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The Coronavirus Economy: A private jet cabin host on what to expect when flying during a pandemic



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Fatiha Ouchan has been in aviation for almost nine years and has served as a cabin hostess for private plane charter VistaJet for nearly three years. Originally from Morocco but now splitting her time between Belgium and Dubai, she began her career as a flight attendant with an international airliner in the Middle East, mostly serving the business and first-class cabins. Since she joined VistaJet, she has traveled to more than 90 countries around the world, and she says her job has enabled her to “truly live my dream.”

Fortune spoke with Ouchan for a new series, The Coronavirus Economy, to ask about how the outbreak has affected her work and her thoughts on the future, and to get a sense of how she has been handling this news, both emotionally and financially.

Fatiha Ouchan has served as a cabin hostess for private plane charter VistaJet for nearly three years.
Courtesy of VistaJet

The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Fortune: What is your day-to-day role like?

My main aim is to ensure that our passengers have the best onboard experience possible. VistaJet customers fly for different reasons. Some fly for business, others for leisure. It’s my role to understand the client’s needs and ensure the flight is as comfortable and stress-free as possible, so they can arrive to their destination in the best possible condition.

Before each flight, I make sure the cabin is thoroughly cleaned and prepared, the catering is ready as requested, all the onboard amenities are available, and all special requests are taken care of. I also work with client services, operations, and the pilots to ensure the flight is smooth, safe, and all elements of the client’s travel are confirmed. And after each flight, I again take excellent care of the cabin cleanliness and check the aircraft is well stocked and fully ready for the next customer.

When did COVID-19 first affect how you conduct your role as a cabin host on a private jet?

Our management team has ensured that we have been equipped with the necessary information and support, so we feel safe and confident to carry out our work. VistaJet has taken the COVID-19 crisis seriously and adapted very fast so we—[the entire] crew—and our passengers are able to travel safely. 

Early in February, all crew were made aware of the risks, and new procedures were put in place, way before the “stay at home” orders were implemented. To protect clients’ and crews’ safety, we were sent masks and disposable gloves to wear, thermometers to take our temperatures, and given instructions to be mindful of personal space and eliminate unnecessary contact with the passengers, such as the customary handshake to welcome them before they board.

I even took a few extra precautions just to be extra safe. For example, in addition to the VistaJet-issued thermometers, I carried my own personal thermometer and would be sure to check my temperature regularly.  The clients really appreciated the changes and considered these actions as highly professional.

What does travel during a pandemic look like now, especially for private planes versus commercial ones?

The biggest difference is that VistaJet is still flying everywhere it is safe to do so, while most commercial routes are not currently available. Since our fleet is global and privately operated, we don’t have a home base, so we can be much more flexible and reactive and have VistaJet aircraft fully available for any customer who needs to travel. We’re not flying as often as before the outbreak, but we have always remained ready and available to go. And we continue to be fully available for those who need to travel. 

What kinds of unexpected passenger requests have you received? What other last-minute travel unknowns should fliers possibly expect?

Our standards have adapted to prioritize maximum safety over luxury, and it has become harder to welcome some requests that we would have been able to accommodate in normal times, since many suppliers are closed. I know our operations team has been working so diligently to help make the impossible possible every day. Permits have been taking longer, and each flight is assessed on a case by case basis. We have a dedicated team whose responsibility is to ensure that we are updated in as timely a way as possible with the daily—often hourly—changes on any travel restrictions. Customers have been really understanding of the situation and have worked with us to make each flight possible under the current conditions.

How has the guest experience changed on private jets?

We are trying to maintain the same level of guest experience as before the outbreak. However, we had to change certain elements of how we provide that experience. For example, clients are always offered onboard dining. For their meal, we normally prepare the dining table with formal place settings: linen tablecloth and napkins, Christofle china, cutlery, and glassware.

In some cases, because of COVID-19, customers now prefer disposable crockery, and they are very thankful that we have considered this and are able to offer this on board should that be their preference. All of our traditional offerings such as cashmere and tech items are available upon request if needed. The experience is almost the same, just adjusted in consideration for health and safety.

How do you expect it will continue to change?

I expect new regulatory standards will require more testing and safety protocols to be implemented on board. Currently, we clean the aircraft interior surfaces after each flight with a professional grade disinfectant that destroys viruses and remains effective for 10 days. To further enhance safety, the aircraft undergoes a deep clean and enhanced sanitization cycle every week, and we have worked with our suppliers to incorporate additional protective measures to heighten the safety of food and all products coming into the cabin.

We have implemented new passenger screening processes and tightened our certification requirements. As countries begin to open back up and travel increases, particularly international travel, there will be heightened awareness and demand from passengers to have more peace of mind for safety.

Are there going to be more requirements imposed on passengers as well as crew, such as requiring the use of face masks?

It is mandatory for VistaJet crew to wear masks and gloves and to take our temperatures twice daily, for our own safety and for that of our clients.

For the passengers, wearing a mask is optional. When a client is on board, we try to create a safe and comfortable environment; we want passengers to feel like the cabin is their “home away from home.” Some locations require passengers to wear a face mask as they go through the terminal—even private gateways—but when they reach our cabin, if they want to wear a face mask, it’s their choice. If not, we do not enforce it.

Is social distancing even possible on a private plane?

It depends on the number of passengers and the size of the aircraft. VistaJet operates super midsize and large cabin jets. If you have three or four passengers on our smaller aircraft, or up to seven on our largest planes, social distancing is very possible. More than that, the social distance recommendation of six-feet radius decreases.

As crew members, we are very aware of giving passengers their space. We try to operate fast and efficiently so as to minimize any unnecessary interactions, and we make sure to ask them their preference on how often we visit the cabin.

On a personal note, how are you faring amid all this? How are you coping with these adjustments, and how can one stay positive while traveling during this (pardon the pun) turbulent time?

Honestly, I feel really good considering the circumstances. With all the safety protocols VistaJet has implemented, I know my work environment is safe, so I don’t feel endangered or at risk.

All the clients understand the unusual situation stemming from the pandemic, so they just want to get to their destination as quickly and as safely as possible. As a result, onboard requests have not been very demanding, and we can concentrate on the new safety requirements.   

To ease my mind, I’ve brought my schoolbooks to read and study. I’m currently enrolled in courses on international relations and have to prepare for my exams. It’s been a pleasant distraction from all the unfortunate news and devastation caused by COVID-19.  

What’s worked for me to stay positive is getting exercise and fresh air. Whenever I have to go to the supermarket or grocery store for supplies, I make it a point to walk so I can get both. For me it’s uplifting and energizing. I also practice yoga; it provides me with a sense of clarity and calmness. But if you’re not into yoga, I recommend meditation. It provides similar benefits without the physical elements.

I’m hopeful the pandemic will soon end, and I look forward to continuing my travel journeys with VistaJet and welcoming our clients on board again very soon.

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