Having spent most of my working life as cabin crew for Virgin Atlantic I was made redundant in 2020 following the outbreak of Covid-19. I was on long term sick at the time but knew when redundancies were announced my cards were marked.
During my 30 years with Virgin Atlantic I never had a black mark against my name, had always worked hard and was passionate about delivering exceptional standards of customer service.
In later years as an on-board manager I worked closely with my crew to gain trust and respect, ensured procedures were followed and always tried to create a happy working environment.
One aspect of my role as a Flight Service Manager I particularly enjoyed was coaching and developing. During my twenty five years as an on-board manager I wrote and delivered hundreds of performance reviews.
In 2003 a couple of years after being promoted to Flight Service Manager (FSM) my partner at the time became gravely ill. I suddenly found myself faced with some very difficult decisions.
It was no longer possible for me to fly full time and part time was only really available to female crew returning from maternity leave. Having told my manager I was considering leaving he fought hard and managed to get me part time.
Despite the turmoil of the next five years I remained loyal and committed to Virgin Atlantic and put my heart and soul into my role.
In performance reviews written on me by colleagues throughout my time as a Cabin Service Supervisor (previously known as Purser) and subsequently as Flight Service Manager, I was described as professional, approachable and hard working.
I have always taken a keen interest in my development and spoke regularly to my manager about my performance. We had a good relationship, were open and honest with each other and he repeatedly told me I was a high performing member of his team.
I’m someone who wears my heart on my sleeve and have always been thoughtful, kind and considerate. As a Flight Service Manager I understood the importance of rewarding outstanding performance but felt it was also important to highlight areas where there was room for improvement. This is something Virgin Atlantic always encouraged.
For Christmas 2018 I was rostered a flight to Seattle with a long layover. I didn’t want to be away for so many days because my dad who was 96 had recently become very frail. I knew he was in the last stages of his life so swapped with a colleague for a shorter trip to Atlanta. It was a decision I would live to regret.
What happened in the weeks and months that followed defies belief.
Although extremely disappointing, being made redundant wasn’t a major issue for me because after thirty years of flying, it was time for me to move on. What had taken place since my Atlanta had exposed a side of Virgin Atlantic I didn’t know existed.
I had considered leaving many times over the years but loved my job, believed I did it well and was never quite ready or brave enough to call it a day.
It’s been almost three years since that ill-fated flight and only now do I feel able to share my story.
A Christmas to Remember
During a flight to Cape Town not too many years ago, I was asked to speak with a customer sitting in the front row of the Premium cabin.
Premium with Virgin Atlantic is superior to Economy but not quite Upper Class.
Since take-off she had been asking to be upgraded because her husband couldn’t get comfortable. I had seen him board using a walking stick and he clearly had a spinal issue which prevented him from being able to stand up straight.
After introducing myself she told me she wanted to be upgraded so her husband could use the Upper Class bed. Having explained I didn’t have the authority to upgrade customers, she argued they had been upgraded many times before on Virgin Atlantic by the flight manager. She told me as a gold club flying member they were entitled to be upgraded.
I explained that wasn’t company policy and although we do everything possible to look after our gold club customers, we weren’t authorised to do upgrades. She demanded to speak to the captain but I explained that wasn’t possible.
She continued arguing with me and was becoming louder and louder. She then said I had no idea what it was like to live with someone who was disabled. The comment came out of the blue and I felt embarrassed for her husband who was sitting next to her reading the newspaper.
I empathised and said I really did understand how difficult it was because I had been a carer myself for many years for my partner to which she replied, “he probably had AIDS”.
During my thirty years at Virgin Atlantic I encountered my fair share of rude and unpleasant people but this affluent and well-spoken woman was the most vile of them all.
Her comment was particularly hurtful because she was right, my ex partner did have AIDS and those years were some of the most difficult and traumatic of my life.
Flying as cabin crew is a job unlike any other. During my thirty years at Virgin Atlantic I met some amazing people and had some truly incredible experiences.
I always felt proud to be in uniform and did everything possible to ensure every customer had the best possible experience. I can hardly remember a day when I didn’t feel excited about going to work.
I was often asked by friends and family how long I intended to keep flying. It was a strange question because it was my job and one that I loved yet it was not looked upon as being a great career.
Most people look at cabin crew as being a job you do for a few years before finding a ‘proper job’. I think that’s because it’s not well paid and is a busy and tiring lifestyle.
I had always planned on hanging up my wings at 55 but in 2016 a year before my 50th birthday was on long term sick. I never believed I’d fly again.
Incredibly I did manage to return to work in March 2018. Although I was no longer the person I once was, I loved being back doing the job I loved.
Flying was an escape from reality which enabled me to block out what I was dealing with at home. I worked hard, tried to lead by example and was more than happy to do the jobs on-board that most cabin crew hated.
I have always loved to make people laugh so creating a fun and relaxed atmosphere on all of my flights was something I strongly believed in.
On 24th December 2018 I operated the flight to Atlanta that I’d swapped on to. It was a flight that would change my life.
What took place over the next eighteen months was shocking and extremely difficult to comprehend. Almost three years later and I’m still struggling to come to terms with what happened.
On that day I checked in with five of the most vile and despicable people I have ever had the misfortune to encounter.
My alleged conduct during the flight and whilst in Atlanta led to a complaint for bullying, harassment and inappropriate touching from a crew member still in his probation.
Prior to joining Virgin Atlantic he had been a serving police officer for eight years. He was on the flight with his now ex fiancée although I was unaware of their relationship. She was also ex police although I don’t believe she was a police officer.
Considering the seriousness of his allegations, he said nothing to anyone at anytime during the trip. Even after returning home he didn’t speak to his manager.
I had found him to be aloof and unfriendly from the second we met which is very unusual for Virgin Atlantic cabin crew. I initially put it down to shyness but it was some time before I discovered the real reason for his behaviour.
Before the flight I allocated him a working position in the Upper Class cabin. When asked during the pre-flight briefing whether he had worked there before, he told me he had done so many times.
What I witnessed on both sectors showed otherwise and it was necessary for me to speak with him on several occasions about the way he delivered the service.
Having been with Virgin Atlantic for less than twelve months he was still in his probation. I therefore felt it was important to write a performance assessment on him.
Having received it he responded with accusations of bullying and harassment. He also accused me of inappropriate touching not only towards him but towards several members of the crew.
He made twenty two separate complaints about my performance, ability and conduct.
Despite proving unequivocally this ex police officer, his fiancée and four other cabin crew with whom they colluded were lying, Virgin Atlantic upheld the grievance against me.
Almost nothing of what I said in my defence was believed. As a result of the huge amount of evidence I submitted, the company struggled to uphold many of the allegations but managed to uphold three.
Crew member Bart (not his real name) is a devious and malicious individual whose eight years as a police officer enabled him to put together a very convincing complaint.
As someone with an impressive memory which his fiancée Anna (not her real name) confirmed in her witness statement, Bart used facts from situations that took place and manipulated them. This made the allegations extremely difficult for me to defend.
The following screenshot is from her witness statement. She was working at the opposite end of an A340-600 which is a very long aircraft. She only came to the front where Bart and I were working on one occasion and was there for just a few minutes.
Three other cabin crew one being Anna also accused me of inappropriate touching. Her witness statement and the one written by crew member VEN (not his real name) are so vile, poisonous and full of hatred they were incredibly difficult for me to read.
All five witness statements submitted by those who supported Bart’s complaint were full of lies and inaccuracies. It was clear to see collusion had taken place.
The remaining three statements written by the cabin crew who worked alongside Bart and myself in the Upper Class cabin were honest and told a very different story.
Despite providing endless amounts of evidence to prove all six individuals were lying, Virgin Atlantic would not believe my version of events. They instead believed two employees who were engaged to be married and four of their friends.
Four out of the six had been with Virgin Atlantic for less than twelve months. The fifth was on his first operating fight back after having been on a secondment for a year. He had also just been turned down for promotion.
The remaining crew member who was VEN had been in the company for four years. He had been called for the flight from standby because we needed an additional crew member.
The following screenshot comes from his witness statement. He’s talking about cabin crew member Bart;
Along with Bart and myself there were four other cabin crew working in the Upper Class cabin. Lottie was the longest serving member of crew after me. She had been with Virgin Atlantic for eight years. Katrina and Claire had been with the company for just over a year but had both flown previously. Bruce was the second longest serving member of crew. All names throughout my blog are pseudonyms.
Katrina and Claire were best friends who had been at another airline for thirty years. They had both been On-Board Managers for twenty years before being made redundant.
Little notice was taken of witness statements submitted by Lottie, Katrina and Claire. Bruce failed to return his statement.
Bart’s complaint was submitted three weeks after the flight yet it was almost four months before the company asked the rest of the crew for a witness statement.
They were each asked to respond to approximately 30 questions about my performance, ability and conduct. The questions were based on the allegations made by Bart.
One question was “Please share any observations you have about Laurence and his physical touching towards either yourself or any of the cabin crew throughout the flight.”
I found it incredibly humiliating that such a question was even being asked. Out of eleven questionnaires (which included the captain and first officer) nine were returned.
As part of my attempt to defend myself from these vile allegations, I asked a doctor of clinical psychology to write to the grievance hearing manager regarding the accusations of inappropriate touching. I had been seeing him for some time because of issues with my mental health.
During our sessions we had spoken about something I have struggled with for my entire adult life. I believe it stems from an extremely abusive relationship I was in when I was 18. I find touching anyone in an affectionate manner incredibly difficult.
It’s something I have never spoken openly about yet was now sharing this intensely personal information with Virgin Atlantic for the purpose of clearing my name.
The first screenshot below is from Bart’s complaint. The second is from the outcome of the appeal heard by senior manager xx;
I had proven unequivocally in my evidence the three crew members who accused me of inappropriate touching had lied throughout their statements.
The crew who worked alongside Bart and I in Upper Class stated they were not aware of any inappropriate touching. In fact out of eleven witness statements, only one crew member claimed she had seen me touch another inappropriately. That was Bart’s fiancee Anna who was working at the opposite end of the aircraft.
Nobody else saw me touch anyone inappropriately at any time.
The following comes from the witness statement of Anna. For point of reference, I’m five foot seven;
The doctor I was seeing is a Consultant Clinical and Counselling Psychologist and an Associate Fellow of the British Psychological Society. He is a registered Applied Practitioner Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council. He’s been in practice for more than thirty years and has the following letters after his name; BA (Hons), MSc Med Psych, DClinPsych, CPsychol, AFBPsS.
Senior manager xx joined Virgin Atlantic in 2006 as Manager Cabin Services. She moved into her current role as Senior Manager People and Performance in 2016. The incident took place in 2018. According to her LinkedIn profile she has nine ‘O’ levels including English and Maths and an ‘A’ level in English literature. She was also made redundant in response to Covid-19.
To put the incident regarding “tickling a crew member’s leg” into perspective, I touched Ven’s ankle for a split second whilst playing a joke on him. It was witnessed by two of my colleagues both of whom worked alongside me in Upper Class. The word “tickled” was used by Ven in his witness statement.
The following comes from Lottie’s witness statement. She was present when the incident took place;
“Towards the end of the flight Laurence was in very high spirits and was laughing and joking with the crew.”
Although crew member Bart was not present, I believe this incident is what led to him coming up with the story of inappropriate touching. Having been told by Ven at some point after the flight what had taken place, it was a perfect opportunity to add inappropriate touching to his complaint.
Ven also accused me of squeezing his waist yet in his witness statement says he did not see me touch anyone else inappropriately.
Crew member Mia accused me of touching her leg. She also states she did not see me touch anyone else at any time.
In May 2020 when redundancies were announced at Virgin Atlantic in response to Covid-19, I was told my job was at risk. I was on long term sick once again as a result of dealing with this grievance. I had been off since December 2019.
I was made redundant a couple of months later and subsequently received my P45 in the post. When the envelope arrived it was the only piece of paper in the envelope and there was nothing attached to it.
It had been several months since I had spoken with my (new) manager. The last email I had received which was from someone I didn’t know, was to invite me to appeal the decision to make me redundant. I declined the offer.
That was how my thirty year career at Virgin Atlantic came to an end.
In March 2018 I returned to work after having been off for almost two years struggling with anxiety and depression. Nine months later I was dealing with a complaint from crew member Bart who was aggrieved at having received a constructive performance review following our flight together.
In the months that followed I put together more than 600 pages of factual evidence to prove the allegations were lies. The cabin crew management team however at Virgin Atlantic refused to believe anything that I said. It would take me almost three years to understand the reason why.