircraft or roster. It allows more flexibility with your time, just as long as the work keeps coming in.”

How does a freelance corporate flight attendant go about finding work?

“When it comes to looking for work, business aviation is all about word of mouth. Staying in touch with old colleagues, contacts and employers is key to keeping your face known in the industry. Also, sites like Linkedin can be particularly useful for building new contacts.”

How much advance notice do you normally get about a trip?

“This can vary from two to three days to not much more than two hours. Again, depending on what kind of contract you are working on. Freelance flight attendants would normally get at least 24 hours notice, as there is a little more time needed to familiarise yourself with their way of doing things and potentially an aircraft you have not worked on before.

“Having worked on a two hour call out time for a long time, I am accustomed to knowing what to pack quickly and getting ready and on the road within that time frame… sometimes placing the catering order in the car on the way.

“But 24 hours minimum is preferable for most flight attendants. This allows you time to prepare a nice menu for your passengers and give the caterers sufficient notice of your order.”

Do you have a favourite aircraft to work on?

“They all have their advantages and disadvantages, but I really enjoy working on the Global Express – mainly for space reasons. A Global Express usually has a large fridge to store catering, a good sized oven, a microwave, a kettle, a coffee machine, a sink, a separate crew rest area and a forward bathroom. This all makes long sectors much more pleasant for the crew and preparing food is a whole lot easier. However, the larger the aircraft the higher the expectations are in terms of choice, quality, and presentation.

“The Hawker is the smallest aircraft I have worked on. There is very little room for baggage  – both passengers and crew – which can sometimes restrict the amount of catering you can store. It has a very small work area with just a microwave to work with. This makes the service particularly challenging with very few surfaces and only being able to heat one meal at a time.

“Being organised and well prepared is key when working on any size aircraft. There can be enormous amounts of catering and other bits such as flowers, ice, newspapers, magazines etc to arrange all in good time. Anything you can do before the passengers arrive will save precious time when in the air.”

Lastly, is there any advice you’d like to give anybody who wants to become a corporate flight attendant?

“I was lucky coming from an airline background, as the training puts you in good stead for the foundations of being a flight attendant anywhere.  However, two years of first class experience is usually requested, along with high standards of personal presentation. Knowledge of catering and language skills are an added bonus. Although training in a VIP environment is not essential, it helps if you have a good SEP background and have completed an initial training course.

Personal characteristics that are essential are: flexibility, initiative and being highly organised. An abundance of patience, attention to detail and some creativity will also serve you well in this role.

About Sophie

With over four years of experience working both in airline and corporate service, Sophie has extensive experience travelling in West Africa, Europe (including Eastern Europe) and the Middle East and has perfected the necessary skills to work for high-net-worth individuals.

Based in the UK, Sophie is available anytime of day or night at short notice. You can contact her by calling her directly on: +44 7751 231 530 or by e-mail:

Alud Davies
By Alud Davies January 21, 2014 16:53

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