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The Modern Butlers’ Journal, December 2018, The Butlers Speak

Steven FerryThe Butlers Speak

by Steven Ferry

Responsibility for the more Exotic Modes of Transport

We take one last look at any responsibilities our profession is being given currently for the more exotic forms of transport, from yachts, jets, and helicopters to horses, balloons, or even space craft. 80% of those asked had been involved with such modes of transport, although often the duties were limited.

“Over the years I have had the honor and privilege of working for principals who have owned yachts, a high-end tournament fishing boat, a helicopter and a G5 (Gulfstream V). For the most part, my involvement was purely support in any way possible, mostly in the area of serving my bosses and their guests. When flying with them, I would steward the food and beverages. For the boats, if food and beverages were needed, I would coordinate with the captain, chef, and stewardess, as well as the house chef to arrange all that was needed and make sure it was onboard in time for departure.

“For overnight trips, I made sure any and all needed clothing was on board. I also made sure the captains knew how many guests were expected, and provided this and departure and arrival times to all the ground-support staff as needed—from drivers, to staff at homes, hotels, or yachts/boats. Any special requests or food allergies were given to the appropriate people. For long-haul flights, I coordinated the food requests from the family, made sure wine was pulled, drivers booked to and from the airport, that favorite snacks and reading material (were) on board. Making sure all guests knew what airport they were departing from and arriving at on their return was also important, as well as collecting passport information for the captains. For our luxury yacht, coordinating with the chief stewardess on any information regarding family and guests and any wants, needs or dislikes that would help her and her team care for them while onboard.”

Another butler/HM had similar experience: “I have had clients who had jets: One had two, another had one, but I did not work in this area: Each employer had a separate crew for air travel. The most I did was pack for traveling; plus made sure food and beverages were available for the family. I traveled on the plane to another home and it’s destination, but I would sit quietly and the crew would do their work, providing food and beverages.

“I also worked with a family that had two yachts: I never slept aboard either of them—there was a separate crew for each. Usually, I didn’t even do any food service, as the galley was run by a chef and he did all the provisioning of food. If anything, I would be contacted for last minute specialty food/beverage items that were difficult for him to find. I would arrange to have them delivered, especially when perishable, to the stewardess/steward at a specific place and time.

“Currently, I work on a thoroughbred horse farm. The equestrians transport the horses in our 18-wheeler, but I do not participate in the traveling.”

“Other than cars,” adds another butler, “my transportation responsibilities have included jet skis, row boats, canoes, ski boats, motorcycles and ATVs. Although I’ve ridden Harley Electraglide motorcycles almost all my life, when I began caring for ones owned by my employer, I found myself having to set-aside what I believe is appropriate for a more cavalier approach favored by my employer.

“First of all, some of the motorcycles I’ve cared-for were rarely ridden. This required me to ‘exercise’ each of them regularly, keep fluids fresh, and observe scheduled maintenance. Dust was the main concern, as the bikes were on display in the garage.

“With one of my employers, I was often asked to accompany the gentleman and several of his friends on tours, driving a support van. This included planning the tour, making reservations, and observing signs of distress in a rider or bike.  There was also quite a bit of post-tour service for those on the tour that requested it, including the return of bikes to their respective owner’s estates. Occasionally, this responsibility would take me away from my normal duties at the estate for 1-2 weeks. If I did not have a long-term, largely self-directed staff, I would not have been able to do this.

“Perhaps the greatest challenge in this particular set of duties was undergoing professional rider training: I had long considered myself to be a safe and sane rider, feeling that I could handle just about any maneuver on a touring bike, but to meet the challenges I could see coming, I enrolled in a rider-training course.

“I found some tour plans exceeded the rider skills of those accompanying us. This became clear from the support van view, watching a rider finding it difficult to maneuver a tight u-turn or repeated switchback curves. Depending upon who was going, the tour sometimes had to be modified to meet the skill level of the weakest rider. The overall measure of a tour’s success is planning it so that everyone has a great time and no one feels overly challenged.

“As my training progressed, I began giving tips to those on the tour based upon what I was observing from behind.  On one occasion, I was able to lead one rider through slow-speed figure-8 maneuvers in a parking lot after checking into a hotel; others saw us and wanted to participate, and so it became fun for all.”

Another butler offers, “As a personal flight attendant trained at Flight Safety located at the Gulf Stream Headquarters in Savannah, GA, I have had many wonderful experiences during my travels; but I never had to manage the jets (or yachts) that I travelled in.” 

As for advice, one butler says, “Early on, I recognized the importance of drawing up a manifest [a list of passengers or cargo in an aircraft], especially when I was not traveling with the family, and making sure that all involved knew about the luggage. The luxury of having ones own plane also means one can travel with everything including the kitchen sink, which my principals often do—for surely there is no ‘Two bags, 50 lb/20 kilo weight restriction.’ It is unfair to the captains and crew to expect them to know who owns what luggage, and if there is more than one stop, what luggage needs to be offloaded or not. I bought used and clear Lucite luggage tags to provide any pertinent information at a quick glance.

“Another issue with employers who have their own form of transportation is that departure and arrival times can and do change on a dime. Text and email are a must in this day and age: When they depart the house, I send the captain a heads-up. On arrival, the captain texts me and I text the driver to confirm the ETA, creating a shared timeline. I live in Palm Beach at the moment, so departing or arriving at PBI can be a challenge if President Trump is in town. The only way all this works is by being a team and communicating, giving each person as much respect and information as possible to make the whole team look well—game playing and holding back information only makes a huge mess of things and cuts across the mutual goal of keeping the boss happy. It’s worth remembering that they usually know more about what’s going on than we may think—they just do not want to take sides or become too involved with the everyday ‘stuff.’ Sure I do not appreciate it when the boat sends the cabin laundry back with the boss after a fishing trip, even though they have a washer and dryer onboard, or the captain on the plane calls for a list of galley items that they need, but at the end of the day, it only matters that it is all done on time and properly. One of my favorite sayings is ‘You catch more bees with honey than with vinegar’—it’s all about give and take. So tip where and when you feel it is necessary, as nothing says ‘Thank You’ like a $50 bill, as well as small gestures like helping them load or unload ‘their stuff.’

“Lastly, there are little pointers like allowing enough time to do things or reach destinations; the old ‘check and double check’ discipline (including making sure your phone is fully charged and you also have a charging cord and/or battery backup—because who knows how long you may actually be out, bearing in mind the mantra of the US Marines, and which applies also to us butlers: ‘Hurry up and wait!’”

More advice from another butler: “I suggest that anyone who might be interested in expanding their skill sets search online for ‘Flight Attendant training programs.’ The cost of a one-week on-location course in a certified Flight Safety facility starts at about $4,000 and should include classroom, water-landing, and in-flight fire safety training. The certification papers received upon graduation will meet any employment one might find. Ask about the percentage of graduates who are actually placed for employment, and be aware that jobs are tough to find unless one is currently employed by an aircraft-owning family or organization.”

The Institute is dedicated to raising service standards by broadly disseminating the mindset and superior service expertise of that time-honored, quintessential service provider, the British Butler, updated with modern people skills, and adapted to the needs of modern employers and guests in staffed homes, luxury hotels, resorts, spas, retirement communities, jets, yachts & cruise ships around the world.