|Table of Contents |
Page 1 – Cabin Crew Mental Health
Page 1 – Allegations of Inappropriate Touching
Page 2 – Behind the Galley Curtain
Page 2 – Dealing with the Grievance
Page 2 – Stupidity Ignorance or Both?
Page 3 – Workplace Mental Health
Page 4 – Ex Police Officer now Cabin Crew
Being Cabin Crew | The Ugly Truth Part 2
Cabin Crew Mental Health
Having spent my entire working life as cabin crew I was made redundant in 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19. I was on long term sick at the time because of issues with my mental health. As soon as redundancies were announced I knew my cards were marked.
During my 30 years with Virgin Atlantic I had a clean record, worked hard and was passionate about delivering exceptional standards of service. I loved going to work and carried out my duties to the highest standard.
In later years as a Flight Service Manager (FSM) I worked closely with the cabin crew to gain trust and respect, ensured safety and service procedures were followed and tried to create a happy working environment.
Mental health matters especially in the workplace and it’s something I’ve always been passionate about.
One aspect of my role as a Flight Service Manager I particularly enjoyed was coaching and developing. During my twenty five years as an Onboard Manager I wrote and delivered hundreds of performance appraisals.
In 2003 a couple of years after being promoted to FSM my partner became gravely ill. I suddenly found myself facing some very difficult decisions.
Flying full time wasn’t easy and part time wasn’t an option because it was only really offered to crew returning from maternity. Having told my manager I was thinking about leaving he managed to get me part-time.
Despite the turmoil of the next five years which had a huge impact on my mental health, I remained loyal and committed to the company and was rarely off sick.
In performance appraisals written on me by colleagues throughout my time as a Purser (now Cabin Service Supervisor) and also after being promoted to Flight Service Manager, I was described as proactive, approachable, a great communicator and someone who thrived on delivering exceptional standards of service.
I always took a keen interest in my performance and development and spoke with my manager regularly. We had a good relationship, were open and honest with each other and I was repeatedly told I was a high performing member of his team.
I wear my heart on my sleeve and am by nature thoughtful, kind and considerate. As a Flight Service Manager I understood the importance of rewarding outstanding performance but also felt it was important to highlight areas where there was room for improvement. That’s part of being an effective manager.
For Christmas 2018 I was due to operate a flight to Seattle. It had a long layover and I didn’t want to be away from home for so long. My dad had recently become very frail and was in the last stages of his life. I managed to swap with a colleague for a shorter trip to Atlanta. It was a decision I would live to regret.
What happened in the months that followed is difficult to comprehend. It had a catastrophic effect on my life and on my mental health. More than three years later and I’m still struggling to come to terms with what took place.
I had considered leaving many times over the years but loved flying, believed I did my job well and was never quite ready or brave enough to call it a day.
At the time this all began I had been back at work for less than a year after being off for eighteen months with depression and anxiety.
What I was put through by several cabin crew line managers and the Head of Cabin Crew defies belief.
They were all fully aware of my situation. They were also aware I was crumbling under the pressure of having to deal with a fictitious grievance raised by a new employee still in probation. It made no difference at all.
Unknown to me at the time this was a witch hunt that came about because of an encounter I’d had with the Head of Cabin Crew some years earlier. She was after revenge and was prepared to go to whatever lengths necessary to achieve it.
Allegations of Inappropriate Touching
During a flight to Cape Town not too many years ago I was asked to speak with a customer sitting at the front of the Premium cabin.
Premium is superior to Economy but not quite Upper Class.
Since take-off she had been asking to be upgraded because her husband couldn’t get comfortable. He had a spinal issue which meant he couldn’t stand up straight.
After introducing myself she told me she wanted to be upgraded to Upper Class so her husband could use the bed. Having explained I wasn’t able to upgrade them she said they had been upgraded many times by the Flight Service Manager. She told me as a gold club flying member they were entitled to be upgraded.
I explained that wasn’t company policy and although we do everything possible to make gold club customers feel welcome, as a Flight ServiceManager I wasn’t authorised to upgrade them.
Despite trying to help as much as I could she was only interested in being upgraded. At this time the company strictly prohibited us from upgrading anyone to Upper Class.
As her voice became louder she suddenly blurted out “you have no idea what it’s like to live with someone who’s disabled”.
I empathised and said I really did understand how difficult it can be and explained I’d been a carer for many years for my partner who had been very ill. Her response was to say “he probably had AIDS”.
Her comment resonated because my ex partner did have AIDS. Those years were some of the most difficult and traumatic of my life.
Flying as cabin crew is a job unlike any other. During my time with the airline I met many amazing people and had some incredible experiences.
I always felt proud to be in uniform and did everything to make every customer’s journey special. I enjoy making people happy and am passionate about delivering great customer service.
I can hardly remember a day when I didn’t feel excited about going to work.
I was often asked by friends and even my family how long I intended to keep flying. It was a strange question because it was my job and one that I loved yet was not looked upon as being a career.
I had always planned on hanging up my wings at 55 but in 2016 a year before my 50th birthday was on long term sick with issues relating to my mental health. I never believed I’d fly again.
Incredibly I did manage to return to work in March 2018. Although I was no longer the person I once was, being back doing the job I loved was more than I could have wished for.
I always worked hard and tried to set an example for others to follow.
I am by nature a bit of a joker and love to make people laugh. Although I expected my crew to work hard, I tried to create a fun and relaxed working environment.
On 24th December 2018 I operated a flight to Atlanta. During the eighteen months that followed what I was put through by the company led to me contemplating suicide on several occasions.
On that fateful day I checked in with five of the most vile and despicable people you could ever wish to meet. One of them was an ex serving police officer.
My alleged conduct during the flight and whilst in Atlanta led to a complaint for bullying, harassment, overbearing supervision and inappropriate touching. The ex police officer had been with the airline for eleven months so was still in probation.
Prior to joining the company he had been with the police for eight years. His fiancée was also on the flight as cabin crew although I was unaware of their relationship. She was also ex police but I don’t in what capacity. She was good friends with two other crew on the flight.
Considering the seriousness of his allegations he said nothing to anyone either during the flight or whilst in Atlanta. Even after landing back home he didn’t speak to his manager to raise concerns about my alleged behaviour.
As an ex police officer he would have understood the importance of doing that.
I’m going to refer to this vile creature as Bart.
I had allocated Bart a working position in Upper Class. Working in this cabin meant he would be working alongside me and four other crew.
He was aloof and unfriendly from the second we met which is unusual for cabin crew. I initially put it down to shyness.
When I asked him during the pre-flight briefing whether he’d worked in the Upper Class cabin before he confirmed he had many times.
What I witnessed on both sectors showed otherwise. I had to address a number of issues with him on both flights regarding the way he was delivering the service. That was part of my role as a Flight Service Manager.
With him still being in probation I decided to write a performance appraisal. In line with company policy that’s what I should have done.
Having received it he responded with accusations of bullying, harassment and overbearing supervision. He also accused me of inappropriate touching not only towards him but also towards the rest of the crew.
He made twenty separate complaints about my performance, ability and conduct.
Despite proving unequivocally that Bart, his fiancée and four cabin crew with whom they colluded were lying, the allegations were upheld. Very little of what I said was believed.
Bart is a devious, malicious narcissist who was not prepared to accept any constructive feedback on his performance. His eight years in the police enabled him to cleverly manipulate situations that had actually taken place.
He was aware of the importance of witnesses so colluded with several members of the crew.
His now ex fiancée was good friends with two crew members. A third crew member was on the flight with his best friend. Another crew member who had been called for the flight from standby was more than happy to support Bart’s lies for reasons that will become clear later in the blog.
As someone with an impressive memory which his fiancée Anna (not her real name) confirmed in her witness statement, Bart used facts from situations that had taken place and twisted the truth. This made the allegations extremely difficult for me to defend.
The following screenshot comes from her witness statement. She was working at the opposite end of an A340-600 which is a long aircraft. She only came to the front cabin where Bart and I were working once and stayed for just a few minutes.
In addition to Bart, three other cabin crew one being Anna also accused me of inappropriate touching. Her witness statement and one written by crew member Ven (not his real name) are so vile, poisonous and full of hatred that even now I find them incredibly difficult to read.
All five witness statements submitted by the crew who supported Bart’s complaint were full of lies and inconsistencies. It was plain to see collusion had taken place.
The remaining three statements written by the crew who worked alongside Bart and myself in Upper Class and those written by the Captain and First Officer were honest and told a very different story.
Despite providing endless amounts of evidence to prove Bart, Anna and their accomplices were lying, the cabin crew managers dealing with the case and the Head of Cabin Crew who dealt with my appeal refused to believe anything I said.
Four out of the six crew involved in this matter had been with the airline for less than twelve months. The fifth was on his first operating fight back after having been on a ground placement for a year.
The remaining crew member who was Ven had been with the airline for four years. He had been called on the morning of the flight from standby because we needed an additional crew member.
The following screenshot comes from his witness statement. He’s talking about Bart. Anna was Bart’s fiancée not his wife. Ven had never flown with him or anyone else on the crew previously.
Along with Bart and myself there were four other crew working at the front in Upper Class. Lottie was the longest serving crew member after me. She had been with the airline for eight years.
Katrina and Claire had only been with the company for just over a year but both had flown previously. Bruce was the second longest serving crew member. All names throughout my blog have been changed .
Katrina and Claire were best friends who had been at another airline for thirty years. They had been onboard managers for twenty years before being made redundant.
Almost nothing that was said by Lottie, Katrina and Claire in their witness statements was believed by the company. Bruce failed to return his statement.
Bart’s complaint was submitted three weeks after the flight. It was almost four months before the cabin crew manager dealing with it requested witness statements from other members of the crew.
They were each asked to respond to more than thirty questions about my performance, ability, conduct. The questions she compiled were based on allegations made by Bart.
One question was “please share any observations you have about Laurence and his physical touching towards either yourself or any of the cabin crew throughout the flight.”
Out of eleven questionnaires which included the Captain and First Officer nine were returned.
As part of my defence I asked a doctor of clinical psychology to write to the grievance hearing manager regarding the accusations of inappropriate touching. I had been seeing him for some time because of matters relating to my mental health.
During our sessions we had spoken about something I have struggled with for my entire adult life. I believe it stems from an abusive relationship I was in when I was 18. Without going into more detail than necessary I find physical contact that may be perceived as being affectionate very difficult.
It’s something I have never spoken openly about yet was now sharing this intensely private information with my employer to clear my name.
The first screenshot below comes from Bart’s complaint. The second is from the outcome of the appeal heard by the Head of Cabin Crew.
The doctor I was seeing is a Consultant Clinical and Counselling Psychologist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. He is a registered Applied Practitioner Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council. He’s been in practice for more than thirty years and has the following letters after his name; BA (Hons), MSc Med Psych, DClinPsych, CPsychol, AFBPsS.
The Head of Cabin Crew joined the airline sixteen years after me in 2006. She moved into her current role in 2016. My flight was in December 2018. According to her LinkedIn profile she has nine ‘O’ levels including English and Maths and an ‘A’ level in English literature. Despite not having any qualification in psychology she felt she could override the opinion of a clinical psychologist.
I had proven unequivocally in my evidence the three crew members who accused me of inappropriate touching had lied throughout their entire statement. It made no difference.
Nobody had been touched inappropriately at any time. The only physical contact I’d had with a crew member was the moment I touched Ven’s ankle for a split second whilst playing a joke on him. I’ll talk more about that shortly.
The three crew who worked alongside Bart and I in Upper Class on our flight to and from Atlanta stated they were not aware of any inappropriate touching at any time. In fact out of eleven witness statements only one crew member claimed she had seen me touch another inappropriately. That was Bart’s fiancée Anna who worked at the opposite end of the aircraft.
The remaining witness statements confirmed nobody saw me touch anyone inappropriately or was even aware of any such behaviour.
The following comes from Anna’s witness statement. For point of reference I’m five foot seven;
I believe the Head of Cabin Crew was determined for the allegation of inappropriate touching to be upheld. She never expected to receive a letter from a clinical psychologist stating it was unlikely I would touch anyone in this way. As such she had no choice but to claim his opinion was not correct.
Her statement that my ‘physical contact’ made those concerned feel uncomfortable refers SOLELY to statements written by Ven, Anna and Bart. The fact I had proven repeatedly all three lied throughout their statements made no difference.
To put the incident regarding “tickling a crew member’s leg” into perspective, towards the end of our return flight to London I touched Ven’s ankle for a second whilst he was sitting at the Upper Class bar.
It was witnessed by two other cabin crew. Both had been working alongside me in Upper Class on two long sectors to and from Atlanta. One was Lottie the other was Katrina. Katrina was sitting next to Ven at the Upper Class bar, Lottie was standing next to them.
Katrina was working up a rank in the role of Cabin Service Supervisor (CSS). Prior to joining the airline she had been an onboard manager for many years at another airline.
The word “tickled” was used by Ven in his witness statement. I wouldn’t describe touching someone’s leg with your forefinger as tickling.
The following comes from Lottie’s witness statement;
“Towards the end of the flight Laurence was in very high spirits and was laughing and joking with the crew.”
Although Bart was not present, Ven must have told him about the incident after the flight. I believe that led to him coming up with the idea of accusing me of inappropriate touching. He just needed to convince others to support his story.
After I touched Ven’s leg he didn’t give any indication he was upset by what had taken place. I was just having a joke with him and the crew and passengers present who witnessed what took place all laughed. Ven also laughed.
Had he been upset by what had taken place there was plenty of time for him to come and speak with me. He could also have reported the incident to his manager upon returning home. He said nothing to anyone about it.
My finger was in contact with his leg (over his sock) for less than two seconds. In her witness statement Katrina states she was totally unaware of me touching anyone inappropriately. She was sat right next to him when the incident took place.
Ven also accused me of squeezing his waist yet in his witness statement says he did not see me touch anyone else inappropriately.
Crew member Mia accused me of touching her leg whilst she was helping out in Upper Class. She also states she did not see me or was aware of me touching anyone else at any time.
As cabin crew you make friends quickly. You may fly with someone once and never see them again. Spending ten hours together in a metal tube means there’s plenty of time to chat and to get to know each other. Considering so much touching was allegedly going on, nobody apart from Bart and Anna were aware of it or witnessed it.
Crew members Peter and Mia were best friends. In his witness statement Peter says Mia told him I had been “quite physical on a few occasions”.
In her witness statement Mia says nothing of the sort. She alleges I touched her leg whilst in Upper Class and then says “I don’t wish for this to be taken further”.
I’ll cover both points in more detail later in the blog.
In May 2020 when redundancies were announced in response to Covid-19 I was told my job was at risk. I was on long term sick once again with issues relating to my mental health. The reason was purely because of having to deal with this abhorrent complaint. I had been off work since December 2019.
I was made redundant a few months later and subsequently received my P45 in the post. It was the only piece of paper in the envelope.
It had been several months since I had spoken with my new line manager. The last email I received which was from someone in the office I didn’t know was to invite me to appeal the decision to make me redundant. I declined the offer.
That was how my thirty year career came to an end.