Being Cabin Crew | The Ugly Truth Part 4

Table of Contents

Being Cabin Crew | The Ugly Truth Part 3

Page 1 – Fighting Hatred in the Workplace
Page 2 – Employing a Sociopath
Page 3 – The Day that Changed My Life
Page 3 – When It All Becomes Too Much
Page 4 – Shalom Tel Aviv
Page 5 – Post Flight Customer Feedback
Page 6 – Cue Second Disciplinary
Page 7 – Outcome of the Grievance
Page 8 – Yee Haw The Last Page!

Being Cabin Crew | The Ugly Truth Part 5

Shalom Tel Aviv

In 2019 the airline announced a new route to Tel Aviv. It was an unusual destination for the company but one I couldn’t have been more excited about.

Most Jewish people feel connected in some way to Israel. The type of aircraft being used meant the crew would have an overnight stay.

The company wanted to make the entire journey a unique experience from start to finish. They felt one way of achieving that would be to ensure the cabin crew had a basic understanding of Jewish culture and traditions.

A training day was arranged for a small group of Flight Managers and Cabin Supervisors who had volunteered to operate the route for the first few months.

Click the image below to watch a video for the launch of the Tel Aviv route.

virgin atlantic onboard managers listening to one of the group speaking
On-board manager training day to learn about Jewish culture and traditions.

Very few cabin crew at Virgin Atlantic are Jewish. The total number of Jewish on-board managers (Cabin Supervisors and Flight Managers) was no more than ten. From those who volunteered to be part of the “Tel Aviv core crew” just 5 were Jewish.

copy of written correspondence

Considering the day was being held in Hendon, I was surprised we had to attend in uniform.

During the morning we were told we would be visiting a Jewish cultural centre for a talk from a rabbi. We were then going to walk around a kosher supermarket in Golders Green. I then realised why we were in uniform.

Golders Green has a large Jewish community. This relatively small suburb has as many as fifty kosher eating places, forty synagogues and a large number of Jewish schools. North west London which incorporates Hendon, Golders Green and Edgware has a significant Jewish population. I grew up in Edgware and still live in the area.

Walking around Golders Green in uniform especially in a Kosher supermarket felt very strange.

large group of Virgin Atlantic crew in uniform standing in the street smiling for the camera

group of Virgin Atlantic crew in uniform standing in front of the Jewish Learning Exchange
The crew who attended the following day
copy of an article from a newspaper
Article from the JC – Jewish Chronicle newspaper

The company wanted a small group of onboard managers to operate the route for the first few months. We could then share cultural knowledge with the cabin crew on our flights. I felt it was a good move and would definitely be well received.

I decided to put together some information of my own to share with the crew on my flights. I thought they may find it interesting. I tried to address some of the most common questions I’d heard over many years from non Jewish crew.

Whenever a crew member found out I was Jewish they’d ask questions like why do men have curly sideburns, why do they wear large black hats, why do the women wear wigs. They’d ask about the skull cap and whether I had ever eaten bacon.

One of the most common questions was is it true orthodox people have sex through a hole in the sheet. That always made me laugh. Many jewish men wear a prayer shawl called a tzitzit. This garment is worn under their shirt and has fringes on both ends that or may not be tucked in.

Many believe after being washed and hung on the line to dry, neighbours not knowing what it was assumed it must be a kind of sheet used during sex.

Jewish prayer shawl known as tzitzit

I wasn’t initially going to include so much of what I wrote in my blog but having re-read it feel it’s important to show how much effort I put in to try and get this route off to a good start.

This is relevant because of what subsequently took place between me and the company’s CEO.

copy of written correspondence
copy of written correspondence
copy of written correspondence
copy of written correspondence
copy of written correspondence

I closed with some history of the Jewish race, explained why orthodox people often spend the flight reading biblical texts and suggested some must-visit places in Israel.

An image I used at the end explained what many believe to be the roots of antisemitism. The article took up both sides of an A4 sheet of paper.

I posted a message on the company’s communications platform Workplace to say I’d be happy to share it with other onboard managers if anyone was interested.

The person responsible for writing the introductory brief on Israel for the business was someone I’d known for many years. With her not being Jewish I sent her a copy. I also sent a copy to a few other people in the office including a senior manager. I wanted to make sure I wasn’t breaking any rules.

copy of an email
copy of an email
copy of an email
copy of an email

A few days later I received a copy of the company’s brief which hadn’t yet been published.

Here’s the exchange of emails between myself and the person who wrote it.

copy of an email
copy of an email
copy of an email
copy of an email

My only reason for including this correspondence is to show just how much of my own free time I gave to the company.

When our monthly rosters were published I was over the moon to find I was the Flight Service Manager on the first flight to Tel Aviv. It’s difficult to put into words how excited I was. Being Jewish is part of who I am. Being given the opportunity to represent a company I had worked for for almost thirty years was a genuine honour.

Although I have always been able to read Hebrew my conversational skills were far more limited. Since the route was announced I had been studying to enable me to make announcements in Hebrew and to converse with Hebrew speaking passengers.

group of cabin crew around a large table with an Israeli flag
The pre-flight safety briefing

three cabin crew one with his back to  the camera who's wearing a kippah
Being Jewish is part of who I am

Although the first Virgin Atlantic flight to Tel Aviv left Heathrow on 25th September 2019, it wasn’t the official press launch flight. That was planned for the following month.

The launch of the route had been planned to coincide with Rosh Hashanah which is the Jewish New Year. Being one of the most important holidays the first flights were all full.

During the pre-flight briefing for the first flight I was asked to look after an influential blogger and friend of the CEO. We also had Israeli press on-board. I had a great team of cabin crew and everyone was looking forward to the day ahead.

A member of film crew standing inside the aircraft filming three cabin crew

There was a lot of excitement during the flight and we all worked non-stop to make the experience memorable. After the lunch service I made the announcement in Hebrew and English advising men if they wanted to say after dinner prayers they could do so in the back galley. I drew the curtains for additional privacy and made sure they weren’t disturbed.

Orthodox Jewish men saying prayers in an aircraft galley

An aircraft galley full of orthodox Jewish men saying prayers
Photos were taken by another passenger who posted them online

The flight was incredibly busy and despite plenty of challenges mainly with regards to catering, the crew did an amazing job.

Upon arrival at our hotel we received a warm Israeli welcome. The management laid on champagne and a small buffet full of traditional snacks and cakes. It was a lovely gesture.

Our layover was slightly longer than 24 hours. Our departure from the hotel was 04:30. Although busy, the return flight was nowhere near as crazy as the flight over. I was looking forward to getting home to tell my partner about the trip.

I was happy with my performance and hoped I’d done Virgin Atlantic proud. I had changed significantly since returning to work in March 2018 after being on long term sick and fighting a fictitious grievance for the past six months had also taken its toll.

Just two weeks before this flight I’d had an awful experience on a flight to a Miami. I hadn’t yet realised that what happened was a panic attack. A panic attack that came about because of the amount of stress I was dealing with.

The following screenshot comes from a message posted on a private group we set up on Workplace following the first flight to Tel Aviv. It enabled the crew to share photos from the flight.

The person who posted the comment was a trainer from the office. When he flew he was the same rank as me but on this flight was working as cabin crew. We both trained together after joining Virgin Atlantic in 1990.

He’s the only person in the world who gets away with calling me Larry!

screenshot from a facebook post
On the aircraft and in the hotel in Israel

I was first advised of the grievance raised against me by Bart in early March 2019. The first investigative meeting took place on 9th April, the second disciplinary meeting on 15th August. It was now the end of September and I was still waiting for the outcome.

A week or so before my flight to Tel Aviv I sent crew manager Hayley an email asking her to be mindful about when she advised me of the outcome. It was due imminently and I didn’t want to receive it whilst on a trip. This was really important for my mental health and I made that clear.

This was her response; “In terms of the outcome letter I am always mindful of flying duties and intend to send the outcome by email after I have reviewed your roster.”

Driving home after the first flight my head was buzzing from all the excitement. Having gone to bed late and woken up very early I was pretty tired. The last three days had been incredibly exciting and I was already looking forward to going back to Israel on my next flight.

Once home I put the kettle on, had some toast and was about to start telling my partner about the last three days. I then received an email which I opened. A minute later I was reading the outcome of the grievance investigation.

Despite submitting an overwhelming amount of evidence to prove Bart, his now ex fiancée and the crew with whom they colluded had lied throughout their statements, all complaints against me were upheld including one that had already been dismissed.

Unless you’ve been cabin crew it’s difficult to explain the meaning of “landing day”. When you fly long haul, on the day you land home you’re usually exhausted and jetlagged.

Everyone acts differently. Some people go to bed, others chat to friends or family and then there are those who just want to be left alone.

Virgin Atlantic 747 on the ground at an airport with cargo doors open
From a group on Facebook

Although Tel Aviv is a short flight and the time difference just two hours, I’d been on a high for the last three days and hadn’t slept much.

Having been advised the grievance was being upheld I felt complete and utter despair. It was a very, very dark moment in my life.

I went to bed with terrible thoughts going around in my head. Without going into detail that’s not necessary to share, I believe I’m only here because I was so tired I fell asleep immediately.

Had I come home to an empty house which I often did, things may well have turned out very different.

The following screenshot comes from documentation used in my appeal to the Head of Cabin Crew.

copy of written correspondence
FSM = Flight Service Manager.

This comes from another section of the same document.

Hayley – Line Manager who dealt with the disciplinary investigation

The following screenshot comes from the outcome of my appeal. The one after that comes from the grievance I raised against the company for the way the appeal was dealt with.

copy of written correspondence

copy of written correspondence
Senior mgr xx is now referred to as Head of Cabin Crew. This screenshot comes from the grievance I raised against the company.

The half-hearted apology was utterly pathetic. I’d waited six weeks for the outcome of the investigation yet the Head of Cabin Crew claimed Hayley was conscious how long the process had taken and wanted to ensure I didn’t wait any longer. Another twenty four hours wouldn’t have made any difference.

Throughout her investigation she told me Hayley was a very experienced manager. So experienced that multiple pages of text in the outcome of her investigation were obscured by the letterhead of the paper. She had no idea what she was doing during the grievance meeting and was openly being guided by the Employee Relations Consultant.

I then received the outcome of her investigation within an hour of arriving home after a flight despite asking in writing that she be considerate about when it was sent.

The same union rep’ accompanied me to all grievance meetings. She confirmed during the appeal meeting with the Head of Cabin Crew that it did appear as if Hayley was being guided by Employee Relations Consultant Pedro. She also stated that at one point she was even reading from the wrong set of notes.

Crew manager Hayley even upheld a complaint that had already been dismissed during the initial investigation.

The following screenshot comes from documents submitted as part of my appeal and the subsequent response from the Head of Cabin Crew.

copy of written correspondence
From documents submitted as part of my appeal

From the outcome of my appeal conducted by the Head of Cabin Crew. MPD = Manager Performance and Development (that’s a cabin crew line manager)

During the first grievance investigation meeting with crew manager Lana, Pedro was also present. He didn’t “guide her on the Virgin process” at any time.

During my subsequent three meetings regarding the second disciplinary matter, I wasn’t aware of the Employee Relations Consultant offering guidance to either manager who led the meeting.

During all three meetings the only time the Employee Relations Consultant spoke was to clarify something that had been said.

It wasn’t my perception and the union rep’s perception that Pedro was guiding Hayley on the “Virgin process”. He was guiding her because she had no clue what she was doing. At one stage he even said “I’m trying to guide Hayley”.

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