Being Cabin Crew | The Ugly Truth Part 2


Table of Contents

Being Cabin Crew | The Ugly Truth Part 1 

Page 1 – Retaliation, Making it Personal  
Page 2 – Performance Management System 
Page 2 – My Performance Management Record 
Page 2 – Combining the Rank of Junior and Senior 
Page 2 – Completing Onboard Appraisals 
Page 3 – The Early Days at Virgin Atlantic 
Page 4 – More of the Good Old Days
Page 4 – Cabin Crew Life Downroute
Page 4 – Pre-Flight Safety Briefings
 
Being Cabin Crew | The Ugly Truth Part 3


More of the Good Old Days

The following photo is one of many people I had the pleasure of working alongside during my time with the airline. Ironically my flight Atlanta, the trip was originally hers.

When we bumped into each other many months later she told me not everything had gone well on the Seattle flight that she had taken from me. I never shared with her what happened on my trip, in fact I never told anyone apart from one friend and colleague.

This lady was a Cabin Supervisor at the time of this flight but not long afterwards was promoted.

A consummate professional, she carried on regardless despite having an old piece of tape over her perfect makeup.

Taken by me in 2013 with tears of laughter streaming down my face. The one thing that made flying for this airline different was that we always tried to have fun with each other and with customers.

It’s worth mentioning that at the time this photo was taken the galley curtains were fully closed.


Virgin Atlantic stewardess making an announcement with hazard tape over her eyes

Virgin Atlantic stewardess laughing because she has hazard tape over her eyes
A true professional


Throughout the 90’s flights were always full. Working as a Junior was hectic and nonstop. In those days you rarely had a break because there was nowhere to sit down.

On a day flight it was normal to be on your feet from take-off to landing. East coast USA was manageable but west coast was a killer.  The flight to Los Angeles could be close to eleven hours.  Night flights were always difficult but we didn’t know any different.

After the dinner service came duty free and then on a night flight that was it until breakfast. Other than a crew seat next to the emergency exit there was nowhere else to sit. sitting on the galley storage boxes was the norm.


 

crew members sitting on storage boxes in an aircraft galley
A typical night flight in the 1990’s

In later years the company would sometimes curtain-off four Economy seats to share between 18 cabin crew so we could have a break.

Breaks could only be taken between the services. If the flight was overbooked which most flights were, the seats would be used for passengers.

With the exception of the Tokyo route breaks were at the discretion of the Inflight Supervisor (now Flight Service Manager) and many weren’t overkeen on giving them.


copy of written correspondence
In response to a letter I wrote in about lack of breaks


Towards the late 90’s two existing aircraft were fitted with bunks in the tail. Some of the newer aircraft that joined the fleet also had bunks. Despite that, crew breaks for the Juniors were still rare.

The Seniors would often get a break on night flights because their services took less time to complete.

I remember on many occasions moving my duty free cart out the way so the Seniors could pass to get up to the bunks.


Japanese Virgin Atlantic stewardess sitting on a jumpseat about to eat
Socks weren’t part of the uniform! The female crew often felt the cold especially when sitting by doors on the old 747s.


From about 2004 on west coast U.S flights the company agreed to leave four seats in the last row of Economy free. By the time we started crew breaks passengers had usually moved into them. We were not allowed to move them out.

In more recent years with most aircraft having crew bunks breaks were given on most flights, time permitting.


""
Wise words Richard, wise words.


Flying as cabin crew long haul especially full time is extremely tiring. Not only are the flights long but many fly through the night. You also have to deal with jetlag.

Throughout my time as a Flight Manager I always tried to give my crew a break on both sectors providing it didn’t jeopardise the service. I felt it was important for mental and physical health.

I always expected my team to carry out their duties to the highest standard. I led by example and worked hard alongside them in all three cabins. I felt I was warm, approachable and was always ready to have a laugh and joke which created a fun and friendly atmosphere.


Virgin Atlantic crew members asleep in the back row of Economy
A night flight home from San Francisco. Taken by me sometime between 2002 and 2006. 4 seats for 16 cabin crew.


The following photo was taken at the evening to celebrate receiving our wings at the end of our training.

In those days each group would have an all expenses paid night out at the Roof Gardens in Kensington at the end of their training. Richard often joined the celebrations.


young people having fun in a restaurant with Richard Branson
Top photo: Group 53, 1990


The crew community during the 1990’s was very regimental and there was great respect for seniority. Juniors rarely went to Upper Class even to use a toilet. Seniors never came to Economy.

The Seniors ate Upper Class food whilst the Juniors ate whatever was left over in the ovens after the service.

There was always a food cart for the crew but the quality was dire. There was never anywhere near enough to go around and the offering rarely changed.

On the bus to the hotel the Captain and First Officer sat at the front, the Inflight Supervisor sat behind followed by the Pursers and Seniors. The Juniors were always like the naughty school kids at the back.

Upon arrival at the hotel we’d collect our room keys in the same rotation. There was no resentment because it’s just the way it was. Despite how it may sound, it was an amazing airline to work for and the vast majority of cabin crew were warm lovely people. Of course there were exceptions but they were few and far between.


copy of written correspondence
It’s nice to be appreciated
copy of a handwritten note
This was the norm in Economy


I was a Junior for four years which was unheard of in those days. When the Gulf War broke out in 1991 people stopped flying so flights were virtually empty. As a result recruitment and promotion dried up.

Despite my time in the same rank I worked hard and had a file full of letters from various managers praising my work. I was eventually given my seniors course towards the end of 1994.


copy of written correspondence
A letter from my line manager


Two years later I was promoted to Purser.

From the late 90’s respect for seniority began to diminish. By mid 2000 it was almost non existent. Whilst things certainly needed to change, it went too far and in later years as you’ll see through the course of this blog, many but not all cabin crew had little or no respect for onboard managers.

As the airline began to modernise the Seniors started helping in Economy once they’d finished in Upper Class. Initially many were reluctant to walk past the curtain.

Juniors who were brave enough also began venturing into Upper Class to use toilets and to ask if there was anything to eat.

I’ve included the following letter because it’s relevant to comments about my performance and ability made by Bart, Anna and Ven.


copy of written correspondence


Cabin Crew Life Downroute

Whilst waiting for our room keys someone would usually call a room party.

Each crew member was allowed to take a small amount of alcohol off the aircraft but it was widely abused.

At a room party with eighteen crew there was rarely a shortage of alcohol. Cocktails made up in empty water bottles often appeared out of nowhere.

There was almost always a room party on the evening we arrived.  They were sociable, rowdy, often horribly smoky and totally unpredictable. They were always fun but some were more fun than others.


group of young people at a toga party
A toga room party in the early 90’s. Party games involving alcohol was the norm

Depending on the length of the layover we often stuck together. We’d usually meet for breakfast and then decide how to spend the rest of the day.

If we had more than one night we’d go for dinner as a large group. That usually ended in disaster because too much alcohol was consumed and there were always arguments over settling the bill.

The early years at Virgin Atlantic were so much fun. It was the best job in the world.


small group of friends holding drinks whilst laughing towards the camera
In the Pacific Shore Hotel Santa Monica Los Angeles early 1990’s


Some cabin crew you would fly with quite often whilst others you may not see again for many years if ever. At crew check-in and whilst arriving or departing from some hotels you could bump into someone you’d once had a great trip with but hadn’t seen for many years. Squeals of delight, laughter and genuinely warm hugs were common.

Right up until my last flight it wasn’t unusual to bump into someone you hadn’t seen for years. The strange thing about the encounter is that you may only have flown with them once and had never seen them since, yet after a few minutes you’d be chatting and laughing as if you were old buddies.


group of young people in shorts and t shirts smiling for the camera
On a one night layover in Miami, a trip to the Everglades. Early 90’s

Promotion including to Purser and Inflight Supervisor in the early days was automatic. When the need for more crew in a higher rank was required you’d be rostered a training course.

It was done strictly by your original joining date but changed to an application and interview process shortly before I applied for Purser in 1996.

In August 1990 I went horse riding in Los Angeles. We rode up to the Hollywood sign. That sounds really cool but the horses were just following each other in one long line. I’ve always remembered it because on the way back down they walked on the very edge of the path. Immediately to the left was a sheer drop into a deep canyon.

When reached the bottom the ranch staff were gathered around a radio listening to the news. America had just bombed Baghdad. That was the beginning of the first Gulf war.

The company struggled through the next few years but as things picked up they leased more aircraft and introduced new routes.

Having finally been promoted to Senior I loved Upper Class. The cabin was calm, spacious and unlike Economy there was plenty of time to chat with customers.

Being someone who once loved to talk, I could usually be found at the bar playing barman whilst exchanging stories with people from all walks of life.

Life was good and my worklife could not have been happier.


Male and female Virgin Atlantic crew members behind the Upper Class bar
Taken late 90’s. That’s a Santa hat on my head.


Pre-Flight Safety Briefings

Once cabin crew arrive at the crew check-in area for their flight they wait to be called for the pre-flight briefing.  Conducted by the Flight Manager it lasts no longer than twenty minutes and is the first time the entire crew get together.

After introductions the Flight Manager talks about the flight, the services and covers all aspects of safety. Other relevant points relating to the flight or trip are also covered. Each Cabin Supervisor also delivers a short service related briefing.

Until the early 2000’s it was rare not to know a least a couple of people on the crew. More recently there were many times when I checked in and didn’t know anyone.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority requires each crew member to be asked “at least one” safety question during the briefing. This is the most nerve racking part and once over everyone begins to relax.

The Flight Manager asks each crew member a question individually.  If you can’t answer or answer incorrectly you’re asked a second question. Failure to answer will lead to you being stood down.  In thirty years I had never known anyone to be stood down although I was aware happened albeit very rarely.

The safety questions were written by the safety department and came from the Safety and Emergency Procedures Manual.

Until 2003 FSM’s wrote their own questions so the crew could be asked anything from the entire manual. With that said, most people used similar questions. It was rare to be asked something you’d not been asked before.

Before being a Flight Manager I never forgot how nervous I felt during that part of the briefing. After being promoted, during my pre-flight safety briefings I always tried to take the pressure off as much as I could. Everyone hated that part of the briefing. I think I only had to ask a second question a handful of times.

In later years the safety department issued the questions. The crew were told what section of the manual they came from. The same questions were used for several months so the crew would hear them time and time again.


Over the next couple of paragraphs I want to explain something that will make more sense as you read down the page. The way the company wanted us to conduct the pre-flight briefing changed many times over the years.

A couple of months before my Christmas Atlanta with Bart, during a conversation with my manager he told me they wanted briefings to become more interactive. The Flight Manager does most of the talking and they wanted the crew to become more involved. The first opportunity for them to really speak was to answer their safety question.

There was already a huge amount of information we had to deliver and the briefing could last no longer than twenty minutes.

One of the first things we had to do was read out some ‘aircraft familiarisation points’. With us all flying on several types of aircraft it was an opportunity to refresh everyone’s memory with regards to equipment and procedures on the aircraft we were about to fly on.

Seven points were listed that had been written by the safety department, they never changed. We had to read out any three.

I decided instead of reading the points out, to get the crew more involved I would ask them as questions to the group as a whole. Asking the crew to shout out the answers would get everyone involved from the start.

I included all seven points and added a further two of my own. The additional questions were how do you make an emergency announcement using the interphone system and how do you make a regular announcement. I included them because it varied from aircraft to aircraft so thought it may be useful.

With a list of nine points I could use different questions each flight. Due to time constraints I’d usually ask about four or five depending on the response. The idea was to get everyone involved.

Having used the new format a few times the response was mixed.

In the pre-flight briefing for the Christmas Atlanta there were ten cabin crew with experience ranging from six months to eight years.

The following screenshot comes from the witness statement of Anna, Bart’s fiancée. The black mark obscures Bart’s name.


copy of written correspondence
From Anna’s witness statement


The crew were asked questions twice during the briefing. The first time was the aircraft familiarisation points that I asked as questions to the group. I said “just shout the answers out”.

Each crew member was then asked an individual safety question which is a mandatory part of the briefing. The questions are uploaded to the Flight Manager’s iPad. With this set of questions having been used for the previous three months the crew would have heard them many times before.

Anna claimed her and Bart were asked more difficult questions yet I was unaware they knew each other let alone were engaged to be married.

Absolutely nothing Anna says in her hateful diatribe is supported by other members of the crew in their witness statements. As I will prove throughout my blog, she’s a nasty, malicious and incredibly hateful individual. She has all the traits of sociopath.

The following screenshot also comes from her witness statement. The black mark covers my surname. Bear in mind she had joined the company about one year earlier. She had previously been crew with British Airways.


copy of written correspondence


As part of their witness statement the crew were asked the following questions;

Please share any observations on flight manager Laurence’s PA’s onboard the aircraft. Were you aware of any feedback from crew or customers regarding the PA’s?

Only Bart, Anna and Ven stated they were aware of negative comments regarding my announcements. In the remaining five witness statements nobody had any recollection of them or was aware of any complaints from other members of crew or passengers.

Crew member Peter who had been with the company for six months brought a friend with him on the trip. It was her first time flying with Virgin Atlantic. In his witness statement he wrote;

“I can’t recall any customers commenting on his PA’s but I took a companion and she did mention his PA’s were really long and didn’t need to be.”

Peter and Mia are best friends. Mia accused me of touching her leg. She is also good friends with Anna. You may recall crew member T said he had two friends on the flight who would support him in working up. They were Ann and Mia. Peter and Ven also have a connection which will become clear in due course.

In T’s witness statement he wrote;

“I remember a few crew members comment about them (my P.A’s) not sounding particularly professional.”

Were this to be true he could have addressed this in anonymous upward feedback that he was required to write on me. He didn’t complete that or do feedback appraisals on any of his crew despite it being mandatory for both sectors.

He had told me prior to the pre-flight briefing he didn’t have his iPad but the appraisals could have been done on paper. That’s how they had always been done previously. If he didn’t have the forms he could have asked me, I had plenty.

There were no complaints about me or my ability as a flight manager on the Voice of Customer questionnaires and no complaints were received by Customer Relations.

According to statements written by Bart and Anna all of my P.A’s were “long and rambling”. Bart claims my after take-off announcement was more than five minutes long. As you’ll see in the screenshot below, Ven says I didn’t make an after take-off announcement!

Crew member T was unable to confirm anything about my announcements that he had heard personally.


""
From T’s witness statement


During my after take-off and post landing announcement the cabin crew are sitting in their seats. There’s a speaker above or adjacent to every crew seat. Following the after take-off announcement T had to do an announcement regarding the service in Economy. He would therefore have been waiting for me to finish.

Considering Bart claimed my P.A’s were more than five minutes long, only three out of the nine crew who returned their statement could personally remember anything about them.

The following screenshot comes from Ven’s witness statement. He worked in a full Premium cabin yet was unaware of a single complaint regarding my P.A’s. Anna and Bart on the other hand claimed they were aware of several complaints from customers. Bart worked alongside Ven in Premium on the way out and in Upper Class on the way home. Anna worked in Economy on both sectors.


copy of written correspondence
FSM = Flight (service) Manager

After take-off the Flight Manager makes a welcome announcement. It includes safety information regarding smoking regulations and compliance with seat belt signs so it’s impossible for it not to be done.

I’m assuming he believes my P.A’s were “strange” because instead of reading them I often ad-libbed them. Not many flight managers did that.

The following comes from an old performance appraisal that was written on me by my line manager. The full document can be seen here; (scroll down to last screenshot). I had been complimented many times over the years for the way I delivered announcements.


copy of a performance assessment


Let me share some details about this flight to Atlanta.

The aircraft was half empty so I gave the crew a two hour rest break in the bunks. I didn’t take a break because out of eleven crew, six were relatively new and two were working up in supervisory roles. I therefore didn’t feel comfortable leaving the cabin.

During the flight I spent time speaking with several of the crew and many customers. I also did a drinks service in Economy with Mia. Anna was in the opposite aisle with a crew member who didn’t return her witness statement.


""
From T’s witness statement. He’s being asked about Bart’s engagement with his customers not about me!

It was a quiet, problem free and very pleasant flight. The company had asked the hotel to lay on a buffet dinner for us that evening which included an open bar. Some of the crew went out afterwards but the Captain, First Officer, Lottie and myself went to bed.

The following morning was Christmas Day and a few of us met for breakfast. I then returned to my room and slept for a couple of hours before checking-out for the inbound sector.

I had enjoyed the trip but was looking forward to getting home. Just prior to leaving my room I spoke to my dad who was very poorly. Once all the crew were in the lobby someone asked everyone to get together for a photo. Several crew grabbed their cameras.

Although I’ve masked faces to protect identity, this was a very happy photo and everyone was in high spirits. The eyes are the window to the soul and by masking them it’s difficult to fully appreciate the atmosphere.

I didn’t have a copy of the photo but whilst gathering evidence for this case managed to obtain one. In fact I found a few interesting things particularly on social media which I subsequently included as evidence.

Think back to Ven’s statement in which he said he was called out for the flight and didn’t know anybody on the crew. He’s standing behind me and has his arm draped over the shoulder of Peter. If you look closely you’ll see Peter’s arm is around Ven’s waist.


Virgin Atlantic cabin crew in front of a Christmas tree in the lobby of a hotel
Checking out of the hotel in Atlanta | December 2018


In Ven’s witness statement he wrote; “he (Laurence) is quite touchy feels which is really uncomfortable on the recovering end. I would get a squeeze round my waste. It made me feel very uncomfortable”.

His level of literacy speaks for itself. To think this person may one day be a manager who will be writing performance appraisals on his crew is pretty shocking.

*update* I have now been made aware that in the last couple of months Ven has been promoted to Cabin Supervisor.

In Bart’s complaint he wrote;

“Laurence constantly touched me and other crew members on or below the hips. I’m not a touchy feely person and this action made me very uncomfortable.”

Notice how Bart and Ven both use the term ‘touchy feely’.

In Mia’s statement she accused me of touching her leg and then stated she did not want the matter to be taken further.

According to witness statements from the remaining crew, nobody was aware of or saw me touching anyone inappropriately at any time.

Mia and Peter are best friends. This is from Peter’s witness statement;


copy of written correspondence
From witness statement of Mia’s best friend Peter


The following is another extract from Anna’s statement. Before reading it take a very close look at the photo above. She’s the crew member not wearing a Christmas sweatshirt. I’m five foot seven.

On the inbound flight Anna came to the front once during the entire flight. She was present for just a few minutes. I rarely had the opportunity on this sector to go to the back where she was working.


copy of written correspondence
Names have been replaced with pseudonyms

I find it interesting that if I was behind her with my hands on her hips, how did she know I was “hunched over”?

Another thing to consider is Bart as an ex police officer of eight years is a “fairly confident individual” according to his statement. Yet when a strange man allegedly touches his fiancée in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, he says nothing to him or to anyone else, even after returning home from the trip.

He’s standing on the far left of the photo behind his fiancee Anna, next to the First Officer.

Bart, Anna and Ven say repeatedly throughout their statements my alleged touching made them feel “very uncomfortable”. Bart as an ex police officer knows the importance of putting emphasis on these two words.

When asked during the initial grievance investigation meeting how I would touch someone if I had to move them out the way, this was my reply. This screenshot comes from evidence submitted as part of my defence.

At the time of the first meeting when asked this question witness statements had not yet been requested.


copy of written correspondence
Y CSS – Economy Cabin Supervisor. From evidence submitted as part of my defence


Take a look at what the Head of Cabin Crew said regarding the allegations of inappropriate touching following my appeal. It’s important to remember according to witness statements, only Bart and Anna state they saw me touching anyone. Everyone else including Ven who accused me of squeezing his waist and Mia who accused me of touching her leg state they did not see me or were aware of me touching anyone.

Despite my alleged touching making Ven, Anna and Bart feel “very uncomfortable, they said nothing about it to anyone during the flight, whilst in Atlanta or upon returning home.

So the only physical contact that could be confirmed by my own admission was the moment I touched Ven’s ankle for a second whilst having a joke with him. It was witnessed by two other crew and a reference to the incident was made by Lottie in her witness statement.

There is no other evidence to support me touching anyone at any time. So the Head of Cabin Crew is relying on what has been said in witness statements by Bart, Anna, Ven and Mia all of whom I proved lied throughout their statements. Even though Mia is lying she says in her statement “I don’t wish for this to be taken further”.

If she doesn’t want it to be taken further why mention it? She mentions it because I believe she was coerced by Anna.


copy of written correspondence
from appeal outcome conducted by the Head of Cabin Crew

To further prove what a malicious individual and prolific liar Anna is, she stated in her witness statement that she and Mia complained to a crew line manager about my behaviour prior to checking-in for their next flight. You would have thought they would have mentioned the inappropriate touching.

I spoke to that line manager and we discussed the conversation that took place. She told me NOTHING was said about any inappropriate touching of any member of the crew. She said had such a complaint been made a full investigation would have been launched immediately.

She told me Anna and Mia had complained about the email they received from me on their days off. That’s quite brazen considering both were still in their probation.

In that email as well as thanking them for their hard work, I also shared the results of the Voice of Customer questionnaires from our flight home to London.

With the crew working in Economy all being relatively new and crew member T working up in a supervisory role, I offered some ideas about how their scores could be improved. One customer had made a negative comment about one of the female crew working in Economy.

Including Anna there were three female crew in that cabin one of whom I had worked with on the outbound sector. I had seen the positive and friendly way in which Mia (who subsequently accused me of touching her leg) interacted with customers. I spoke to her about the way she engaged with people when we returned to the galley.

The scores given to the cabin crew through the Voice of Customer questionnaires directly affect the performance scores of the Flight Manager. Those scores were subsequently used to assess my performance and to determine whether to make me and many of my colleagues redundant.


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