Eileen* has spent the last 12 years as a private flight attendant. The job has taken her all over the world in service of businessmen, moguls and a few celebrities. It has also yin-and-yanged from the oddly quiet (some clients wanted little more than canned soup and silence) to the completely absurd (some passengers spending a majority of the flight drunk and nude while others demanding that she find them a 33-pound frozen turkey in the middle of the heat of Dubai). What follows are a mix of her craziest stories as well as what she’s learned from taking care of the rich-and-powerful at 36,000 feet.
To be a good private flight attendant, you need to be a mind reader. It helps to know what clients want before they ask. VIP clients need to know that they are being looked after that’s why I always like to bring them an espresso for example even if they didn’t ask for it or want it in the first place. That delights them. They think, She knows what she’s doing she cares.
On the flip side, I had one passenger who didn’t want anything at all. He just wanted to get from Point A to Point B. He didn’t even want me be in the cabin.The most he’d ever say was to ask if I could make him some canned soup or an espresso.
It’s easy to know if people are new to private flying, they are the ones who want everything. A seasoned VIP traveller is happy to just sit there and have a simple meal and a couple of cocktails. In all walks of life there are clients who will be difficult. Asking for magazines that are seemingly impossible to get, and they know it. They may ask for things just because they can they want to feel special. This frequently happened especially if one person paid to take their friends along on a trip with them. They wanted to feel important and make sure they got their money’s worth. So they would ask for everything: Lobster, caviar, fine wines, Cristal and Dom Perignon. That’s just human nature and as a flight attendant it is our job to deliver …. and we do on a daily basis (with a smile).
Among the tougher requests? “Pointed strawberries.” No other instruction. I went all the way from Nice where I was staying to Cannes where my boss had first bought them. It was a 90-minute journey only to find them the next day in the local market in Nice, which was very frustrating. They were small and sweet. They looked a little like la gariguettes but smaller. Another wanted foie gras in the middle of summer, which is impossible. It was from Lenôtre, a speciality food shop in France. When I apologized for not being able to find it, he said, “Yeah, I didn’t think you’d find it.” I did find an alternative, however. And in the end, this is what mattered to him — knowing that I cared enough to look for something equally good as an alternative.
Nothing, however, beats the madness of having to source a 33-pound turkey in Dubai to send to Saudi Arabia. Even more crazy: It had to remain frozen the whole way. I still have nightmares about it. It was for a Thanksgiving dinner party in Jeddah the next night, and the guest of honor was from the American Embassy. Me and two other girls split up and spent three hours roaming the markets of Dubai to find the largest bird possible. One of the other girls found it in a Spinneys supermarket. I had to take some very fast taxi rides to a coordinated set of pre-planned freezers in hotels and airline FBOs [fixed-base operators that provide services at airports] just to get the bird to the plane. Then I had to find dry ice to keep it safely cold during the three-hour flight from Dubai to Jeddah. I don’t think anyone got sick, but I’ve definitely wondered.
On every flight, I’d look after every person equally — whether they were the principal or the girlfriend. But I’d always treat the principal’s children even better. If you could keep the kids quiet and occupied, they really appreciated it.
No one ever did more than one or two flights with this particular Russian man. He was that insufferable. Miraculously, I managed a whole month. He’d get more and more drunk from the moment he stepped foot onboard the plane, and on occasions, all his clothes would be off. I’d keep the temperature cold so he’d get uncomfortable, and maybe a little more modest. I developed subtle ways to defuse him over the course of the time I flew him; it became a game I think to make me blush. He often was the one blushing, though.
It’s known that some clients expect or hope for something a little extra on the flight, but I’ve never been in a situation where I felt compromised. Nothing inappropriate ever happened with me, because there was never any misunderstanding about who I was and what exactly I was doing on the flight.
People can really surprise you. I’ve had a few reality celebrities who were among the kindest people I’ve ever met — even though they were notorious for bad behavior in public. You’d see how shocking their behavior was on TV, and you thought the flight would be terrible. But as soon as the plane’s doors closed, the makeup came off, the hair went down and the track suit replaced whatever they’d been wearing previously. They would be the first to thank you and understand if I didn’t have something that they wanted.
It can be remarkable to see a businessman who might be an utter pillock [British slang for fool], but when his family was with him, he’s would be a totally different person. You’d never think a 6-year-old could run up to a grown man (a man who was renowned for being hard) and make him a complete softie. But human nature is a funny thing.
That said, family changes the whole dynamic in the exact opposite way, too. I worked for a devout Muslim man who wouldn’t even look at alcohol when his family was aboard. But when they weren’t there, off he went. One time my client had to be escorted through Jeddah airport by my pilots because he couldn’t walk straight.
There was also a recently-divorced gentleman who said he was going to make sure his ex didn’t get a cent of his overseas money. He was a complete character he was very candid in his stories of her. I believe that he spent that hour moving money around banks but of course I can’t be sure. This is the beauty of private flying — you can come and go at your own pace.
— As told to Ben Feldheim
*Eileen’s name has been changed to protect the rich and famous.