|Table of Contents |
Page 1 – Dealing with 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 – How Not to Deal with Mental Health
Page 4 – Ex Police Officer now Cabin Crew
Mental Health Matters | Part 2
Dealing with Mental Health at Work
Having spent most of my working life as cabin crew for a well known British airline, I was made redundant in 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19. I was on long term sick at the time because of mental health issues. As soon as redundancies were announced I knew my cards were marked.
During my 30 years with the airline I had a clean performance record, worked hard and was passionate about delivering exceptional standards of customer service. I loved going to work and carried out my role to the highest standard.
In later years as an on-board manager I worked closely with my team of cabin crew to gain trust and respect. I ensured procedures were followed and tried to create a happy working environment.
Mental health matters especially in the workplace and it’s been something I’ve always been very aware of. As well as having to deal with difficult issues in my own life, I’ve encountered many colleagues over the years who were also dealing with issues relating to their mental health.
One aspect of my role as a flight manager I particularly enjoyed was coaching and developing. During my twenty five years as an on-board manager I wrote and delivered hundreds of performance appraisals.
In 2003 a couple of years after being promoted to flight manager my partner of the time became gravely ill. I suddenly found myself facing some very difficult decisions.
Flying full time suddenly became very difficult and part time wasn’t an option because it was available primarily to female crew returning from maternity. Having told my manager I was thinking about leaving he approached the company on my behalf and managed to get me part time.
Despite the incredible turmoil of the next five years which had a huge impact on my mental health, I remained loyal and committed to the airline and was rarely off sick.
In performance appraisals written on me by colleagues throughout my time as a purser (now known as cabin service supervisor) and also after being promoted to flight manager, I was described as professional, approachable, hard working and a great on-board manager.
I 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. I always put others before me. As a flight manager I understood the importance of rewarding outstanding performance but also felt it was important to highlight areas where there was room for improvement. This was something we were encouraged to do.
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 my flight for a shorter trip to Atlanta. It was a decision I would live to regret.
What happened in the weeks and months that followed is difficult to comprehend. What took place had a catastrophic effect on my mental health. Three years later and I’m still struggling to come to terms with having been bullied out of my job by a senior manager who was after revenge.
I had considered leaving many times over the years but loved my job, believed I did it well and was never quite ready or brave enough to call it a day.
The airline I worked for claims to take mental health matters seriously but my blog will show otherwise. They boast about doing everything possible to support anyone who may be struggling.
Writing my blog has been cathartic and gone some way to helping me process what took place. At the time this all began I had only been back at work for ten months after being off for almost two years with issues relating to my mental health.
What I was put through by several cabin crew managers and the Head of Cabin Crew defies belief. This is a company who claims to do everything possible to support the mental health of their employees.
All cabin crew managers who I dealt with were fully aware of my situation. They were also aware that I was crumbling under the pressure of having to deal with a fictitious grievance. It didn’t made the slightest bit of difference.
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 in the front row 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. I had seen him board using a walking stick, he had a spinal issue which prevented him from being able to stand upright.
After introducing myself she told me she wanted to be upgraded to Upper Class so her husband could use the bed. Having explained I didn’t have the authority to do that she said they had been upgraded many times by the flight manager. She told me as a gold club flying member they were entitled to an upgrade.
I explained that wasn’t company policy and although we do everything possible to look after gold club customers, as a flight manager I wasn’t authorised to upgrade them.
Despite trying to help as much as I could she only wanted her husband to be upgraded. It’s important to mention that at this time, the company strictly prohibited us from upgrading customers 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 that 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”.
During my thirty years with the airline I encountered my fair share of rude and unpleasant people but this affluent and well-spoken woman was the most vile of them all.
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 some amazing people and had some truly incredible experiences.
I always felt proud to be in uniform and did everything I could 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 it 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 brought me a great deal of comfort and happiness.
Flying was an escape from reality which enabled me to block out what I was dealing with at home. I worked hard and tried to set an example for others to follow.
I have always been 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 the flight to Atlanta that I’d swapped on to. 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 for my flight with five of the most vile and despicable people you could ever wish to meet. One of those people was an ex serving police officer and his now ex fiancee.
My alleged conduct during the flight and whilst on the layover in Atlanta led to a complaint for bullying, harassment and inappropriate touching from a relatively new crew member. He had been with the airline for eleven months so was still in probation.
Prior to joining the company he had been a serving police officer for eight years. His fiancée was also on the flight as cabin crew although I was unaware of their relationship at the time. She was also ex police although I don’t in what capacity. She was good friends with two other cabin crew who were also part of the crew.
Considering the seriousness of this crew member’s allegations he said nothing to any other member of crew 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 serving police officer he would have understood the importance of reporting such behaviour to a colleague or to his manager. It’s also likely that had such behaviour taken place, he would have discussed it directly with me.
I’m going to refer to this vile creature as Bart.
I had allocated Bart a working position in the Upper Class cabin. Working this section of the aircraft meant he would be working alongside me and four other crew members.
I found him to be aloof and unfriendly from the second we met which is really unusual for cabin crew. I initially put it down to shyness. It was some time before I discovered the real reason for his behaviour.
When I asked him during the mandatory pre-flight safety 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 our outbound and inbound flight regarding the way he was delivering the service.
With him still being in probation I felt it was important to write a performance appraisal. Inline with company policy that’s exactly 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 other members of the crew.
He made twenty two separate complaints about my performance, ability and conduct.
Despite proving unequivocally this ex police officer, his fiancée and four cabin crew with whom they colluded were lying, the allegations were upheld. Very little of what I said was believed by the company.
Crew member Bart is a devious, malicious and calculating individual. His eight years of being a police officer enabled him to manipulate situations that had taken place to make them look very different.
He was aware of the importance of witnesses so also manipulated several crew members in order to turn them against me.
His now ex fiancée was good friends with two other crew members on the flight. Another was best friends with one of those crew members. A fifth crew member was also more than happy to support Bart. The reason for 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 cleverly manipulated them. 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 very long aircraft. She only came to the front cabin where Bart and I were working on one occasion 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 the 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.
Dealing with a situation like this at any time in your career would be extremely difficult. I had been back at work for less than ten months after being off for almost two years struggling with mental health issues. These came about primarily as a result of being a full time carer for my dad.
All five witness statements submitted by the crew who supported Bart’s complaint were full of lies and inconsistencies. It was plain to see he’d colluded with them.
The remaining three statements written by the cabin crew who worked alongside Bart and myself in the Upper Class cabin and those written by the Captain and First Officer were honest and told a completely different story.
Despite providing endless amounts of factual evidence to prove these cabin crew 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. He had also just been turned down for promotion.
The remaining crew member who was Ven had been with the airline for four years. He had been called for the flight from standby because we needed an additional crew member.
The following screenshot comes from his witness statement. He’s talking about cabin crew member Bart. Anna was Bart’s fiancée at the time not his wife. Ven had never flown with Bart or anyone else on the crew previously.
Along with Bart and myself there were four other cabin crew working at the front in the Upper Class cabin. 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 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. Both 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 the grievance requested witness statements from other members of the crew.
They were each asked to respond to more than thirty questions about my performance, ability and 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.”
I found it incredibly humiliating that such a question was even being asked. No inappropriate touching had taken place yet eleven members of crew were now being asked about my physical touching.
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 could be perceived as being affectionate very difficult.
It’s something I have never spoken openly about to anyone yet was now sharing this intensely private information with my employer for the purpose of clearing my name.
The first screenshot below comes from Bart’s complaint. The second is from the outcome of the appeal heard by Head of Cabin Crew. I’ll refer to her throughout my blog as HoC;
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 during either sector of our flight. The only physical contact that 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 else 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;
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.
HoC joined the airline sixteen years after me in 2006. She moved into her current role as a Senior Manager and Head of Cabin Crew in 2016. The incident took place in 2018. According to her LinkedIn profile she has nine ‘O’ levels including English and Maths and an ‘A’ level in English literature.
I believe HoC 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 inappropriately. As such she had no choice but to claim his opinion was not correct. That’s exactly what she stated in the outcome to my appeal.
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 split 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. One was Lottie the other was Katrina. Katrina was sitting next to Ven at the bar, Lottie was standing next to them.
Katrina was working up a rank in the role of cabin supervisor. Prior to joining the airline she had been an on-board manager at another airline for twenty years.
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 crew member Bart was not present, Ven clearly 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 that he was upset by what had taken place. It was done whilst I was playing a joke on him and the crew and passengers present who witnessed what took place all laughed.
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 at any time. 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 have to 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. Peter stated in his witness statement that Mia told him I had been “quite physical on a few occasions”.
In her witness statement she says nothing to that effect. What she does allege is that I touched her leg whilst in Upper Class. 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 with Virgin Atlantic came to an end.