30 Years a Virgin | The Ugly Truth – Part 4

Table of Contents

The Ugly Truth Part 3

Page 1 – The Ugly Face of Revenge 
Page 2 – The Day That Changed my Life
Page 2 – When It All Becomes Too Much
Page 3 – Shalom Tel Aviv
Page 4 – Great Customer Feedback
Page 5 – Cue Second Disciplinary
Page 6 – Outcome of the Investigation
Page 7 – The Last Page

The Ugly Truth Part 5 (TBA)

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 whether religious or not feel connected in some way to Israel. The type of aircraft being used meant the cabin crew would be required to have an overnight stay.

The company didn’t want to be just another airline flying to Israel. They wanted to make the entire journey a unique experience from start to finish. They felt one way to help achieve this 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.

Hardly any cabin crew at the airline 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 this team, just 5 of us were Jewish.

copy of written correspondence

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

During the morning we were told we would be visiting a Jewish cultural centre later that day for a talk from a rabbi. We were then going to walk around a kosher supermarket. I then realised why we had been asked to attend in uniform.

Golders Green which is just down the road has a large Jewish community. This relatively small suburb has as many as fifty kosher eating establishments, 40 synagogues and a large number of Jewish schools. North west London which incorporates Hendon, Golders Green and Edgware has a very large Jewish population. I grew up in Edgware and still live in the area.

Walking around Golders Green in my uniform felt very strange. I don’t know what my colleagues were shown in Kosher Kingdom (the supermarket) but I used the opportunity to buy smoked salmon, fish balls and latkes. I was told by one of the trainers that a Jewish colleague who attended the course the following day did exactly the same!

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 on-board managers to operate the route for the first few months. By doing this they could share cultural knowledge with the rest of the cabin crew on their 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 and included it with paperwork they received during the pre-flight briefing. I tried to address some of the most common questions that I’d heard for many years from non Jewish cabin crew.

Whenever a crew member found out I was Jewish they’d ask me 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 skullcap 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 religious garment is worn under their shirt and has fringes on both ends that or may not be tucked into the trousers. I reckon years ago when it was washed and hung on the line to dry, neighbours not knowing what it was assumed it must be something used during sex.

young jewish boy wearing a prayer shawl known as a tzitzit
Jewish prayer shawl known as tzitzit

I wasn’t initially going to include so much of the article in my blog but having re-read it, feel it’s important to show how much of my own time I gave to helping the company with this route. This is relevant because of what subsequently took place between me and Jack.

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

I also included some history about the Jewish race, explained why orthodox people often spend the flight reading biblical texts and closed with some suggestions of great places to visit in Israel. An image I used at the end explained very simply, what many believe to be the roots of antisemitism. The entire article took up two A4 sheets of paper.

I posted a message on the company’s communications platform to say I’d be happy to share it with other on-board managers who may be interested in reading it.

The person responsible for writing the introductory brief on Israel for the business was someone I had known for many years. With her not being Jewish I sent her a copy in the hope she may find it useful. 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 brief which she hadn’t yet 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

When our monthly rosters were published I was over the moon to find I had been rostered to operate as the Flight Service Manager on the first flight to Tel Aviv. It’s difficult to put into words just how excited I was. Being Jewish is an important part of who I am. Being given the opportunity to represent the airline on the first flight 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 extensively to enable me to make announcements in Hebrew and to converse with Hebrew speaking passengers. I wanted the route to be a success and was certainly going to do my part to try and make that happen.

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

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

Although not orthodox I am Jewish and my faith is part of my life. My father’s parents immigrated from Latvia in the early 1900’s. Kate Sosner (number 3 on the census) was my dad’s mother. I never knew his parents.

Census of England and Wales dated 1911
Census of England and Wales 1911

On my mum’s side her mother was dutch, her father English. My granddad was a diamond polisher who had gone to work in Holland and that’s where he met my grandmother. My mum was born in Belgium where he was working at the time. Later that year they all returned to England.

When the nazis invaded Holland in 1940 my grandmother’s parents and two sisters went into hiding. Being diabetic her mum was blind. Not long afterwards they were discovered and taken away to Bergen Belsen. They were never seen or heard of again. They died with six million other innocent people for one reason and one reason only. Because they were jews.

I want to include something here that I just want to share. I think it’s very funny and relates to religion. It’s regarding something that happened during a flight with someone I was always very fond of. Her family were Pakistani and she was Muslim.

During an inbound flight from somewhere, most the Upper Class crew were on their rest break. Customers in the cabin were beginning to wake up and were asking for breakfast. I said to Asma (not her real name), let’s start doing the service very slowly. I told her to work in the galley and I would ask customers what they wanted to eat and then deliver it.

Every few minutes I was asking her to prepare another bacon roll. Suddenly I started laughing and said something like, “what a funny situation, the only Muslim and Jew on the aircraft and we’re both serving bacon rolls”. It was just my sense of humour and something I’ve always remembered.

Whenever we saw each other she’d address me affectionately as her Yehudi brother.

Although the airline’s first flight to Tel Aviv left London Heathrow on 25th September 2019, it wasn’t the official UK 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 completely full.

During the pre flight briefing I had specifically been asked to look after an influential blogger and friend of director Jack. We also had Israeli press on-board. I had a great team of cabin crew and were all 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 everyone worked hard to make the experience as memorable as possible. After the lunch service I made the announcement in Hebrew and English advising customers 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 were not 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 had been incredibly busy and despite plenty of challenges mainly with regards to catering, the cabin crew did an amazing job.

Upon arrival at our hotel we received a genuinely warm welcome. The management laid on champagne and a small buffet full of traditional Israeli snacks and cakes. It was a lovely gesture especially considering the airline had done nothing special for the crew.

The following morning I said Kaddish for my parents. The Mourners Kaddish is a prayer said during the three daily prayer services. It’s said for the first eleven months less one day following the death of a parent. I’m not orthodox enough to recite it daily but saying it in Israel meant a great deal to me. It had been many years since my last visit.

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

I was happy with my performance during both flights and hoped I’d done the airline proud. I had changed significantly since returning to work in March 2018 after being on long term sick. I was no longer the bubbly outgoing and confident person I once was. With that said, I was still passionate about my job and tried to carry out my role to the highest possible standard. Having to deal with the grievance raised against me by Bart for the last seven months had set me back enormously.

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 I believe came about because of the immense pressure of having to deal with a spurious grievance.

The following screenshot comes from a message posted on a private group we set up on Workplace following the trip. It was set up so we could share photos with each other from that first trip. Only crew who had operated the first flight could join.

The person who posted this 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 the company in 1990.

He’s the only person in the entire world who calls me Larry, and gets ways with it!

screenshot from a facebook post

I was first advised of the complaint from crew member Bart in early March 2019. The first investigative meeting took place on 9th April, the second disciplinary meeting on 15th August. It was now almost 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 to ask her to be mindful about when she advised me of the outcome. I knew it was due imminently and didn’t want to receive it whilst on a trip or on landing day. 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 from Heathrow after that flight my head was still 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 rostered flight.

Once home I put the kettle on, had a piece of toast and was about to start telling my partner about the last three days. I then received an email which I blindly 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 fiancee 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 back home you’re often exhausted and jetlagged. Staying awake on the drive home is always a struggle.

Although Tel Aviv is only a short flight and the time difference just two hours, I’d been on a high for the last three days and really hadn’t slept that 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 the most 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 would probably have turned out very different.

The following comes from documentation used in my appeal to senior manager xx.

copy of written correspondence

The following screenshot is from her reply. The screenshot after that comes from the grievance I raised against the airline for the way she dealt with the appeal.

copy of written correspondence

copy of written correspondence

The half-hearted apology was utterly pathetic. I’d waited six weeks for the outcome of the investigation yet senior manager xx 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 senior manager xx told me Hayley was a very experienced manager. So experienced that multiple pages of text in the outcome document I received were obscured by the letterhead of the paper. She had no idea what she was doing during the grievance meeting and was being guided by the Employee Relations Consultant. His primary purpose for being there was to ensure company policy was followed and to take minutes. I then received the outcome of her investigation within an hour of me arriving home after a flight despite asking in writing that she be considerate regarding when it was sent.

The same union rep’ accompanied me to all the grievance meetings. She confirmed during the appeal meeting with senior manager xx that it did appear as if crew manager 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.

The following screenshot comes from documents submitted as part of my appeal and the subsequent response from senior manager xx.

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

copy of written correspondence
MPD = Manager Performance and Development (that’s a cabin crew manager)

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