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Redefining In-Flight Catering

Holly Szymanski – Corporate Flight Attendant in Bahrain and Dubai

This week we are excited to bring you the insights and experience of Holly Szymanski, a corporate flight attendant from Australia who is based in the Middle East. Read on to learn more about Holly, and her valuable tips for fellow corporate flight attendants.

Which aircraft have you flown on during your career?

  • Global express
  • G550
  • Hawker
  • Embraer
  • B777
  • A330
  • A340
  • A319/20/21

Where did you receive flight attendant training?

FlightSafety International in Savannah, Gulf Aviation Academy (GAA) Bahrain and Qatar Airways Aviation College.

When was your last recurrent?

January 2015

What are your base locations?

My base location fluctuates between Bahrain and Dubai. I am in Dubai when we need maintenance work and then in Bahrain all other times. Bahrain is closest to the Saudi causeway, where our passengers reside. So it’s easier for us to be based in Bahrain or Dubai then in Saudi (which I have done previously for two years with another role).

How long have you been a flight attendant?

6 years total. Two years in commercial and four years in private aviation.

What are your career highlights?

My career highlight would definitely have to be transitioning into private aviation. Coming from Australia, we don’t have a large corporate aviation scene so I never would have dreamed to be doing what I do now or even how to get here! So, I do feel very grateful and truly blessed with my job and everything that comes along with it.

It can be extremely testing at times, mainly when you are away from home for long periods at a time. But the positives that come with the job are far more rewarding and outweigh the negatives.

Aside from your corporate flight attendant training, what other education do you have?

I’m a mixed bag of tricks! I have studied Tourism Management, I have a Diploma of Makeup Artistry, Integrative nutrition and Health Coaching, and I am also currently three-quarters through my nutrition degree.

Which languages are you fluent in?

English. Very basic Arabic and Japanese. Most Arabic clients (and all that I have worked with before) do not want you speaking Arabic. But it is hard not to pick up a few phrases and words here and there after six years of living in the Middle East!

What has been your most memorable flight?

With so many flights under my belt now, it’s hard to pinpoint just one. I know its cliché, but I’m honestly going to have say most of my flights now with my current client. They respond to and appreciate the high standard of service that we give, and hard work we put in. I truly find that as being rewarding. It also helps when they travel to places like London, Nice and Los Angeles and spend 3-4 weeks in the same location!

What types of cuisine to you prefer?

Does avocado count as a cuisine? No, but seriously, I am a big foodie. If I eat out it has to be real food though not “fake” or fast food. I’ve been nicknamed “the ethical eater,” as I am a tad fussy and always want to know where my food comes from and what the ingredients are. I try to eat local when possible and as natural as possible. So, in saying that, I like to cook my own food.

When I do go out though I enjoy eating Japanese, I love salmon sashimi. And you cannot beat my favorite comfort food of vegemite and avocado on sourdough toast. Yum!

What are your favorite destinations, and why?

Home is always my first answer. Melbourne, Australia or wherever my loved ones may be in the world!

Vienna is another city I always love when I visit, especially around Christmas time with all the festivities, Christmas markets and the mulled wine. Also Los Angeles and London, only because I frequent those cities so much and for long periods of time. So much that I have a routine and favorite things to do and people to see when I get there.

I’ve gotten to that stage of life and flying where I just like to be somewhere where I can get good food, do pilates and yoga, and also be able to go for walks outside without being burnt alive by the heat! Wi-Fi and wine also get a mention in there somewhere, too.

One of the best things about being a private flight attendant is the people you meet and friends you make for life, dotted all around the world. It is amazing how we all stay in touch despite the time differences and miles apart, and still manage to have sporadic rendezvous in exciting places!

What are your favorite restaurants in Bahrain?

In Bahrain, I use CUT by Wolfgang Puck for catering. The food is of the best quality to serve on-board for VIP clientele. For myself, I actually struggle to find good food that I enjoy in Bahrain. Especially compared to places like Dubai or anywhere else in the world, to be honest.

When in Dubai, though, a few cafes I love frequenting are Tom and Sergs and The Sum of Us. Owned by the same duo, they do great food and they make the best coffee in Dubai, actually in the Middle East for that matter. I also like Tashas for their amazing free-range egg breakies! These three places are always on my list to meet people for long catch ups over coffee and a good feed.

What are some things to do that you would suggest for a corporate flight attendant visiting Bahrain for the first time?

Bahrain is a cluster of islands in the Persian Gulf, between Saudi and Qatar. The people are some of the friendliest that I have met in the Middle East. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t a lot of recreational things to do in Bahrain. Being super hot most of the year most of the activities are inside, like malls, restaurants and pubs. Not some of my recreational favorites. However, there are some lovely beaches you can visit which have jet skis to rent and other water activities. A cruise on a traditional wooden “dhow” boat is always nice thing to do if are new to the region. If you are lucky, you can even see dolphins off the coast, too!

The Tree of Life is also in Bahrain. It is a 400-year-old tree, which is famous in the Middle Eastern region. Thousands of tourists visit it every year. It is basically just a tree in the middle of the desert though, so you can decide if that’s something you want to see or not!

Bahrain also has some cheap gold souqs (markets), which can be fun to walk around and have a look in. I would recommend not going alone though.

Any cultural tips for a corporate flight attendant visiting Bahrain for the first time?

Bahrain, even though it is an Islamic state, it is known for being the most lenient religion-wise in the Gulf.  It still has alcohol readily available and has a very happening nightlife. No need to be too conservative regarding dress. It is hot and about a one-fifth of the population are expats. So, as long as you dress and act respectfully, you won’t get into any trouble.

Most food is halal, but you can find pork sections in some supermarkets and hotels if you ask. Alcohol can only be bought at hotels or licensed restaurants. There is an outlet though that your hotel concierge will be able to direct you to if you want to have a better variety and go get yourself for flights etc. It is near the Gulf hotel and has a large range of wines and beers that anyone can enter and buy. Expect to pay a premium though!

For all flight catering, only use hotel restaurants. Bas Catering, which is the normal airline catering, can be used for all the basics you may need though.

What are some in-flight catering challenges you have experienced?
How did you overcome them?

I have learnt that there is never going to be enough room to fit everything away in the galley, never! Unless you are lucky enough to work in a BBJ or the likes of.

It’s always good to specify exactly how you want your food packaged, so it doesn’t come in a gazillion bulky boxes. Specify If you want things bulk or individually packed to minimize packaging, and how you want your food cooked —rare or al dente — as you don’t want to serve your VIPs overcooked meals when you have put so much effort into designing your menus and catering.

Also, overcome the last-minute extra pax issue by having some bulk stores on-board which you can have to stretch out the catering. Some things I always keep on-board are: snack baskets, micro pouches of steamed rice, good quality tinned soups, and condiments to spruce up bland or not-so-good catering.

What made you decide to become a corporate flight attendant?

When I left commercial aviation I really wasn’t thinking of ever flying again. I was tainted by the strict rules in the Middle East (commercial side) and heavy-flying load, and the toll it took on my body. When I got back to my hometown of Melbourne, Australia I was studying full-time for my nutrition degree and started applying for jobs —any jobs, actually!

Somehow, I was contacted by a very lovely lady living in Saudi, asking if I was interested in interviewing for a private gig. I was told that, as private flight attendant, we cook onboard and that her specific client wanted healthy food, so my nutrition studies would be needed.

I wasn’t 100% sure, as I was a full-time student at the time, but the idea of working a rotation job that gave me enough time to study and to still have time home with my family while working in the Middle East excited me. I had to give it a shot! Four years later I am in a different position, and I am still loving it!

What do you feel are essential skills for a successful corporate flight attendant?

Keen organization skills are a must! Also, the ability to work under pressure, and to be flexible. This industry keeps you on your toes. You have to be able to work and change your plans and catering at a whim. Sometimes you never know your departure times, dates, destinations and number of pax until the last minute. Even when you do know these facts, they can change last minute too, when the pax arrive at the aircraft. So, you really must be organized and ready for anything. If not, be able to work magic with what you already have catered for, or got as stock onboard.

Also, you need to be able to juggle the work/personal life balance. It can be hard. Working a rotation of one-month on/one month off means I am gone for a whole month at a time. During that month of being away and always on call, it can be hard to be at work and still try to be 100% present with your loved ones back home.

What advice would you give someone looking to become a corporate flight attendant?

Give it a crack and don’t give up! It is such a rewarding role once you are in, and established. Try to make contacts everywhere you go. Everyone seems to know everyone in this industry or knows someone who knows that person in question! So, you never know who you may meet that may be able to help you get off the ground.

Lastly, always be vigilant with presentation, the way you hold yourself and are seen by others is very important. Always treat everyone with kindness, (but not only because) people are always watching.

What email address should be used to contact you?

holly.szymanski@hotmaill.com

This article is part of a series of interviews we are conducting with corporate cabin crew members; individuals who are not employed by Air Culinaire Worldwide. If you would like to be considered for an interview, which is posted on our blog and all of our social media accounts, please contact socialmedia@airculinaire.com.

 

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