The Flight Attendant II: Job Responsibilities - Service
While you may be serving fewer meals these days as airlines cut costs, many passengers now bring their own food on board, which means much more trash. In 2003, several airlines started experimenting with more flexible in-flight dining options - most of which lower costs - including buy-a-sandwich on board or gourmet-style food-to-go available for sale at the gate. Unfortunately, one of the last things on many vendors' minds was environment-friendly (and easily collapsible) packaging. That means flight attendants now fill several huge (30-gallon plus) garbage bags and try to find space for them in empty carts.
Service levels vary. A few carriers offer a small plastic or wicker basket with cheese and crackers with a cookie and some kind of dried fruit. Others have beverages only; some charge for them and many still don't. Almost all carriers sell some kind of liquor, usually small miniatures of hard liquor, 12- ounce cans of beer or small bottles of white and red wine, called 'splits.'
At the end of the flight, you'll often have to account for inventory and revenue control - this usually consists of a sealable envelope with carbon copy forms and a deposit safe at each airport.
That covers coach, but the major airlines still have first class on their domestic flights, and on wide-body airplanes with two aisles, there may also be a business class. On domestic flights, the three levels of service are usually on transcontinental flights between the West and East Coasts, also known as "transcons." On these flights, the business class service is roughly similar to first class service on narrowbody flights within the U.S. This is typically a beverage service, followed by hot towel distribution before bringing out the tray with cutlery, bread plate, a salad and appetizer. Flight attendants will then pick up the salad and appetizer plates and deliver the hot entree, followed by dessert and coffee. On longer flights, there might be another light snack or beverage service an hour or so before landing.
First class services on transcontinental flights and international flights are even more complicated. Flight attendants deliver various amenities before even leaving the gate; these can include champagne, personal toiletry kits, newspapers, menus and more. After take-off, some airlines deliver high-quality headsets or personal DVD players or offer a selection of personal movies played on a VCR at each first class seat. The head first class flight attendant then takes dinner preferences while a flight attendant in the galley begins setting up three-tiered carts with linens, china, glassware and other elegant touches. The components of the service are about the same as in business class, but at a superior level, such as tossed salads with the individual garnishes available separately rather than pre-plated. The main course is bulk packed, with six small portions of potatoes in one pan, three steaks in another, for instance, and then plated onto china that has been gently warmed in one of the ovens. Sometimes there is an additional soup course or fruit and cheese cart. And the desserts often include freshly baked cookies, ice cream sundaes, fresh cake or other delicacies based on the destination. (In fact, the menu on international flights often incorporates local tastes into the meals, like sushi and fish entrees on flights to Asia, curry or vegetarian dishes to India or England, and so on.) But the flight attendants won't usually get to taste these. On a good day there might still be a few leaves of lettuce and some minced- up red onion for hungry flight attendants and maybe some lasagna from coach if you're lucky.
But as components of the food services are eliminated, so are the numbers of flight attendants needed to serve them. Whereas 10 years ago there may have been up to six flight attendants in coach to serve 180 passengers, some airlines are getting by with just three flight attendants for 210 passengers (when only a beverage is served). And as major airlines try to weather today's turbulent economy, there are increasing shortages of things like plates and wine openers This is because the major airlines are now forced to compete against the no-frills carriers, while expected to maintain a higher level of service.
Of flights that do still have meals on board, some still offer the special meal option as well. But be warned, those who order special meals tend to be high maintenance passengers. Until recently, some airlines served up to 15 different kinds of special meals ordered in advance by passengers when placing their reservation. These used to include hamburger or hot dog meals for kids, the now-extinct seafood platter or baked chicken meals for adults, in addition to the many religious and dietary meals, everything from Muslim and kosher to low-sodium, low-fat, low-sugar, vegan, lacto-ovo vegetarian, healthy heart, low-cholesterol and on and on. About the only special meals left are kosher meals, vegetarian meals and a "low-everything" called The Bland Meal.