Aircraft Charter 101 (Part 4)
Care & Feeding at the Flight Levels.
Have you ever stood in an FBO lounge lamenting the sparse selections available from the sandwich machine- asks Dave Higdon? With a little preplanning the options available for charter providers vastly exceed that of a vending machine - so what should you factor into the planning process?
An airport courtesy car rolled up alongside a business jet - one of the FBO staff leapt from the passenger seat and started transferring sacks of sandwiches and other goodies from a local food establishment.
Another staff member behind the counter inside the FBO commented- “The client of that charter flight was smart enough to recognize the advantages of a jet- successful enough to charter it- and young enough to still enjoy a double-decker burger en route.”
Similar scenes occur hundreds- maybe thousands of times daily on airport ramps throughout the world as in-flight caterers tend to the necessity of feeding business travelers utilizing the thousands of business jets in today’s fast-moving world.
As with business flying itself- the options available from the various charter providers can vary widely– from sacks of sandwiches packed especially for travel- to more sublime solutions commanded by the more refined taste.
Catering on the business flight involves working within the capabilities of the aircraft. So it’s important to know the aircraft’s limitations. There is little point in expecting a hot meal of many courses in a light jet with no oven- stove or microwave- for example. Anything meant to be served warm-to-hot will need to arrive fully-cooked and packaged to maintain the thermal content.
A small jet may similarly lack a place to store heat-sensitive cold dishes- instead only providing ice coolers for keeping beverages chilled. One should plan on the space needed by platters and cold salads as well as for plates- flatware- napkins and something to collect the disposables.
As you move up in aircraft size- of course- food-service amenities tend to improve. At the top of the ‘food chain’- aircraft will quite possibly be equipped with cold-storage space- cooking ovens and hot storage to prepare foodstuffs- or preserve them at their optimum until served up in-flight - although it is your responsibility to check with the charter operator in advance.
TIMING THE DINING
As with smaller aircraft- smaller trips consisting of less flight-time will limit the time passengers will enjoy to consume their sustenance. Considering the flight time of the trip should always factor into the order process- whether for snacks- hors d'oeuvres- sandwiches- a main course or desert items. Otherwise- someone else will benefit from some great left-overs.
As trip lengths grow- so can the catering depth and variety. For example- on a transcontinental or transoceanic trip- the travelers need to eat more than once en route.
TIMING THE ORDER
Most charter providers can help fulfill your catering needs- but clients also enjoy access to the many independent caterers that can deliver directly to the aircraft independently of the charter provider. (The provider may prefer otherwise- but in the end the client should hold sway.)
The time to start planning the catering is the moment the trip is planned. Any catering requirements (likes/dislikes- allergies- vegetarian- vegan- etc.) should be calculated early- ordered well in advance- with arrangements confirmed again a day or two before the scheduled departure.
At the same time you can also cover the return trip – or subsequent legs if the charter involves multiple stops rather than a comparatively simple round-trip. Multi-leg trips may require working with different vendors with different capabilities. You will need to be prepared to work with those variations- rather than trying to insist that a caterer meet a menu standard outside their capability.
Remember that chartered aircraft offer access to thousands of destinations off the main routes of the world. Knowledge and preparation will always go a long way to preventing ‘edible’ surprises the passengers might find hard to swallow. A savvy charter provider should always go as far as to help you meet care-and-feeding needs on one of their flights.
In essence- the itinerary for your charter flight may take the plane to locales where airport catering services amount to nothing more than a carryout order from a local restaurateur or a courtesy car to a fast-food outlet for a burger and fries. And in some parts of the world- even that much may be unavailable.
Make sure you pre-plan your travel catering. If all else fails- remember that keeping some change for vending machines at the airport is never a bad idea.
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