When Is A Flight Attendant Not A Flight Attendant? 

  By Dr. Bobbie Sullivan


When is a Flight Attendant not a Flight Attendant? The answer, at least in the world of "business aviation," is: when she/he is a "cabin server."

Does your company have a corporate aircraft? Have you ever chartered an executive jet? Are you one of the lucky few individuals who owns a private jet? If so, and if it is a so-called wide-body business jet -- which in business aviation-ese usually means a Boeing Business Jet, a
Gulfstream, a Global Express, or one of the larger Falcons -- you have probably employed the services of a Flight Attendant for at least some of your flights.

What you may not know is that not all of the "Flight Attendants" you may have encountered in the biz-jet world are true Flight Attendants! And what you may not know can cost you your life.

The title "Flight Attendant" has come to be used generically as a label for anyone who works in the cabin of an aircraft, much to the consternation of real Flight Attendants. Some women and men who work in the cabins of business jets are there only to serve meals and refreshments and to ensure that the passengers are comfortable throughout the flight. These folks may or may not have had thorough training in safety procedures.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, on the surface. After all, the FAA regulations that govern the operation of such aircraft in the USA (i.e., FAR Part 91, and FAR Part 135) do not require the inclusion of a safety-trained and qualified crewmember known as a "Flight Attendant" on aircraft with fewer than 20 seats. And, in most cases, it is less expensive to employ a cabin server who is not a Flight Attendant.

"Flight Attendant," as I have said, has come to be used generically to refer to a person who works in the cabin of an aircraft. Some aircraft owners and charter operators therefore often refer to any cabin personnel as "Flight Attendants." The trouble arises in the admittedly rare instance of an emergency aboard the aircraft.

The passenger -- naive to the difference between a fully qualified Flight Attendant and a cabin server -- may logically assume that the person working in the cabin is indeed trained to take charge in an emergency. That passenger, conditioned by the reality of airline experience, where all Flight Attendants are in fact "real" Flight Attendants by law, will look to the cabin server for leadership, and will have an expectation of skills and competencies that the cabin server may not actually have.

In fact, if the cabin server is not a qualified Flight Attendant, he or she is not even listed on the aircraft's manifest as a crewmember; rather, the server actually is listed on the manifest as a passenger. Such a cabin server may have impeccable manners as a host or hostess, and may have fine culinary and serving skills, admittedly desirable qualities. Sadly, those skills will no longer matter if that same person does not know how to appropriately administer first aid to a passenger, how to fight a fire in the galley, how to operate any and all doors and other emergency exits, and know how to get you, the passenger, safely evacuated from an aircraft if and when -- God forbid! -- the need arises.

I have personally met a handful of cabin servers who have learned, over time -- and perhaps with a little ad hoc training here and there -- how to perform at least some of those emergency duties. Some are former airline Flight Attendants now working in the world of corporate aviation who have done their best to transfer the skills they learned in their airline days to their new situation. But, while she or he may be completely well-intentioned, if the person serving you in the cabin of an executive jet has not been formally trained in an FAA-approved Corporate Flight Attendant safety training program, and on the specific type of aircraft you're sitting in, you could end up in big trouble when you need help the most.

At present, I know of only three organizations in the USA that provide such FAA-approved training for Corporate Flight Attendants. They are
Alteon Training (A Boeing Company), FACTS Training International, and Flight Safety International. (If there are others that I'm not aware of, I'm sure someone will correct me!!) All offer approved initial and recurrent training courses for Corporate Flight Attendants.


Next time you fly on a corporate jet, you might want to ask the person serving you if he or she is a graduate of one of those programs. And, when your business aircraft charter includes the services of a "Flight Attendant," you should ask whether or not that person is a real Flight Attendant, with proper FAA-approved training. If the answer is "no," at least you'll know what to expect -- or what not to -- should an emergency arise during your flight.

Flight Attendants have a saying: We're here to save your ass, not kiss it. It's cheeky, but it's not really a joke!

Endnote: If you've read this far and you are interested to know what real Corporate Flight Attendants are saying about this topic right now, I invite you to visit the Third Crewmember thread on a forum known as the Corporate Flight Attendant Message Boards.

Bobbie Sullivan, PhD, an occupational health psychologist based in Hawaii, specializes in the health and well-being of aircrews, and those who support them on the ground. Visit her website at www.AircrewHealth.com [or, Read more of her articles at www.AircrewBuzz.com.]