|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
Behind the Galley Curtain
During the early to mid 90’s my ex employer was the airline of choice for many celebrities, influential members of society and even royalty.
The photograph of Princess Diana wearing this sweatshirt in 1995 given to her by the airline’s founder was the best advertising any business could wish for.
One thing they always struggled to get right is the correct number of cabin crew required to operate the flight schedule. For this reason flights often went cabin crew down or with crew working in ranks they were not trained to work in.
Cabin crew working as on-board managers or on-board managers working as cabin crew was common.
Over bank holidays and significant events such as the Wimbledon final sickness was exceptionally high. There was rarely enough crew on standby to replace those who called in sick.
Working out of rank was something I always enjoyed. Unlike most flight managers who worked out of rank, I always chose to work in Economy.
This was a flight to Miami, we were about to take-off. It had been more than twenty years since I had sat on this jumpseat at the back of a Boeing 747.
On a full flight to Barbados some years ago on Christmas Eve I operated with four cabin crew less than I should have had. We were on a full Boeing 747. I also had a cabin crew member working up as cabin supervisor.
On the Airbus A340-600 aircraft that I operated to Atlanta on 24th December 2018 with Bart, there should have been one flight manager who was me, two cabin supervisors and nine cabin crew. When I arrived at check-in there were eleven crew including myself and no cabin supervisors.
I was told by a cabin crew manager all available crew on standby had been used so I would probably be going one crew member down.
The cabin supervisors are on-board managers whose role involves supporting the flight manager. One works in Economy the other in Upper Class. They run the services, lead, support and develop their crew.
With there not being any cabin supervisors it meant two cabin crew would have to work up a rank to fill each position.
The problem on this flight was that out of ten cabin crew, seven were still in or just out of probation. Another was on his first working flight back having been on a ground placement for a year.
The code ‘JR90’ was used to notify onboard managers that a cabin crew member had been flying for less than eighteen months. This helped with allocating working positions and made them aware additional support or guidance may be required.
When deciding who is most suitable to work up a rank, the flight manager usually asks the most experienced crew member. This is determined by length of service and/or experience.
Since joining the airline in 1990 it has always been a requirement for cabin crew working positions (areas of responsibility) to be allocated by the flight manager prior to the pre-flight safety briefing. The vast majority however including myself usually allowed the crew to choose where they wanted to work. It worked well and was widely accepted.
Shortly before I returned from long term sick in March 2018, the company had combined the Junior and Senior ranks. Cabin crew could now work in any of the three cabins on the aircraft. Prior to this juniors had always worked in Economy and Premium whilst the seniors worked in Upper Class.
Senior cabin crew was a promotion and the role came with an increase in salary. When the two ranks were combined, instead of the junior salary being raised the seniors had to take a pay cut or could take redundancy.
The hierarchy on the aircraft was Junior, Senior, Cabin Supervisor, Flight Manager, First Officer, Captain. The combined Junior and Senior rank subsequently became known as Cabin Crew.
Although I was in favour of the change there were problems with the way it was implemented.
Upper Class is a much nicer working environment so some cabin crew began arriving at check-in very early to secure a position in that cabin.
Some flight managers were allocating working positions themselves but were doing so in seniority order. The most senior cabin crew would be given positions in Upper Class. Whilst that seems logical, the problem was that many of the junior crew were not getting the experience they needed to work there.
Working in Upper Class was very different to Economy and the galley position in particular required some level of expertise. The galley is the heart of the Upper Class service and the way it’s run is reflected in the way services are delivered.
Since the ranks had been combined I had done a few flights where none of the cabin crew had ever worked in Upper Class. Working with an entire team unfamiliar with the service and environment they were working in made the flight very difficult.
I decided from then on to start allocating working positions myself. A few flight managers did that but not many. I felt by doing this it would ensure all crew had the opportunity to gain experience working in all three cabins.
Whilst trying to decide which two crew would be most suitable to work up on my flight to Atlanta, a cabin crew line manager came to speak with me. She said one of her team who had been with the airline for just over a year had flown previously. She said she’d been with another airline for about thirty years twenty of which were as a cabin manager. She said she wanted to mention it because it may help me out.
Despite not being the most senior crew member I thought her experience would make her the ideal person to work up. I now had to decide who I would ask to work up as the other cabin supervisor. Out of eleven cabin crew only three had been with the company for more than a year.
I had flown with one relatively senior crew member several times previously but didn’t feel he was suitable to work up. I allocated him the working position of the Upper Class galley.
I was initially going to ask Lottie to work up because she was the most experienced crew member. Having found out I had someone who had been a cabin manager for many years I decided to ask her instead. That way Lottie could work an aisle position in Upper Class which would help maintain the pace of the service.
Had I asked Lottie to work up as cabin supervisor, all three crew members serving customers in Upper Class would have been relatively new. From experience I knew that was likely to affect the speed at which the service was delivered.
Although the Upper Class cabin supervisor is a hands-on position, they tend to spend most of their time assisting in and around the galley.
We were one crew member down so I intended to work mainly in the Premium cabin. That meant I wouldn’t be able to overseas or help out in Upper Class as much as I would normally. For that reason I wanted an experienced crew member who I could rely on in one of the aisles.
With the two most experienced crew both working in Upper Class, that only left the person who had been on a ground placement for year to work up as cabin supervisor in Economy. He had been with the airline for several years but was on his first working flight back. I had received an email from him a few days earlier;
As we had never met I decided to speak with him when he arrived at check-in and would take things from there.
In the meantime Katrina who had previously been a flight manager at another airline arrived. We had a conversation about her working up and although apprehensive, she said she was happy to give it a go. I was confident she would do a great job and placed her in Upper Class.
When crew member T arrived we spoke for some time. Having explained the situation and asked whether he would like to work up as Economy cabin supervisor, he agreed and was enthusiastic.
He told me he had recently applied for promotion to cabin supervisor but had been turned down. I said working up would be good experience. He said two of the cabin crew on the flight were his friends so would give him plenty of support. They turned out to be Mia and Bart’s fiancée Anna.
The first time I applied for flight manager I was unsuccessful. On the day I received my rejection letter I was told I was required to work up in that rank on my next flight.
Having just been turned down for the role I wasn’t over keen. After speaking with my line manager she said it would be good experience and would look good on my file. I have always remembered that and put it into practice many times over the years.
It was my second time working up. During a busy lunch service two of the crew in Economy started having a verbal altercation with each other in the middle of the cabin.
After returning home I received the following letter from my manager;
On another occasion soon after being promoted to flight manager I checked in for a flight only to find we were three crew down. One of those positions was cabin supervisor or purser as it was known at that time.
Miami was a notoriously busy flight. After talking to the other cabin supervisor I decided to ask an experienced junior crew member with whom I’d flown many times whether she wanted to work up. In those days it was unheard of for a junior to work up as purser.
Sheryl was confident, had heaps of experience and did an amazing job. Many years later she became a cabin crew manager.
I wrote a lengthy performance appraisal on her and subsequently received the following letter from my manager;
By the time I started the pre-flight briefing for my Christmas Eve Atlanta with crew member Bart, I’d allocated all working positions and had spoken to both cabin crew members about working up.
With the exception of Bruce who was working in the Upper Class galley, I had not flown with anyone else before.
All of them except Bart had spoken to me prior to the pre-flight safety briefing to introduce themselves. With me not having left the working position sheet out for them to choose their working position, they wanted to ask where they were working.
The first time I saw and spoke to Bart was shortly after I introduced myself to the entire crew during the pre-flight safety briefing. What I didn’t know until some time later was that he already didn’t like me.
As crazy as that sounds considering we hadn’t even spoken, the reason was because he hadn’t been given the opportunity to work up. He had only been with the airline for eleven months and had never flown previously.
Although Katrina had only been with the company for slightly longer, she had many years of flying and on-board managerial experience.
The following is an extract from evidence I submitted as part of my defence. “Performance management” relates to the performance appraisal I wrote on Bart following our flight. CSS is an abbreviation for cabin supervisor.
The crew member with four years experience was Ven (whose leg I touched). He had been called from standby. He arrived at the aircraft whilst passengers were boarding so wasn’t present during the pre-flight briefing.
I had literally been told as we were leaving the cabin crew check-in area for the aircraft that a crew member had been called from standby. By that time I had no desire to start changing working positions around.
I allocated him the position in the Premium cabin that I was intending to work. I could see from his seniority number he had been flying for a few years. I felt with him working in Premium he’d be well placed to help out in Economy and Upper Class if required. The Premium cabin is behind Upper Class but in front of Economy.
The person with eight years experience was Lottie. I wanted her to work an aisle position in Upper Class to maintain the pace of the service.
The crew member who had been flying for seven years was Bruce. I had allocated him the Upper Class galley because from flying with him previously, I didn’t feel he was suitable to work up in a managerial role.
If you’re thinking that was unfair of me, take a good look at the following photo;
It was taken when crew member Mia (who accused me of touching her leg) approached me during the dinner service at the bar area in Upper Class. She was working in Economy but had come to the front after they finished their service to help out.
She wanted to show me the Christmas dinner. Her concern was portion size not presentation. The Upper Class food comes out of the oven in a foil tray. It’s then plated up by the crew member working in the galley. That was Bruce.
These meals were on their way to two Upper Class customers.
I took the photo because I was going to send it to the catering department with my catering report to draw their attention to the portion size. I then went to speak with Bruce about how the food was being plated up.
Bruce was one of two crew members who didn’t return their witness statement.
When I walked into the galley it was a complete mess. He was busy plating up food and told me one meal couldn’t be used because it had been overcooked. He was responsible for cooking the food!
Mia seemed like a nice person. I had done a drinks service with her in Economy on our outbound flight to Atlanta. I was impressed by the way she engaged with customers and praised her manner.
With this being a Christmas trip she had brought a friend with her. Both of them joined us on Christmas morning for breakfast in the hotel. They sat opposite me and whenever we spoke it was very friendly.
When she came to Upper Class I asked her to help Bart on the right aisle because he was struggling to keep up with the service.
The following screenshot comes from her witness statement. The first question asks about the relationship between me and crew member Bart.
Meet this chap who’s now a flight manager. He’s someone who takes pride in his work and presents food the way the airline expects it to be presented. I think that’s an Upper Class serviette on his head!
Dealing with the Grievance
The grievance filed against me by ex police officer Bart dragged on for more than a year. The effects of dealing with it had a catastrophic effect on my mental health.
I suffered with debilitating depression and anxiety and there were more days than I care to remember when I felt life was no longer worth living.
My new line manager and cabin crew manager Hayley who was dealing with the disciplinary were fully aware of the situation with my mental health. I had spoke to them both personally about it.
Having struggled with overwhelming depression following the initial grievance investigation meeting carried out by cabin crew manager Lana, I was off work for several weeks. During that time I spoke with Hayley about the next stage of the process which was the disciplinary meeting.
The following screenshot comes from a WhatsApp conversation between me and Hayley;
Just a week after I returned home from my flight with Bart, my dad who was 96 passed away. Instead of being able to grieve and reflect on the last nine years of my life, I spent the next twelve months fighting a malicious grievance.
Employee appraisals are usually written and delivered during the flight. For reasons I’ll explain in due course, I wrote Bart’s appraisal from home the day after we landed.
Although I’ll talk in depth about the grievance investigation and subsequent disciplinary meeting, for now I want to share with you the letter I received advising me of the outcome.
The email was sent to me by cabin crew line manager Hayley on the afternoon of Friday 27th September 2019. Negative news was always sent out late on a Friday afternoon.
True professionalism from this relatively new Performance and Development Manager. That’s basically a line manager for the cabin crew. She had been with the airline for less than two years and in her current role for just fifteen months.
I was subsequently told both verbally and in writing by HoC (head of cabin crew) who dealt with my appeal, “Hayley is a very experienced manager”. She repeated this statement several times. As I will prove, cabin crew manager Hayley was anything but experienced.
I later found out this was the first disciplinary hearing she had conducted since joining the airline.
Ironically in the first screenshot she says “If you’re a senior employee or a manager we’ll look to you to lead by example”. She wasn’t exactly setting a very good example herself.
Having been told I would have a final written warning placed on my file for bullying, harassment and inappropriate touching, I submitted an appeal on the 1st October 2019 to HoC (head of cabin crew).
During the meeting that took place three weeks later, I told her I had been suffering with debilitating depression as a result of having to deal with this malicious grievance for the past eight months.
I then asked whether she knew how many men of my age commit suicide each year because of mental health matters. She confirmed that she did. Although minutes were taken from the very start of the meeting this comment was omitted.
Despite being fully aware of my situation, just two weeks earlier she instructed a second grievance investigation to begin against me. It was in regards to a different matter that had recently taken place.
In the company’s online communication forum known as Workplace I had written an informative and interesting post. It ended with what was supposed to be a cheeky comment. It was followed by several emojis which reiterated the nature in which it was said. It was a quip whose sole purpose was to bring a smile to the faces of those who read it.
There were 43 people in this private group which had been set up for on-board managers who were operating the newly launched route to Tel Aviv. Other members included the manager of the Service and Delivery department, one of his team and someone responsible for onboard catering.
A director (the Chief People Officer) and company CEO had also joined the room but I wasn’t aware of that. Apart from them I knew everyone else pretty well and everyone knew me.
We had all been with the airline for many years. A cultural awareness training day had recently taken place which gave us all an opportunity to catch up.
Several days later I received a message through Workplace from the CEO. At this time he had been in that position for less than a year. He said “I presume this was not intentional but please remove the last paragraph speaking about Jews, I find it completely inappropriate”.
A few messages were then exchanged between us which I’ll share later in the blog.
It’s important to mention that I’m Jewish. My comment which I’ll talk about in a later chapter was tongue-in-cheek but had been taken the wrong way. Like me the CEO is also Jewish.
Seventeen days later less than twenty four hours before the official Tel Aviv press flight which I was rostered to work on, I received a call from cabin crew manager Fred. He told me I was being taken off the flight and HoC (head of cabin crew) had asked for a grievance investigation be initiated into the comment I made on Workplace. She wanted it to be dealt with as a final written warning.
Bear in mind that she knew she was meeting with me to hear my disciplinary appeal a couple of weeks later. She also knew the full extent of my struggles with mental health both before and as a result of having to deal with the grievance raised by Bart. That too was being dealt with as a final written warning.
I think it’s clear to see there was something more sinister going on here. If both grievances were upheld I would lose my job.
The CEO was due to travel on the press flight with many other VIP’s. I believe having looked at the list of cabin crew operating the flight and seen my name, he contacted HoC to report my comment knowing I would be removed from the flight.
It’s worth mentioning that shortly after posting the comment I had second thoughts so went back to delete it. Or at least thought I had. I signed into the forum on my iPhone and deleted the comment but for some reason it didn’t delete.
The following screenshot is one of the messages exchanged with the CEO;
By the time of this incident I had already operated the first flight to Tel Aviv which had gone some weeks earlier. I then operated a further two flights.
The investigative grievance meeting for this second matter was held on 29th October 2019 at 9.30am.
My appeal meeting with HoC for the grievance raised by Bart was at 2pm the same day.
Just to put this into perspective, since returning to work less than a year earlier after being off for almost two years with mental health issues, I was now dealing with two disciplinary matters both of which were being dealt with a final written warning.
At the start of the appeal meeting with HoC she told me she would try to come to a decision as quickly as possible. I received the outcome to her investigation two months later.
It was received by email on the afternoon of Friday 20th December 2019.
My appeal unsurprisingly had been unsuccessful. The final written warning for bullying, harassment and inappropriate touching was to be placed on my file.
She had dismissed two further complaints and confirmed she could find no evidence of collusion. As you’ll see in due course, it could not have been any more obvious.
In March 2020 the airline announced they would be making redundancies in response to Covid-19. Needless to say not long afterwards I was told I was being made redundant.
Despite having taken two months for HoC (head of cabin crew) to carry out her investigation, she had done nothing more than look through the case, or so she claimed.
I had proven repeatedly that allegations made by Bart were nothing but lies. I also exposed lies told by those with whom he colluded. The most obvious thing for her to do would have been to speak with him and the three crew members who worked alongside us in Upper Class. Their statements were honest and told a very different story.
She spoke to nobody.
Part of my evidence included a WhatsApp conversation that I’d had with a flight service manager friend following the flight. With it being on my ‘phone I had forgotten to include it with other evidence that I’d submitted in my appeal.
I then sent HoC the following email;
Despite making reference to the WhatsApp conversation multiple times in my appeal, HoC had not asked to see it. It had been sent to cabin crew manager Hayley via her work WhatsApp account with some other photos but she had not added it to the case notes.
I had also included a photo of the hotel corridor to prove Bart and his fiancée were lying about something else they accused me of. HoC had not asked to see that either even though I made reference to it multiple times.
The days that followed were extremely dark. I sunk into a frightening state of depression and once again contemplated bringing my life to an end.
The day after receiving the outcome of the appeal I called my manager to say I wouldn’t be doing my next flight on 24th December. He said he would advise the ‘Christmas trip committee’ who would decide how the absence should be recorded. He said he would get back to me shortly.
By late afternoon on the 23rd of December I hadn’t heard from him and wanted to make sure I had been taken off my flight to Tel Aviv the next morning. Having worked for Virgin Atlantic for most of my working life, I believed there was a good possibility I would receive a call the following day to ask where I was when I didn’t turn up at check in.
Having called the department who crew flights they told me they had not been advised to take me off the trip. According to their records I was still showing as the operating flight manager.
Stupidity Ignorance or Both?
Christmas 2019 was a really difficult time. It was twelve months since my flight to Atlanta with Bart and despite proving the allegations against me were lies, it had made no difference.
The first anniversary of my dad’s death was also approaching. Although 96 when he died which is a great age, the previous nine years had been very tough.
After suddenly losing my mum in 2010 my dad moved in with me and life changed overnight. Living together wasn’t easy for either of us and with my mum gone, my entire family was my dad. Apart from my partner there was nobody else.
Being my dad’s carer had a huge impact on my mental health. After four years it all became too much. I suppose what I then experienced would be called a mental breakdown. I was subsequently off work for eighteen months.
I kept what I was going through from my dad which wasn’t easy. By 2018 he was finding it difficult to manage the stairs in the house. The level of care he needed also meant the time had come for him to move into residential care.
I never thought I’d be well enough to go back flying but I finally did. Stepping back on an aircraft was incredibly difficult. The once confident and fun loving Laurence was now a distant memory.
Very slowly over the next few months I rebuilt my confidence and began to relax back into the job I had always loved. The past ten years had taken its toll but finally there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Just nine months later and my life was once again thrown into complete and utter turmoil.
Dealing with Bart’s malicious grievance decimated my mental health. During the nine months the investigation was being dealt with I had three lengthy periods of sickness.
Having called in sick once again after HoC (head of cabin crew) dismissed my appeal, I knew my time at Virgin Atlantic was coming to an end.
With everything else I was dealing with I had kind of forgotten about the second grievance matter. That changed after I received an email on 11th January 2020 from my new line manager.
During my appeal meeting HoC told me she had chosen him carefully because she wanted someone who could give me all the support I needed. Bear in mind she had just requested a second grievance investigation be started for something that any reasonable person would have dealt with in a more compassionate manner.
When I spoke to my line manager he asked when I thought I’d be able to return to work. I told him I wasn’t in a great place at the moment and some days it was difficult for me to even get out of bed.
Having mental health issues is not like having a cold, you can’t say I’ll be better in a week. You have to take every day as it comes.
Later in the conversation he asked when I would be able to attend the disciplinary meeting regarding my forum comment. I couldn’t quite believe what he had just said and told him I was currently in no position to be thinking about another grievance. His response was to tell me the matter wasn’t going to go away and whilst he could push the meeting back it would still have to be dealt with.
I don’t know whether his comment was stupidity, ignorance or both. This was someone who joined the company around the same time as me. He had been a cabin crew line manager for many years. This is not a one off, this is the culture that exists within the company.
The sole reason for me being off work was because of having to deal with a malicious grievance. Unknown to me at the time, it was being driven by HoC (head of cabin crew).
I don’t think I’ll ever forget that conversation and what I went through in the days that followed. That was the last time I ever spoke with my manager.
In every email I received from him in the months that followed he said the same thing, “I want to offer you support.” They were meaningless words that looked good on paper.
Here’s the series of emails from the manager who was dealing with the second part of the second grievance. At the time of receiving this email I hadn’t yet received the outcome of my appeal into the first grievance.
The day after receiving that on 20th December 2019 I called in sick for the very last time. I never returned to work before being made redundant.
This email was received three days after the conversation with my line manager (Manager Performance and Development). Even though I was off sick the company were determined for me to participate in the grievance meeting. I believe that was because if upheld I could be dismissed.
I was in the deepest darkest black hole imaginable and had made that very clear to my manager. His response was to tell me the disciplinary meeting I was required to attend could be delayed but the matter was not going to go away.
The following text comes from a blog post that’s available online written by Virgin Atlantic about mental health in the workplace;
“Spreading the word that it’s ok to talk about your mental health and arming people with the tools to spot the signs when someone is suffering can make all the difference. There is always hope for recovery.“
I subsequently received several emails pressurising me into attending the grievance meeting. That’s the reality of how this company deals with mental health.
It was mid February before I felt able to arrange a date for the meeting. I was still off sick. It was just prior to the outbreak of Covid-19.
Despite her apparent concern for my wellbeing this was a complete and utter farce. There was never going to be a good time to deal with a second grievance but I needed to get it sorted so I could try to move on.
My manager had arranged a telephone appointment with the Occupational Health department to ensure I was “fit enough” to participate in the grievance procedure. That’s how determined they were for this to go ahead.
Let me bring this back into context. This grievance was over a comment I made that was taken completely the wrong way. It was not said with malice and having learnt it had offended the CEO I apologised profusely to him and subsequently to the manager who dealt with the initial investigation.
Nobody else in the group had taken offence and two people had ‘liked’ the post. Despite asking who they were the company never told me. They had as you’ll see in due course found out every other technical detail related to the post.
Following two long and very difficult conversations with Occupational Health they agreed the only way for me to move on was for this matter to be dealt and closed.
On 4th March 2020 I received a call about my flight to Tel Aviv the following day. The crewing department wanted to advise me it may be delayed. Despite telling them I was off sick and had been since December, three weeks later they were none the wiser.
Surely someone must have realised I was off sick considering I hadn’t turned up for any of my flights in January and February! When a cabin crew member is on long term sick their roster is swiped meaning they’re not allocated any flights and all existing duties are removed from the roster.
So my manager advised this department I was on long term sick on 26th March. I had called in sick on 20th December!
On the 8th April I received a call from someone I didn’t know and hadn’t ever spoken to before. He asked whether I would be operating my flight the following day.
Struggling to comprehend what I’d just been asked I told him I was off sick. After a long pause he said yes I can see that but thought you may be returning to work because we don’t have a doctor’s note from you.
My manager had not asked for one and and to be honest, it was the last thing on my mind. I said I’d get one immediately and would forward it by email.
Three weeks later I received the following and replied a couple of days later. I didn’t hear another word from him or anyone else until the 2nd July. In that email I was invited to participate in a meeting to appeal the decision to make me redundant.
Having already been through four meetings with the company in relation to two disciplinaries, I wasn’t prepared to waste more time trying to fight them again. I therefore declined the offer.