Become an Airline Chef: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an airline chef. Explore the education requirements, training and experience that you'll need to start a career in the airline catering industry. View article »

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  • 0:01 Airline Chefs
  • 0:29 Career Information
  • 1:16 Step 1: Get an Education
  • 1:45 Step 2: Get Experience
  • 2:18 Step 3: Try Airline Catering
  • 2:54 Step 4: Network

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Video Transcript

Airline Chefs

Airline chefs are responsible for a variety of tasks that range from personnel management to menu planning to food preparation and presentation. Most airline chefs will not perform their duties on a plane, but will instead work off-site and coordinate the delivery of meals to the airline. Formal culinary training combined with experience in the hospitality industry is typically required for advancement in this field.

Career Information

Degree Level Culinary certification; associate or bachelor's degree recommended
Degree Field Culinary arts, hospitality
Experience On-the-job experience in menu planning and food safety are useful
Key Skills Culinary, managerial, and time management skills; creativity and cultural awareness; foreign language a plus
Salary $41,500 (2015 median salary for chefs and head cooks)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

The minimum requirement for becoming an airline chef includes a culinary certification, an associate's or bachelor's degree in culinary arts or hospitality is recommended. On-the-job experience in food safety and menu planning may also be helpful. In addition to their culinary abilities, airline chefs should have good time management skills and be culturally aware. A knowledge of one or more foreign languages may be helpful. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chefs and head cooks can look forward to a 9%, or faster-than-average growth, in employment from 2014 to 2024. As of May 2015, they earned a median annual salary of $41,500.

Step 1: Get an Education

To build the skills necessary to become a chef, formal training will be necessary. This training might occur at a college or university, through a culinary school or in an apprenticeship. Programs at colleges and culinary schools typically last from 1-4 years, depending on a variety of factors including the type of program and the level of the award, such as a certificate or degree. The length of an apprenticeship is usually determined by the master chef's requirements and the student's goals.

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Step 2: Get Experience

After receiving formal training, graduates need to gain experience. They might work as line cooks or sous chefs or in another position in the hospitality industry, while continuing to develop their understanding of basic food safety and menu planning.

Aspiring airline chefs must also demonstrate the ability to handle responsibility as a kitchen leader. As such, they need to develop their management skills, since being able to run a kitchen with a staff involves more than being able to cook and oversee inventory.

Step 3: Try Airline Catering

Working as an airline chef involves not just making meals, but also delivering them in an appetizing and timely way. Although there are some rare exceptions, most airlines do not have chefs on board their planes. Larger airlines hire catering services to take care of their food needs. Overnight flights might have multiple meals, and some airlines have cultural requirements for their meal needs. For logistical reasons, airline catering services are typically located near airports. Catering positions often include some on-the-job training.

Step 4: Network

Grow your network in areas with major airports to learn of job opportunities and, by joining professional associations such as the American Culinary Association. You can also make yourself more attractive to potential employers by studying a foreign language and traveling.

Remember, you'll need a culinary certification or an associate's or bachelor's degree in the culinary arts or hospitality to work as an airline chef. As of May 2015, chefs and head cooks in general earned a median annual salary of $41,500.

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