10 Unsung Heroes Of Air Travel | Insider Business

updated 23 Jun 2023

At every step of air travel, countless individuals contribute to the safety and comfort of flights. From the skilled chefs in Singapore responsible for preparing thousands of in-flight meals to the dedicated team ensuring clear runways for takeoff and handlers training explosive-detection dogs, there is a continuous effort to keep operations smooth and uninterrupted. To gain insights into this vast network, we embarked on a global journey to observe the training and strategies employed to prevent delays on approximately one hundred thousand daily flights. Our initial destination takes us to Singapore, where we delve into the meticulous meal preparations for economy, business, and first-class passengers.

10 Unsung Heroes Of Air Travel | Insider Business


Singapore Airlines' largest catering facility, operated by SATs, prepares meals for various carriers, with Singapore Airlines being their main client. The airline offers diverse menus based on departure cities, including Japanese, Chinese, Singaporean, and Western cuisines. Each dish undergoes a meticulous development process, taking 9 to 12 months to create. The facility accommodates a massive workload, producing up to a thousand menus daily, which are cooked and assembled in different stations. Chefs ensure that meals include proteins, vegetables, starches, and sauces for every cabin class. The cooking process aims to maintain food safety while considering the unique challenges of in-flight dining, such as reduced taste sensitivity at high altitudes and low humidity. After assembly, meals are packed into foil containers, labeled for tracking purposes, and stored in holding fridges. Finally, the packed meals are loaded onto flights within 72 hours of production.

Rubber Removers

Rubber buildup on airport runways, caused by friction from landing aircraft, poses safety risks. The melted rubber bonds to the runway and runway lights, reducing friction and visibility. The buildup can affect braking, control, and increase the risk of hydroplaning. To address this issue, specialized tests and instruments are used. Friction tests are conducted to measure the runway's grip, and specialized machinery with high-pressure hot water is used to remove the rubber. Runway lights are also tested for light output, and dry soda is used to clean the rubber off the lenses. The cleaning process requires runway closures, typically performed after the last plane departs. Regular maintenance is crucial to ensure safe landings and takeoffs, and a dedicated team is responsible for keeping the runways clear.

Dog Trainers

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) trains and deploys highly skilled dog teams for explosives detection at airports. These teams undergo rigorous training at the TSA Canine Training Center in Texas, where they learn to use their natural sense of smell to locate explosives. The program graduates over 300 dogs and 150 handlers annually. The dogs are trained on various breeds, including Belgian Malinois, German Shepherds, Labrador Retrievers, German Shorthair Pointers, and Vizslas. Through positive reinforcement using toys, the dogs are taught to search for and indicate the presence of explosive materials. The program's roots date back to 1972, and it has grown significantly since then. The dogs are trained to detect specific explosives based on intelligence information. Handlers and dogs form strong partnerships, relying on each other's abilities and trust. The teams undergo practical training in simulated airport terminals, where they practice screening passengers for explosive odors. Once the training is completed, the teams are deployed to various transit sites across the United States. The work of these dedicated dog teams is crucial in ensuring aviation security and preventing acts of terrorism.

Flight Attendants | Delta

Delta Airlines flight attendants and their training process. The initial training lasts for six weeks and covers various aspects such as safety, security, emergency management, medical situations, and customer service. The flight attendants practice scenarios in mock-up aircraft where they learn about evacuation procedures, operating exits, and emergency equipment. They also undergo training for handling emergencies on a motion-based trainer and practice ditching scenarios. Medical emergencies are a common focus, and flight attendants are trained to assess and respond to such situations. After graduation, flight attendants must re-qualify every 18 months through continuing qualification to maintain their proficiency. Delta Airlines emphasizes the importance of being calm, patient, and able to handle any situation during flights.

Flight Attendants | Emirites

Emirates has a large cabin crew of 21,000 flight attendants and pursers who handle the needs of passengers. The job offers perks like free housing in Dubai, discounted tickets, and the opportunity to travel the world. However, the job can be demanding with long hours and changing schedules. Flight attendants start in economy class and can work their way up to first class. They typically work an average of nine long-haul flights per month, lasting from 6 to 16 hours each. The physical demands of the job require flight attendants to maintain their fitness, although they are allowed to wear comfortable flats during the flight. Appearance is important, with specific guidelines for makeup, hairstyles, jewelry, and nails. First-class attendants have additional responsibilities, such as knowing customer preferences and having expertise in the menu options. Communication skills are crucial, considering the diverse backgrounds of international travelers. Onboard duties include safety checks, food and drink service, and cabin cleanup. Flight attendants receive a base pay with additional hourly rates based on experience. They enjoy benefits such as free housing, vacation days, one free flight per year, and discounted tickets for friends and family. Additionally, veteran and first-class flight attendants may have opportunities to staff events or make special appearances. The job also entails layovers in various cities worldwide, with accommodation and meals provided.

Air Traffic Controllers

Air traffic controllers at Atlanta Hartsfield Airport oversee the skies and ensure the smooth operation of the world's busiest airport. They handle a high volume of flights and are responsible for maintaining safety and efficiency. The job requires years of training and the ability to make dynamic decisions. Controllers monitor and communicate with pilots, both in the air and on the ground. They use special terminologies and follow strict rules to ensure clear and efficient communication. The job can be mentally draining, and controllers are allowed breaks to maintain focus. Sequencing and monitoring planes using strips help controllers manage traffic flow. Technology advancements have improved efficiency and weather forecasting. Despite the challenges, controllers remain diligent and focused to ensure safe and uninterrupted air travel at the busiest airport in the world.

Flight Cleaners

Delta Airlines follows a thorough cleaning protocol using an EPA-approved disinfectant. Cleaning time varies based on the plane's size, and flight crew members can request additional cleaning if needed. Delta has implemented safety measures, such as Plexiglas barriers at check-in and offering passengers essentials like water, snacks, and hand sanitizer. Middle seats are blocked for social distancing, and the aircraft's air is recirculated frequently through HEPA filters. The airline industry has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, with reduced flights and passenger numbers. Delta has taken steps to prioritize customer and employee safety, though recovery is expected to be gradual. The text also mentions the challenges faced by the airline industry, including job losses and reduced confidence among passengers due to the ongoing pandemic.

Cargo Workers

The text describes the operations of American Airlines' cargo department, highlighting the challenges and processes involved in handling and transporting cargo. The airline's cargo facility in Dallas-Fort Worth is responsible for loading 715,000 pounds of cargo onto planes daily. They handle a wide range of cargo, including live animals, food, PPE, and other goods. The facility is divided into inbound and outbound sections, with a dedicated screening process for each piece of cargo. Forklifts and a tracking system ensure efficient handling and movement of goods. Cargo is carefully built up on aluminum pallets called PMCs, taking into account weight and space restrictions. Temperature-controlled containers are used for perishable items. The loaded cargo, known as Unit Load Devices (ULDs), undergoes weighing and is then transported to the aircraft for loading. The process requires expertise to optimize space and balance the weight on the plane. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, American Airlines continues to operate cargo-only flights to support global trade. However, the decline in passenger traffic has resulted in significant revenue losses. The airline plans to resume passenger service when conditions improve, but flexibility remains crucial in the face of ongoing uncertainties.

Aircraft Mechanics

Delta Technical Operations in Atlanta is the largest aircraft repair shop in North America, spanning nearly 3 million square feet. It employs around 6,000 technicians who handle maintenance, repair, and overhaul operations for commercial jets from various airlines, government organizations, and military branches. The facility can simultaneously accommodate multiple wide-body and narrow-body aircraft. Engine repairs are a significant part of their work, with a focus on cost-effective repairs to keep engines operational. The engine repair division inspects, repairs, and maintains high-value engine parts through a thorough process that includes cleaning and individual inspection. The engine shop features several bays where licensed technicians work on different types of engines, ranging from light maintenance to full disassembly and refurbishment, which can take months. The goal is to ensure the reliability and longevity of engines while saving costs for Delta and its customers. The engine parts, including precious metal and alloy fan blades, are expensive and contribute to the high value of a modern jet engine. Delta also repairs engines for other airlines. The work requires precision, teamwork, and attention to detail due to the safety risks involved and the need to maintain optimal engine performance at high speeds and temperatures. Technicians record every step of the repair process and utilize advanced equipment and technology to ensure efficiency and precision. Once the engine is reassembled, it undergoes quality testing in the world's largest engine test cell. The test cell can handle significant thrust and runs tests 24/7 to monitor engine performance. Once approved, the engine is secured back on the aircraft wing, ready for takeoff. Delta Technical Operations is dedicated to safety, effectiveness, and proficiency in its maintenance operations to ensure aircraft can return to service promptly.