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

More of the Good Old Days

The following photo is one of many lovely people I had the pleasure of working alongside during my time with Virgin Atlantic. 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 was originally mine. I never shared with her what happened on my trip, in fact I never told anyone apart from one friend and colleague.

This lovely lady was a cabin supervisor at the time of this flight but soon afterwards was to flight manager.

A consummate professional, she carried on regardless despite having a used piece of tape over her perfect make-up.

Taken by me in 2013 with tears of laughter streaming down my face. The one thing that made flying for Virgin Atlantic so 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 so customers could not see what was going on.

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 that was out of view.

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. 

If we were lucky the company would curtain-off four regular Economy seats to share between 18 cabin crew so we could have a break.

Breaks could only be taken in between the main 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 flight supervisor (now flight 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 up in the tail. Some of the slightly newer aircraft that joined the fleet also had bunks. Despite that, crew breaks for the junior crew were still rare.

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

On aircraft not fitted with bunks, they would either use unoccupied seats in Upper Class or some aircraft had crew seats on the upper deck. I remember on many occasions moving my service cart out the way so the seniors could pass to get to the bunks.

Japanese Virgin Atlantic stewardess sitting on a jumpseat about to eat
Socks weren’t part of the uniform! The female crew always 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 installed, 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 most inbound sectors fly through the night. You also have to deal with jetlag.

Throughout my time as a flight manager I always tried to give the cabin crew a decent break on both sectors providing it didn’t jeopardise the standard of service. I felt it was really 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 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 arranged by Virgin Atlantic to celebrate receiving our wings at the end of our training. The venue was the Roof Gardens in Kensington once owned by Richard.

In those days each group would have an all expenses paid night out at the end of their training often with Richard joining 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 the Upper Class cabin even to use the toilets. Seniors never ventured into Economy.

The seniors ate Upper Class food whilst the juniors ate whatever they could find in the ovens that hadn’t been used during the service.

There was always a ‘crew cart’ but the quality of the food 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 flight 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 lovely to be around.

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 went virtually empty. As a result recruitment and any opportunity for promotion dried.

Despite my length of time in 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

I was only a senior for two years before applying for 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 certainly not all cabin crew had little or no respect for onboard managers.

As the airline began to modernise the seniors started helping out 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 leftover from the service to eat.

I’ve included the following letter because it’s relevant to comments about my performance and ability made by Bart. Ven and Anna also criticised every aspect of the way I carried out my role.

copy of written correspondence

Cabin Crew Life Downroute

Whilst waiting for our room keys at the hotel someone would usually announce a room party.  Depending on how late it was or how tired we were, we’d either drop our cases off and go straight there whilst in uniform or get showered and changed first.

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

At a room party with eighteen cabin 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 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 the crew 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 away we’d often go for dinner as one large group. That usually ended in disaster because too much alcohol was consumed and there were always arguments over settling the bill.

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

The following photo sums up flying for Virgin Atlantic in the 1990’s perfectly.

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 cabin crew check-in and whilst arriving or departing from certain 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.

With the rise of social media it’s much easier to keep in touch nowadays but back then we were only just beginning to use mobile ‘phones.

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 had never been apart.

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 through the ranks including to purser and flight supervisor in the early days was automatic. When the need for more crew in a higher rank was required you’d be rostered the 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 on a trip to Los Angeles. I say horse riding but it was sitting on the back of a horse whilst it followed the horse in front up towards the Hollywood sign. It’s something I’ve always remembered because on the way down the horses walked the entire way on the edge of the path. Immediately to the left was a sheer drop into a deep canyon.

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

Virgin Atlantic really struggled through the next few years but as things slowly began to improve, 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

Pre-Flight Safety Briefings

Once cabin crew arrive at the crew check-in area they wait to be called for the pre-flight safety briefing.  Conducted by the flight manager it lasts about twenty minutes and is the first time the entire crew get together.

It’s an opportunity for them to introduce themself and both cabin supervisors. They talk about the flight, the services and cover all aspects of safety. Other relevant points relating to the flight or trip are also covered.

Up 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 for a flight and didn’t know anyone.

One of my last flights was with a cabin supervisor who had been flying for 18 years yet we’d never met.

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 of flying I had never known anyone to be stood down although I was aware it did happen albeit very rarely.

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

Until about 2003 flight managers wrote their own pre-flight safety briefing so you could literally be asked anything from the entire manual. With that said, the same questions usually came up again and again. It was rare to be asked something you’d not been asked before.

I never forgot how nervous I felt during that part of the briefing. In nineteen years of being a flight manager I always tried to take the pressure off as much as possible when asking these questions. I think I only had to ask a crew member a second question a handful of times.

In later years the safety training department issued the questions. The cabin crew were told the questions but were advised in advance which section of the safety manual they came from.

The same questions were used for about four 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 cabin crew management wanted flight managers to conduct the pre-flight safety briefing changed many times over the years.

A couple of months before my Christmas Atlanta, during one of my regular conversations with my manager he told me they wanted briefings to be more interactive. The flight manager had always done most of the talking and they wanted the cabin crew to become more involved. The first time they really got to speak was to answer their safety question.

There was already a huge amount of information we had to deliver and the briefing could only last for about twenty minutes.

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

There were seven points all of which had been written by the safety training department. They were always the same and never changed. The flight manager had to choose at least three to read out. It’s important to emphasise these were very basic safety points that everyone would have heard many, many times before.

Whilst rewriting the non-safety part of my pre-flight briefing I decided that instead of reading these points out, I would ask them as questions to the crew as a whole. Asking them to shout out the answers would enable everyone to get involved from the start and act as an ice-breaker.

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 the number that had be entered into the handset changed 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.

Having used the new format a few times the response from the crew 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 real name.

copy of written correspondence

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 as a whole. I said “just shout the answers out”.

Each crew member was then asked an individual safety question which is a mandatory part of the pre-flight safety briefing. The questions which are supplied by the safety training department 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 even knew each other let alone were engaged to be married.

Absolutely nothing Anna says in her hateful diatribe of a witness statement 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 hateful individual.

The following screenshot also comes from her witness statement. The black mark covers my surname. Bear in mind she had been with Virgin Atlantic for about one year. She had previously been cabin crew with British Airways.

copy of written correspondence

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

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

Only Bart, Anna and Ven stated they were personally 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.

As you’ll see in the screenshot from Ven’s witness statement lower down, he states I didn’t even make an after take off announcement.

Crew member Peter who had been with the airline for six months brought a friend with him on the trip. It was her first time flying with Virgin Atlantic and she had never been cabin crew. 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 are also closely connected 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 the anonymous upward performance appraisal that he was required to write on me. He didn’t complete that or do appraisals on any of his crew despite it being mandatory on both sectors.

He had told me prior to the pre-flight briefing that he didn’t have his iPad but the appraisals could have been done with pen and paper. That’s how they had always been done prior to iPads being introduced. If he didn’t have any 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.

Crew member T was unable to confirm anything about my announcements that he had heard personally. During my after take-off and post landing announcement all of the cabin crew would have been sitting on their crew seats. There’s a speaker above or adjacent to every seat. Once I’ve finished my after take-off announcement T has to do an announcement in Economy. He would therefore have been waiting for me to finish.

The following screenshot comes from the witness statement of crew member Ven. As you’ll see as my blog progresses, he lied throughout his entire statement.

copy of written correspondence
FSM = Flight (service) Manager

After take-off the flight manager makes a welcome announcement to introduce themselves and the cabin supervisors. It includes important safety information regarding smoking regulations and compliance with the seat belt signs. It’s therefore impossible for it not to be done.

I’m assuming he believes my P.A’s were “strange” because instead of reading them from the P.A book I ad-libbed them. Not many flight managers do this.

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.

On our outbound flight the aircraft was half empty so I gave the cabin crew a two hour break in the bunks. I didn’t take a rest 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 members of the crew. I also did a drinks service in Economy with crew member Mia. Anna worked on the service cart in the opposite aisle with a crew member who didn’t return her witness statement.

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

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

It had been a nice trip but I was looking forward to getting home. Just prior to leaving the hotel I spoke to my dad who really wasn’t well. A few minutes later someone asked everyone to get together for a group photo. Several crew grabbed their cameras.

I tried hard to smile but it didn’t come naturally. 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 were subsequently included as evidence.

I don’t use Facebook often but many people’s pages have free access to whoever wants to look at it.

Think back for a moment to Ven’s witness 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 crew member Peter. If you look closely you’ll see Peter’s arm is around Ven’s waist.

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 a team of cabin 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 submitted by the remaining crew, nobody was aware of, or saw me touching anyone inappropriately at any time.

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

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

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

On the inbound flight Anna only came to the front of the aircraft once during the entire flight. She was there 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 own statement. Yet when a strange man allegedly touches his fiancée in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, he says nothing to him or anyone else.

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

When asked during the 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 I was asked this question, witness statements had not yet been requested from the rest of the crew.

copy of written correspondence
From evidence submitted as part of my defence

Take a look at what HoC (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 feel “very uncomfortable, he said nothing about it to anyone.

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

There is no other evidence to support me touching anyone in any manner. So HoC is relying purely on what has been said in witness statements by Bart, Anna, Ven and Mia. all of whom I proved lied throughout their statements.

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 cabin 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 went on to say that had such a complaint been made, a full investigation would have been launched immediately.

She also explained that what Anna and Mia actually complained about was the email I sent to them and the rest of the Economy crew after the flight.

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 cabin crew working in Economy all being relatively new and crew member T working up a rank, 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 after the service.

As mentioned earlier in my blog, the scores given to the cabin crew through the Voice of Customer questionnaire directly affect the performance scores of the flight manager. Those scores were subsequently used to make many people redundant.

I hope you’re now beginning to understand why I knew something very strange was going on with regards to the investigation being carried out into Bart’s complaint.

What you’ve read so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

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