Recession cools attendance at flight attendants conference

 - July 28, 2009, 8:38 AM

While attendees described the 13th annual NBAA Flight Attendants Conference, held June 25 to 27 in New Orleans, as “upbeat,” the economic recession had an obvious effect. With flight departments being closed, flight hours reduced and jobs at a premium, the total number of attendees was 117, less than half the total of 250 who attended last year’s event, according to Steve Brown, senior v-p of operations, speaking for the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee.

Among those who did attend, Brown said, were flight attendants from Europe and South America, as well as the U.S. And while this was the first year the conference included exhibitors, there were only a handful: seven caterers, flight attendant training specialist FACTS and FlightSafety International.

Small, But Informative Conference

Some first-time attendees expressed surprise at what one called “such a low-budget” convention. “It was a very small show,” said another, a full-time flight attendant for a major corporation. “I wasn’t expecting that.” On the other hand, both seemed to feel that the special sessions were “professional and the subject matter was timely.” Sessions ranged from “Anatomy of an Accident” and “Altitude Physiology” to “Regulatory and Security Updates” and “Conflict Resolution.”

Paula Kraft, president of Tastefully Yours caterers in Atlanta and a member
of the flight attendant committee, was impressed by the keynote talk by Flexjet president Fred Reid. “It really charged the crowd,” she said.

Reid, who has nearly 30 years in the aviation travel industry, paid deference to the service and experience of the flight attendant as a major contribution to the passenger experience. “Every contact point is crucial in our business–booking, buying, arriving–but flight attendants cover ninety-five percent of the human element,” he said.

Reid made note of the recession in which business aviation currently finds itself enmeshed, pointing out that in May charter flying was down about 37 percent over the same month last year and that among the fractional segment, flying was down 26 percent. However, he added, in March 2009, charter was down more than 49 percent and fractional was down more than 30 percent. This, he said, suggests a slowing of deterioration of market conditions.

“In my view,” he told his audience, “we will begin to see modest growth in our industry early next year,” though he added that the pace of that growth is uncertain.

“[But] no matter what challenges are thrown at business aviation,” he concluded. “It will survive, and even thrive, because it is, quite simply, irreplaceable.”

Former committee chair Judy Reif said the quality of the content at the convention was “the best it has ever been.” She extended that praise to those attending as well, pointing out that they represented “a more seasoned group that was there to learn as well as network.” The convention marked the end of Reif’s two-year tenure as chair. She turned over those duties to Scott Arnold of AirCare Solutions.

Despite concerted efforts by the NBAA Flight Attendant Committee to more clearly define the responsibilities of the flight attendant, “the definition still needs clarification,” said Reif. “We need to continue to educate the entire industry, especially charter operators and charter brokers, about the importance of having trained flight attendants who meet all the FAA requirements and are flight attendants, not ‘cabin aides’ who are limited to service only.”

The NBAA 14th Annual Flight Attendants Conference is scheduled for June 24 to 26 at the Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina in San Diego.