Monitoring Cabin Crew Performance
For the last twenty years or so Virgin Atlantic have used different methods for assessing the performance of cabin crew in all ranks. The problem with the system has always been that with everyone being so friendly towards each other and with friends, relatives and spouses often flying together, it has always been open to manipulation.
The Flight Service Manager has always completed a written performance assessment on both Cabin Service Supervisors. They in turn complete an assessment on the Flight Service Manager and their own team of cabin crew.
Until quite recently the cabin crew have never been required to do upward feedback.
A number of years ago Virgin Atlantic introduced something called a Rave Review. Its purpose was to enable any member of the crew to write a short review about a colleague on the flight.
They were only to be used if a crew member witnessed outstanding performance and felt it deserved to be documented. No permission was needed to complete one and when presented to the crew member it would come as a lovely surprise.
The only one I have in my possession 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 crew down.
In the grievance submitted by crew member Bart who was still in his probation, 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 and the four 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 as a Flight Service Manager.
Although Virgin Atlantic had access to all mandatory performance monitoring that had been completed on me, the Rave Review was an optional form that was not held on 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 Special Delivery to ensure the parcel was tracked.
The following emails are self explanatory;
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 tracked it down and said he may be able to post it to me. I was concerned they wouldn’t sent it tracked and it may get lost so told him to keep the envelope there. I said I’d collect it when I checked in for my next flight.
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 that I submitted as part of this grievance.
Let me explain something first. There used to be 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 off Virgin Atlantic decided it wasn’t necessary for the front desk to be permanently manned so they were made redundant.
It soon became apparent however that it 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.
Having initially been told the forms had been shredded I thought this manager was having a joke with me. I soon realised he was being deadly serious.
There’s wasn’t much I could say to him. I felt very sad that I no longer had a record of these very personal reviews.
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 put there for a reason.
A High Performing Onboard Manager
Have a look at the following two screenshots. Bear in mind this complaint came about because Bart was not prepared to receive a constructive performance review 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 carried out my duties as a Flight Service Manager.
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.
I can’t imagine many of you being interested in my old performance assessments but because of the subject matter being spoken about in this blog, I want to share one with you.
Not having looked at my old performance assessments for many years, I had to laugh when I saw I had been given a “Needs Improvement” mark over a uniform issue.
Thirteen years later I addressed exactly the same issue with Bart in his performance review. 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.
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 Performance and Development Manager. She was on-board to assess the Delhi based national crew but was herself working as cabin crew. It was her first flight as cabin crew after having completed her training. She was working at the back of the aircraft.
During a busy meal service the Cabin Service Supervisor from Economy called me to complain this manager and a crew member with whom she was good friends, were messing around in the galley instead of working as part of the team to deliver 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 to complete this assessment it was on a flight to Delhi. He had arranged for her to 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 review with this comment was written in 2005, when I flew with Bart in 2018 I noticed he had removed his tie before leaving the galley to walk through the cabin to the crew rest area (CRA) to start his rest break.
Just like my manager didn’t address the issue 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 break, I had forgotten about it.
In the following screenshot you’ll see my comment from the performance review 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.
By 2012 I had been a Flight Service Manager with Virgin Atlantic 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.
Open to Suggestions and Ideas
Since joining Virgin Atlantic 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 the Upper Class cabin.
Around 2012 Virgin Atlantic changed the system. Instead of being a natural progression to move up a rank, the Junior crew now had to apply for the promotion.
This had long been the case when moving from Senior to Cabin Service Supervisor (CSS) and from CSS to Flight Service Manager (FSM) but that’s 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 to some degree, the way customers are looked after.
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 had 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.
Virgin Atlantic have always encouraged feedback from crew. During my 30 years with the company I wrote in a few times.
The following screenshot is a letter I sent to previous CEO. Having met him only once at an FSM workshop in 2013, he made a point of asking us to write to him directly 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 alone contributed to the change that followed. The ranks were combined whilst I was on long term sick in 2016.
Onboard Performance Monitoring
Before going for promotion to Senior my partner received an email from his manager which said the company were looking for ideas for a new performance monitoring system. They wanted it to include the ability for ‘Junior’ and ‘Senior’ cabin crew to do upward feedback on the on-board managers. This has had never been done previously.
Thinking it would look good on his file when he applied for Senior, 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 a review, we compiled six specific 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 have to complete upward feedback on either the Cabin Service Supervisor they were working with or the Flight Service Manager.
Cabin Service Supervisors and Flight Service Managers also had to write reviews 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 would be honest and there would be no uncomfortable confrontations should people fly together again.
When the company finally launched the new system, feedback was published quarterly and to further protect identities dates and flight details were removed.
Although I did occasionally receive constructive feedback, it was nicely written and I tried to use it to better myself. Some of the comments people were writing however were incredibly rude, personal and offensive. Worse still, it wasn’t just cabin crew who were guilty of this, some onboard managers were also writing some pretty unpleasant things.
There was only room on our company iPads to write a very short review. Having raised this with the manager responsible for implementing the system, he told me if we needed to write a more detailed performance assessment, it should be done separately. 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 member of crew.
The purpose of a Voice of Customer programme is to collect feedback about a company’s product or service. Armed with that information they can work towards creating a better customer experience.
The Voice of Customer programme is not really designed as a performance management tool for employees but Virgin Atlantic began using it for this purpose.
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 feedback written anonymously on them by the cabin crew.
The scores were later used to decide 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 Service Supervisor and Flight Service Manager.
In many cases, that customer may not have had any contact at all throughout the 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 incredibly rude and offensive. Furthermore it soon became obvious that some customers were scoring ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ for things that were totally out of the control of the crew.
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 in line 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 wasn’t on-board. Despite spending extensive time with him and resolving the problem as best as I could, he marked the 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 Monitoring (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 Service Manager was 72%. That means my performance was well above average.
In the next period my scores dropped slightly but was still above average.
Everyone’s scores fluctuated each month depending on routes operated and problems encountered.
Having been notified I was going to be made redundant, Virgin Atlantic told me that apart from having a final disciplinary and a written warning on my file, my performance scores were below the cut off point not to be considered for redundancy.
The only reason for that if true, would have been because I had three lengthy periods of sickness during the course of the year as a result of dealing with a fictitious grievance. I also had to take leave which was owed to me from when I was off work for eighteen months so really hadn’t flown that much.
I had been an above average performing employee with a clean work record for almost thirty years. Suddenly within a space of a couple of months I was being told I was being made redundant because my performance was below average.
I was on long term sick when Virgin Atlantic advised me I was being made redundant.
Several weeks later on 30th June 2020 I received this perspex plaque in the post. It came with a golden coloured lapel pin to wear on my uniform. I also received a “congratulations” card from the CEO. The same CEO who had reported my tongue in cheek comment which led to me having to deal with a second grievance.
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 item to someone who had just learnt he was being made redundant wasn’t bad enough, above my name is 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.
To end this section I want to include some screenshots from anonymous performance monitoring that was written on me during my last eighteen months with Virgin Atlantic.
As you read more about the complaint submitted against me by ex police officer Bart, his now ex fiancee 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.