It's not a secret that males are EXTREMELY outnumbered in VIP service roles on Superyachts and Private Jets. In fact, I would venture to say just about everybody's first mental picture when they think of yacht stew or flight attendant IS female. That doesn't mean male stews and flight attendants aren't out there though and absolutely CRUSHIN IT at their jobs.
A great friend and aviation industry veteran, Tom P., has built a fantastic career as a VVIP flight attendant and was amazing enough to answer some questions for members to provide some male insight on the job and lifestyle. His extensive experience began on commercial airlines, and now he works on a private jet flight team for a high net worth family in the NYC region.
Can you tell members a bit about yourself and highlight your background in aviation?
Like most of us in this community, my fascination with aviation began as a child, but I never really thought of pursuing a career within the field. I got my foot in the door working on the ramp and customer service in 1986 and then began flying commercially in 1988 following college. Yes I'm old! My parents weren't happy with me for some time, as they felt I had studied so hard during my undergraduate studies and I was wasting my education with this job. Once they say how happy I was, they changed their tune! I've been flying ever since.
What made you want to become a flight attendant?
A childhood friend of mine landed a flight attendant position with American Airlines when I was about to finish college, and I thought it would be fun to try for a couple of years after my studies. Here I am 20 some years later and still enjoying it!
As most aviation geeks will tell you, once this lifestyle gets in your system, you can't imagine doing anything else. Its a way of life, not a 9-5 job! It's always a sunny day when you work above the clouds.
How did you find your way to the private aviation sector?
I never really considered a private aviation until the events of 9/11/2001. Commercial airlines were furloughing thousands and that slap-in-the-face reality check made me look to private flying. I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship (NBAA) for initial corporate flight attendant training through Flight Safety and began the long road of putting myself out there to find a gig. It took a lot of emails, FBO visits (which always seemed to include muffin baskets and pastries!) and phone calls - then I finally got THE call! It was nerve racking, but totally worth the effort!
Would you say you prefer private aviation to commercial?
There are definitely pros and cons to each sector, but for me, private flying suits me best. I certainly miss the fun of flying with several f/a's on a commercial trip, but I no longer have to apologize all day long to passengers for things that go wrong. In private flying, I have many more responsibilities, but then I know that everything is going to be done properly and stocked onboard for my passengers.
It's all about exceeding their expectations.
Did you feel you experienced any sort of gender discrimination breaking into private? Do you think being such a minority in this position makes it more challenging to get jobs?
Totally! Early in my private flying career I had been contracting for a company out of Georgia. I was flying charters on a Gulfstream that the company was managing. I found myself being removed from the flying schedule every time the owner had a trip booked. After a bit of time, I asked the chief flight attendant why I wasn't ever flying the owner and her reply was always-
"They aren't ready for a male flight attendant."
Seriously? I simply look at myself as someone that strives to proved great service. So fast forward to a scheduling conflict, and guess who was taking the owner and his family on a 40 minute flight? I prepped myself to death and served 6 people multiple courses in a short period of time and it was a love connection between the family and myself. I proved my worth and flew the owner every trip after that! It's all about first impressions!
What are your favorite/least favorite components of the job? (when we’re not in a global pandemic)
Favorite Components - my aircraft owner and fellow crew members (they're all amazing!), visiting places I would never go to on my own, working on state-of-the-art-aircraft and challenging my culinary skills on a daily basis. I term that as living in an episode of "Chopped" (Food Network) in a very small and sometimes limited galley. It's fin seeing what I can turn out quickly with what is on board the aircraft!
Least Favorite Components - Expenses, expenses, expenses! As much as I despise expense reports, it is so important to stay caught up so $$ isn't coming out of my pocket! I minor aspect is the lack of flexibility with scheduling. Commercial flying spoiled me with that one!
What are some of the more notable destinations you’ve visited in your career?
I've been very fortunate with the owners that I have worked with, and they all visit different types of destinations. Thankfully they have all been warm weather families, which makes packing your suitcase much easier! For me, I would say Maldives, Tahiti, Fiji, and Bali were the "wow" moments. Overwater bungalows are a must! We used to spend a lot of time in Cambodia and South East Asia which were also amazing. Any time I get to shop for provisions and lean the local customs, it's a win!
Any VIP Service tips to share from your time on the job?
When working with VVIP's, in my opinion, it's all about a "silent service", and I prefer to let the passenger take the lead. Speak when spoken to, and try to read the mood of the lead passenger. Realize the differences between flying people to a funeral versus vacation. I think it's important fo us as a community to understand the significance of an "Aha" moment in the eyes of the passenger. What service element will set you apart from the other thousands of flight attendants?
No one wants to see a flight attendant running around with their wig on fire. So make your life easier by being prepared. For me, that begins a couple of days before a trip. I constantly make lists to avoid missing anything. The end result will be a smooth flight where the boss things you are calm and cool.
One specific item that works for me is menus. I know, insert eye roll here! it's a pain, I realize that. In the long run it makes my life easier and it's a nice touch. I don't have to repeat my offerings to several different people and it adds a personal touch to the overall experience.
If you like to have fun with food and drink, try offering a homemade item that is memorable. A boarding snack that is unexpected can set you up for success.