Being Cabin Crew – The Ugly Truth

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

Workplace Mental Health

Virgin Atlantic has worked hard over many years to create a positive image for themselves. Their latest ‘vision’ is to become “the most loved travel company” whatever that means.

With regards to the way they deal with mental health, the following comes from their blog;

Working well, living better

For people to thrive they need to be well and feel at their best. We take a holistic view of wellbeing and have invested in the physical, mental and financial wellbeing of our people. Our goal is a highly motivated, resilient and vibrant workplace where our people feel valued, listened to and supported. In 2018, a significant area of focus was mental health. We signed the Time to Change pledge and opened up the public conversation about mental health to reduce stigma and discrimination within the workplace. We launched mental health first aid training and awareness sessions across the business and tailored peer to peer support for Cabin Crew.

In 2018, we launched Flourish, a journey which saw 1,600 of our people leaders develop the mindset and techniques they need to be at their best in order to lead and inspire their teams. We believe that by enhancing the capacity and capability of our leaders we can enhance the experience of all our people, ultimately leading to stronger engagement. All these initiatives contribute to the long term happiness of our people and therefore to the long term health of our business.

I attended the Flourish course but couldn’t bring myself to return for the second day. From the perspective of someone who struggles with mental health it could not have been any worse.

Towards the end of the day a colleague sitting next to me who I didn’t know that well said “you’re not coming back tomorrow are you?” We hadn’t really spoken the whole day.

I subsequently sent this email to the manager who organised the course. I had known him for many years.

copy of an email
copy of an email

This article was written by a senior manager regarding the airline’s approach to mental health. It was subsequently mentioned in a tweet by Holly Branson. I’ll share that in a later chapter.

Returning to the grievance raised by Bart, his written complaint was rude, insulting, hateful, disrespectful and full of lies.

Despite only being with the airline for eleven months and therefore still in probation, he made twenty complaints about my performance, ability and conduct. There wasn’t a shred of evidence to support any of his allegations.

The defence I put together proved conclusively that everything he said was a lie.

The initial investigation was carried out by a crew line manager who a few years earlier had been a Flight Manager, the same rank as me. In 2014 she moved to a training job in the office.

In November 2016 she became a crew line manager. At the time of the investigation into Bart’s complaint she had been in her role for just over two years. Although a nice person she lacked the experience to be able to deal with this matter. Or maybe she was being ‘guided’ as to how it should be dealt with.

The investigative meeting with her took place on 9th April 2019. She left the airline four months later. She has since returned and is now a manager of a different department.

The meeting took place more than three months after my flight with Bart. I attended alone because I was confident she would see through his lies.

What soon became apparent was that every single aspect of the way I carried out my role as a Flight Service Manager was being scrutinised.

Having pointed out during the meeting that Bart was an ex police officer of eight years yet everything in his complaint was lies, hearing manager Lana replied “he’s not a police officer anymore”.

In the following screenshot which comes from minutes taken during that meeting she told me Bart was unhappy because he had not been given the opportunity to work up as Cabin Service Supervisor (CSS).

Having received a copy of the meeting minutes they were difficult to understand and were not an accurate representation of what I had said.

I made many amendments, this is just one. The first black mark covers the name of crew manager Lana, the remaining three cover Bart’s name.

copy of written correspondence

Upon returning home after what was a horrible day I felt absolute despair. I was subsequently off work for several weeks.

The outcome of Lana’s investigation was made up of 156 pages. It included witness statements from the crew on the flight which I hadn’t seen previously. It also included minutes of a meeting that had taken place between her and Bart plus all correspondence associated with his complaint.

It was sent to me on the 18th June 2019. I joined the airline on 18th June 1990.

copy of written correspondence
Outcome of the grievance investigation

I read every word on every page of this hideous investigation which had taken her two months to compile. I was horrified to see five other crew members were supporting his allegations.

Despite proving they were also lying, she still concluded there was a case to answer.

Having read the outcome of the investigation I knew something strange was going on. It just didn’t add up. Why would a bunch of crew who had all been very pleasant to fly with suddenly turn against me in this way and why would the company not believe my version of events.

The case was then passed to crew line manager Hayley. She would conduct the disciplinary hearing, look at the evidence for a second time and decide whether to uphold or dismiss Bart’s complaint.

The meeting with crew manager Hayley was held on 15th August 2019, almost seven months after my flight to Atlanta.

This time I was accompanied by a union rep’. As well as Hayley an Employee Relations Consultant was also present. His purpose for being there was to ensure correct procedures were followed and to take minutes.

The minutes he had taken during the first meeting with Lana were full of mistakes and those taken during this one were not much better.

As soon as the meeting began it became clear crew line manager Hayley had no idea what she was doing. Not only was the Employee Relations Consultant leading the meeting but he was openly guiding her.

During a break that seemed to be called very suddenly, I said to the union rep’ “she has no idea what she’s doing”.

Having complained about this at the subsequent appeal meeting with the Head of Cabin Crew I was told, “Hayley is a very experienced manager”.

In the document I received with the outcome of the appeal she wrote; “Hayley is a very experienced manager but this was her first disciplinary meeting at Virgin.” She went on to say it was my “perception” the meeting was being led by the Employee Relations Consultant.

This comment was condescending, rude and insulting. She was not present so was not in a position to comment on how the meeting was conducted. Especially considering it was Hayley’s first disciplinary meeting.

During the appeal meeting the union rep’ confirmed it did appear as if Hayley was being guided. She also confirmed the meeting was being openly led by the Employee Relations Consultant. She even stated that at one point Hayley was reading from the wrong notes and had to be corrected.

The following paragraph comes from minutes taken during the appeal meeting with the Head of Cabin Crew.

copy of written correspondence

The union rep’ told me there are many straightforward grievance matters that Hayley could have started off with. To give her a case of this complexity that involved an FSM was madness.

Knowing what I now know, I’m certain there was an underlying reason for that. The Head of Cabin Crew allocated grievances to the managers in her team. She knew from the start of this investigation what outcome she wanted. Giving the case to Hayley meant she could offer plenty of “guidance.”

It took Hayley six weeks to investigate the matter. All complaints were upheld including one that had already been dismissed by Lana following the first investigation.

Having received the outcome I filed an appeal. It was heard on 29th October 2019.

I received the outcome eight weeks later, five days before Christmas. It was almost a year to the day since my flight to Atlanta.

I waited ten weeks to receive the outcome of the initial investigation carried out by Lana. It took six weeks for Hayley to complete her investigation.

With regards to the second grievance over my comment on Workplace I waited over four weeks for the outcome of the initial investigation and almost six weeks for the outcome of the disciplinary.

Having sought advice from ACAS the government’s Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service about taking the matter to an industrial tribunal they told me I should first raise a grievance about the way the appeal had been handled. I was also advised to file individual grievances against each crew member involved.

Having submitted the grievances to my manager he told me all seventeen cabin crew line managers were currently dealing with at least two disciplinaries so it may be some time before I hear back from anyone.

I was shocked so many grievances could be going on at any one time. When redundancies were announced shortly afterwards in response to Covid, anyone with a disciplinary was told their job was at risk.

My complaint about the way the grievance appeal had been handled was initially sent to a senior manager who then passed it to the Chief People Officer. It had to be dealt with at this level because it involved a senior manager. Within days of me submitting it the situation with Covid deteriorated and everything went into meltdown.

Several months after being made redundant, whilst browsing LinkedIn the Head of Cabin Crew’s name popped up. Having read her profile what I saw was quite chilling. Everything suddenly began falling into place, or so I believed at that time.

Whilst describing her responsibilities she spoke about plans for improving employee engagement procedures to achieve expected business targets. She says she was responsible for implementing performance improvement plans with a focus on enhancing staff productivity (she too had since been made redundant).

I had been on long term sick for eighteen months in 2016 and subsequently had a further three separate periods of sickness during my last twelve months. All were because of mental health issues that arose from having to deal with Bart’s grievance.

There had also been an unpleasant incident on a flight to Miami where I was unwell.

I believed at the time these were the reasons why she wanted me out. With two final written warnings I could be dismissed.

Some time later I discovered that wasn’t the reason at all. The actual reason for this witch hunt was far more sinister.

This all took place before the outbreak of Covid-19. Even after the first grievance had been upheld I knew it would only be on my file for twelve months so wouldn’t lose my job. With that said, I was still determined to clear my name.

Although the grievance was upheld for the second complaint regarding the forum post I wasn’t dismissed. That was only because the cabin crew manager who dealt with it downgraded the disciplinary to a written warning, not a final written warning. She also stated she did not feel it was appropriate for me to be dismissed.

When redundancies were announced a few weeks later I was told I was being made redundant.

In my redundancy notification letter it was claimed part of the reason was because my performance as a Flight Service Manager was below average. As I will prove in due course that was not true.

Life during my last twelve months as a Flight Service Manager was pretty bad and that’s putting it mildly. The amount of stress and anxiety I was dealing with is difficult to put into words.

Returning to work in 2018 was an incredible achievement. Less than a year later and my mental health was worse than it had ever been before.

Despite fighting the grievance raised against me by Bart on an almost daily basis, whenever I flew I gave 100%. Neither customers or crew could ever have imagined what I was going through.

man at the end of a boardwalk looking out into the mist

In September 2020 I checked in for a Miami and was looking forward to the flight. What happened that day I will never forget.

The lunch service in Upper Class had just finished so I told the cabin crew to have something to eat. I went to chat with customers but suddenly felt unwell. I felt strange but couldn’t pinpoint what it was. I excused myself and went to the bar area to grab some chocolate because I was hungry and thought that may be it.

It didn’t make any difference and by now was feeling as if I was going to faint. I went to the galley and told one of my colleagues I didn’t feel well.

Over the next four hours the way I felt continually changed. One minute I felt better the next much worse. At times I felt breathless, was sweating and had pains in my chest which led me to believe I may be in the early stages of a heart attack.

As well as having our onboard defibrillator to hand the crew also opened the emergency medical kit. They had been advised by the medical team guiding them on the ground to administer certain medication.

Despite the situation I was calm and super aware of everything going on around me. My main concern was preventing any disruption to the service in the cabin.

The Economy Cabin Supervisor had come to the front to help with the situation. On this flight there was no Cabin Supervisor in Upper Class. The position had been made redundant.

To say I was mortified was an understatement. I had never in thirty years of flying been unwell on an aircraft.

Even with all this going on I was supporting the crew to ensure the situation was being dealt with as it should be.

When the afternoon tea service began I was aware they were struggling in Upper Class. I therefore asked the Economy Cabin Supervisor to make an announcement apologising for the service being slow and to explain a crew member had become unwell.

He subsequently recorded that in mandatory Performance Monitoring that was completed on me post flight.

I sat in the back galley for landing and walked off the aircraft before customers were released from their seats.

More than 300 people walked past me whilst I was on an ambulance bed at the top of the jetway. Thankfully I wasn’t facing them.

I felt personally responsible and guilty for the service in Upper Class not running as smoothly as it should have. I always felt a strong sense of pride in the standard of service that’s was delivered on my flights.

man's arm with his sleeve rolled up with a drip that can just be seen
Taken off the aircraft in Miami by paramedics

I spent the next nine hours in a Miami hospital. After numerous scans and tests which turned up nothing, I was told I could leave. I crawled into bed exhausted at 1am local time. I had been awake for well over twenty four hours.

Having spoken to the medical team who work with the airline on the ground, I was advised to fly home as a passenger. There was nothing wrong with me and I insisted on working home. There was no way I was going to let my team or the company down for a second time. I had been cleared to fly and worked home in my role as a Flight Service Manager.

In hindsight I believe what happened was a kind of panic attack. What triggered it I have no idea but one thing I’m certain, it was brought on by the enormous amount of stress I had been dealing with over the past nine months.

On the night flight home I spent time speaking with one of the Upper Class crew. I had noticed her performance on the outbound sector prior to becoming unwell. After the situation kicked off she stood out in my mind and had been incredibly kind.

Once home I wrote an email to her manager, something I had done many, many times for cabin crew over the years.

Some months later I received an email from her that brought a much needed smile to my face. She had applied for promotion and been successful.

Sadly the outbreak of Covid just a month or so later probably meant she never got to do her training.

This crew member and many others like her were part of the reason I stayed with the company for thirty years.

What a difference to the six vile degenerates who I had the misfortune of flying with on 24th December 2018.

copy of an email
Email from a crew member I flew with on the Miami flight

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