As I cool my heels at the Brisbane airport, reading the latest issue of Corporate Jet Investor (I fly commercial) the question is asked, when you are paying upwards of $8,000 an hour to charter a large-cabin private jet, bad food is something that can no longer be excused.
Daniel Hulme, CEO of On Air Dining, based at Stansted Airport’s Diamond Hangar says he is concerned about the business aviation industry’s blasé attitude towards food safety; he tells stomach-churning stories about corporate flight attendants that pick up hot food from high-end restaurants only to transport it in the back of a taxi and store it the aircraft’s lavatory before re-heating. But when most private jet flights last less than two hours, it is easy to understand why catering is not being discussed at the dinner table.
Alex Wilcox, CEO of California-based operator JetSuite, says he will happily liaise with local restaurants whenever a passenger requests an inflight meal, but as an operator of short-range private jets, he says: “For those that want a meal on board we will handle that, but it is not a massive issue.”
Likewise, Wheels Up, which operates a large fleet of King Air 350i turboprops, will soon allow its members to book catering using a smartphone app, but David Baxt, president, says that for such short haul flights, passengers rarely request anything more than light snacks.
For VistaJet, which includes much larger private jet types such as the Bombardier Global 6000 in its fleet, the story is very different. “I never understand why business jet operators order catering from the airport; you get plastic trays with a cheese board. It is not what you would do if you were taking friends on a picnic,” says Thomas Flohr, founder and chairman. “Our clients all have favourite restaurants across the world and expect more when they are flying.”
The story goes on to say that for Hulme, it is absurd that a multinational corporation could fly its executives on a private jet to an important business meeting, only to risk them spending two days doubled-up in a hotel room with food poisoning.
“I’m surprised that more people don’t get food poisoning. I’m sure it is happening a lot, but people don’t really talk about it,” Hulme says.
“I don’t understand why there isn’t more emphasis on the training of flight attendants to make sure that they all have food certificates, which isn’t a requirement in business aviation, but it really, really should be.”
One veteran charter broker says that he agrees in principal, but feels it is not a big issue: “I have been booking charter flights for 20 years and we have never had a case of food poisoning. In my experience the ground handling companies take this very seriously and only use approved companies.”
An integral part of private jet catering is the relationship between the caterer and the corporate flight attendant, with the involvement of the flight attendant varying greatly from one flight to another. Sophie Fry, a UK-based corporate flight attendant, says: “You take responsibility of everything from sourcing catering and writing menus to buying supplies for the aircraft.”