30 Years a Virgin | A Mental Health Blog | Part 2

Table of Contents

Mental Health Matters | Part 1 

Page 1 – Retaliation, Making it Personal  
Page 2 – Performance Management System 
Page 2 – My Performance Management Record 
Page 2 – Open to Suggestions and Ideas 
Page 2 – Completing Onboard Performance Management 
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
Mental Health Matters | Part 3

Performance Management System

Virgin Atlantic frequently changed the way they assessed the performance of cabin crew and onboard managers. The problem with every performance management system they implemented was that it was open to manipulation.

The working environment onboard the aircraft was mostly extremely friendly. It was common for good friends, relatives and even spouses to fly together.

The flight manager was required to complete a written performance appraisal on both cabin supervisors. They in turn completed an appraisal on the flight manager and their own team of cabin crew.

Until quite recently the cabin crew rank were never required to do upward performance management on onboard managers.

A number of years ago the airline introduced something called a Rave Review. Its purpose was to enable any member of cabin crew to write a short review about a colleague on the flight. That could be someone of the same rank or higher.

They were only to be used if the crew member witnessed outstanding performance and felt it should be documented. The only one I have can be seen below. The reason I only have one is not because only one was ever written on me.

On this full flight to Orlando on Boxing Day on a Boeing 747 aircraft with more than 400 passengers, we were four cabin crew down.

copy of a written performance review on a staff member
Presented to me by my crew at the end of a very challenging flight

In the grievance submitted by crew member Bart he not only lambasted the way I carried out my duties from start to finish but his complaint was extremely personal. The same goes for witness statements completed by his now ex fiancee Anna and the remaining three crew with whom they colluded.

The three crew members who worked alongside Bart and I in Upper Class spoke well of me and had little criticism about the way I carried out my duties. Little notice was taken of what they wrote in their statements.

Following the first investigative meeting with cabin crew manager Lana, I wanted to show her what crew who had flown with me over the years thought of me as a person and a flight manager.

Although cabin crew management had access to all mandatory performance appraisals that had been completed on me, the Rave Review was an optional form that was not added to your personal file.

I’m proud to say I received quite a few over the years they were in use. I decided to send them all to crew manager Lana as evidence. They were sent by Royal Mail tracked and signed.

The following emails are self explanatory;

copy of an email
copy of an email

As a result of the stress of the investigative meeting which took place a couple months after I lost my dad, I was off work for several weeks. When I returned I asked at cabin crew check-in for the envelope but nobody could find it.

Having spoken to my manager he managed to find it and said he may be able to post it to me. I was concerned that due to the weight they wouldn’t send it recorded and it may end up getting lost. I therefore asked him to keep the envelope there. I said I’d collect it when I checked in for my next flight.

copy of an email

Being part time meant I only flew three times a month and admittedly forgot to ask for the envelope the next time I checked in. I wasn’t worried because it was in the safe.

Take a look at the following screenshot which comes from evidence I submitted as part of this grievance.

Let me explain something first. There had always been dedicated staff who worked on the front desk at the cabin crew check-in area. With it being their full-time job everything always ran smoothly. Whilst I was on long term sick they were made redundant because the airline felt it wasn’t necessary for the front desk to be permanently manned.

It soon became apparent that was a mistake and someone was required to be on the desk at all times. It then started being manned by different cabin crew managers who were based within the check-in area. Few really knew what they were doing.

copy of written correspondence
Taken from evidence submitted as part of my defence

Having initially been told the forms had been shredded I thought this cabin crew manager was having a joke with me. I soon realised he was being deadly serious.

Bear in mind each form was dated, had my full name on it, my managers name and my employee number. Despite having been in the safe for “some time”, it was there for a reason.

Did this so-called manager not think of getting in touch with me before shredding a large stack of reviews that praised my ability as a flight manager over many years?

Clearly not.

My Performance Management Record

Take a look at the following two screenshots. Bear in mind this complaint came about because Bart was not prepared to receive a constructive performance appraisal from me.

Three crew members who worked alongside us in the Upper Class cabin stated in their witness statement they did not see and were not aware of any unusual behaviour at any time between Bart and myself. They also had no complaints about the way I conducted myself either on or off the aircraft.

Two of those people had flown previously for thirty years and the third had been cabin crew with Virgin Atlantic for eight years.

Out of the remaining seven cabin crew, five colluded with Bart, two failed to return their witness statements.

copy of written correspondence
From the complaint submitted by crew member Bart

copy of written correspondence
From the complaint submitted by Bart

I appreciate reading a performance appraisal on someone you don’t know is not particularly interesting. I feel however that because of the subject matter of this blog, it’s important that I share a couple of examples from my personal file with you.

Not having looked at my old performance management for many years, I had to laugh when I saw I was once given a “Needs Improvement” mark over a uniform issue.

Thirteen years later I addressed exactly the same issue with Bart in his performance management. Lower down I’ll include a screenshot of what I said and his response.

The following screenshots come from two performance reviews that were written on me by my manager when we flew together in 2005 and 2006.

copy of a written performance assessment

copy of a written performance assessment
NI equates to “Needs Improvement”

copy of a written performance assessment

copy of a written performance assessment

Let me explain the situation mentioned in the “Ensuring Effective Relationships” section of the second screenshot.

I had recently flown with a Delhi based cabin crew line manager. She was working as cabin crew but was also there to assess the Delhi based crew. She was working at the back of the aircraft in Economy.

During a busy meal service the Economy cabin supervisor told me this manager and a crew member with whom she was good friends, were messing around in the galley and it was affecting the service. She had tried to address the matter but they weren’t taking any notice.

I spoke privately with this manager but it didn’t go down well. She subsequently reported me.

When my manager flew with me it was on a flight to Delhi. He had arranged for her to once again be part of the crew.

Regarding the issue of me removing my tie whilst on the bus to the hotel, I learnt from that and never did it again.

Bearing in mind the performance management that included this comment was written in 2005. When I flew with Bart in 2018 I noticed he removed his tie before waking through the cabin to the crew rest area (CRA) to start his rest break.

Just like my manager didn’t address it with me at the time, I didn’t address it with him. That wasn’t because I was avoiding doing so but more because by the time he returned from a two hour rest break, I had forgotten about it.

In the following screenshot you’ll see my comment from the performance management that I wrote on him (black text) and the reply from his complaint.

For point of reference the crew are always woken up ten minutes before the end of their break. This is to ensure they’re back in the cabin and ready to work before the remaining crew go on their break.

copy of written correspondence
From my review on Bart and the response from his complaint

By 2012 I had been a flight manager for eleven years. Having flown with a cabin crew manager and raised an issue with her about the ladies’ uniform shoes, I received the following email from her following the flight;

OBM is an abbreviation for onboard manager.

copy of an email
Email received from a ground based cabin crew line manager

Open to Suggestions and Ideas

Since joining the airline in 1990 there had always been a Junior and Senior rank. Juniors worked in Economy, Seniors in Upper Class.

The length of time spent as a Junior varied greatly and was dependant on whether more Senior crew were required. Once advised you were being promoted you would attend a training course to learn how to deliver the service in Upper Class.

Around 2012 the system was changed. Instead of being a natural progression to move up a rank, the Junior crew now had to apply for promotion.

This had long been the case when moving from senior to cabin supervisor (CSS) and from CSS to flight manager (FSM). This was because both were onboard managerial roles.

Working as cabin crew is pretty much the same irrespective of which cabin you work in. The main difference is the way the service is delivered and in Upper Class and to some degree, the way customers are looked after.

A Japanese and British Virgin Atlantic stewardess eating noodles in the galley
Juniors in Economy | 1994 ish

two virgin atlantic stewardesses serving afternoon tea from trolley in first class
A Senior crew member working with the Flight Manager. 1997 ish

In 2013 having been a junior for two years my partner submitted an application for senior. Only the highest performing crew in the rank were eligible to apply.

As part of the process he was required to submit a C.V, an accompanying letter explaining why he felt he was suitable to work in Upper Class and then had to go through a complex set of psychometric tests. Those who passed this stage were invited for a telephone interview.

The company always encouraged feedback from crew and during my 30 years of employment I wrote in a few times.

The following screenshot is a letter sent to the previous CEO. Having met him only once at a workshop in 2013, he made a point of asking onboard managers to write to him with concerns or suggestions.

Rumours had been circulating for some time about the merging of the junior and senior ranks so I doubt my letter contributed to the change that followed. The ranks were combined whilst I was on long term sick in 2016.

copy of written correspondence
copy of written correspondence
copy of written correspondence
Letter to Craig Kreeger previous CEO

Completing Onboard Performance Management

Before going for promotion to senior my partner received an email from his line manager. It said the company were looking for ideas for a new onboard performance management system. They wanted it to include the ability for junior and senior crew to do upward performance management on the onboard managers. This had never been done previously.

Thinking it would look good on his file for when he applied for promotion we put something together.

Without boring you with too much detail, what we came up with was extremely similar to what was later implemented. The main difference was that instead of the crew having to write their feedback, we compiled six performance related questions that had to be answered with ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’.

One crew member working a certain position in each of the three cabins would then have to complete a short upward appraisal on either the cabin supervisor they were working with or the flight manager.

Cabin supervisors and flight managers also had to write performance appraisals on each other and on all members of their team.

We believed the most important thing was to ensure those completing feedback remained anonymous. That way it could be honest and there would be no uncomfortable confrontations should people fly together again in the future.

When the new performance management system was launched, the feedback that had been written was made available quarterly. To further protect the identity of those who had written it, dates and flight numbers were removed.

Although I did occasionally receive constructive feedback, it was always written politely and I used it to try and better myself. The way you come across to others is really important. If the only way to hear the truth about what people think of you is through anonymous feedback then I accept that.

Some of the comments being written about flight managers however was incredibly rude, personal and offensive. Worse still, it wasn’t just cabin crew who were guilty of this. Onboard managers were also writing some pretty unpleasant things.

There was only room on the company work iPad to write a very short appraisal. Having raised this with the manager responsible for implementing apps on the newly introduced company iPad, he told me if we needed more space the appraisal should be completed on paper. This is how it had been done for the last thirty years.

Along with a newly introduced “Voice of Customer programme” Virgin Atlantic believed they now had an accurate tool for assessing the performance of each and every crew member.

The purpose of a Voice of Customer programme is to collect feedback about a product or service. Armed with that information the business can work towards creating a better customer experience.

The Voice of Customer programme is not designed to be a performance management tool for employees but the airline began using it as one.

Using an algorithm, they came up with a scoring system to rank the performance of onboard managers. The individual’s score was compiled partly from Voice of Customer feedback and partly from performance appraisals written on them anonymously by the cabin crew.

The scores were later used to decide who would keep their job and who would be made redundant in response to cutbacks following the outbreak of Covid-19.

When a passenger completes their Voice of Customer questionnaire, in the section where they’re asked about the cabin crew, whilst it seems like they’re scoring the crew members who served them, their score is actually used to rate the performance of the cabin supervisor who’s running the services and the flight manager.

In many cases that customer may not have had any contact throughout the entire flight with either of those people.

The system includes tick boxes for ‘very poor’, ‘poor’, ‘good’, ‘very good’ and ‘excellent’. There was also a small area for additional comments. In the months after being launched the scores and uncensored free-text comments relating to the cabin crew section were made available for onboard managers to share with their crew.

Some of the comments were really quite offensive. Furthermore it soon became obvious that some customers were scoring ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ for things that were totally out of the crews’ control.

One ‘very poor’ I received was because a customer sitting at an emergency exit wasn’t allowed to keep his laptop for take-off and landing. This is not permitted inline with UK Civil Aviation Authority regulations so must be enforced by the crew.

Another was from a customer who I had spoken to personally about a dietary meal that hadn’t been loaded. Despite spending extensive time with him and resolving the problem as best as I could, he marked the cabin crew as ‘very poor’. That mark brought my scores down considerably.

The following screenshot is my scorecard for the first period after I returned to work in March 2018. The system had only recently been introduced.

My score from Voice of Customer (VoC) is 66.28%. The score from performance management (PM) which is upward feedback written on me anonymously by the crew is 8.91. That makes my total score 77.67%.

The combined average score for my base which was Heathrow and my rank which was flight manager (FSM) was 72%. That means my performance was well above average.

copy of performance monitoring scores for a staff member

In the next period my scores dropped slightly but were still above average. Everyone’s scores fluctuated each month depending on the route operated and problems encountered.

Having been notified in June 2020 I was going to be made redundant, I was told that apart from having a final disciplinary and written warning on my file, my performance scores were below the cut off point not to be considered for redundancy.

When redundancies were announced I was on long term sick as result of dealing with the malicious grievance raised against me by Bart. I had been off since December 2019.

Since September 2019 I had only been operating flights to Tel Aviv. With it being a new destination the cabin crew performance scores were lower than on many other routes.

Customer feedback is always lower on a new route for the first few months. That’s something the airline are fully aware of. Had they gone back further to collate more performance data on me they would have to consider three lengthy periods of sickness.

Printed scorecards like the one above confirm I was an above average performing flight manager throughout 2018 and well into 2019. My scores dropped in 2020 because of extensive absence and operating a newly launched route.

I had in fact been an above average performing employee with a clean work record for almost thirty years. That could be seen from performance appraisals that had been written on me over many years. Suddenly within a space of a couple of months I was being told I was an under-performing employee.

copy of written correspondence
Redundancy letter

Several weeks later on 30th June 2020 I received this perspex plaque in the post. It came with a golden lapel pin to wear on my uniform. I also received a “congratulations” card from the company CEO. The same CEO who reported my forum comment to the head of cabin crew which led to me having to deal with a second grievance.

Clear perspex plaque commemorating 30 years of service with Virgin Atlantic
Sent to me just a few weeks after I was told I was being made redundant

I couldn’t believe what was printed in the bottom left corner of this “award”.

They clearly use these plaques at award ceremonies and simply have the text changed to suit the event. As if sending this to someone who had just learnt he was being made redundant wasn’t bad enough, above my name was the word “winner”. That’s not appropriate even if I wasn’t being made redundant.

After what I had been through over the last eighteen months, I was anything but a winner.

gold lapel pin from Virgin Atlantic that says 30 years
Golden lapel pin to wear on my uniform

To end this chapter I want to include some screenshots from upward performance appraisals that were written on me during my last eighteen months with Virgin Atlantic.

These were written anonymously by cabin crew with whom I flew.

As you read more about the complaint submitted against me by this devious ex police officer, his now ex fiancee Anna and their friends, you’ll at least have seen what the vast majority of cabin crew who flew with me thought of my conduct and performance.

Scores are out of 5.

%d bloggers like this: