The Good Old Days | 18th June 1990 Group 53
I stayed at Virgin Atlantic for thirty years because I loved my job, loved the company and loved the people I worked with.
In this section of my blog I want to talk about the early days of Virgin atlantic.
In the Beginning…
After leaving Thomson Holidays in 1989 after having worked overseas as a holiday rep’, I had no idea what to do next. Prior to that I had worked for a few years in head office but office life wasn’t for me.
Having seen Virgin Atlantic were recruiting I applied, was offered a position and started just over a month later.
The training which lasted six weeks was held close to the airport. At that time they only flew from Gatwick. They had six old 747 aircraft and flew to Tokyo (Narita), JFK (New York), Newark (New Jersey), Miami, Orlando and Los Angeles which had only recently been launched.
My first day with Virgin Atlantic was 18th June 1990, I was group 53. By 2020 group numbers were in the mid 900’s. Apart from a holiday to Orlando shortly after leaving Thomson, and a few trips to Israel, I had never been out of Europe and had never been on a Boeing 747.
I clearly remember how excited I felt the first time I boarded an aircraft during my training. It had recently recently landed from Tokyo and was being cleaned.
In all thirty years of working for Virgin Atlantic I never once took my job for granted.
A couple of weeks into our training we received our first flying roster. Two of us were going to JFK on Saturday 28th July. Rosters in those days were done by hand.
Surnames of my group colleagues have been removed for privacy. The number to the right was our seniority so at that time, Sarah was the most junior member of cabin crew in the company.
In 1990 eighteen crew worked on the 747 which included one inflight beauty therapist. On the Tokyo route there were 19.
The IFBT aka inflight beauty therapist worked in Upper Class offering a selection of treatments which included a neck and shoulder massage, a hand massage or a manicure to a small number of customers.
The crew was made up of one Inflight Supervisor (IFS), two Pursers (PUR) and a mixture of Senior (SNR) and Junior (JNR) crew. The IFS later renamed Flight Service Manager (FSM) was in overall charge and a Purser worked in each cabin. They led the services and managed and coached their respective teams. The rank was later renamed Cabin Service Supervisor (CSS).
Virgin Atlantic was a different company back then. In 1990 they were six years old, the crew were mostly young, enthusiastic, loved flying and time downroute was very sociable.
Downroute is when you’re overseas on a layover. For example whilst in New York you’re downroute. With the airline being so small most of us knew each other and flew together often.
The first two photos which were taken in 1991 are on a flight to Japan. In the photo on the left the seats where I’m standing were fitted for crew rest breaks which were mandatory on this route. The bottom two photos were taken during my training.
At Virgin Atlantic salaries have always been pretty poor but in the early days we had great perks and many long trips. We also received a monetary flying allowance to cover expenses whilst away that was paid in cash in U.S dollars as we checked-in.
The allowance for Japan was considerably higher because it was based on the price of food locally. We also received a £50 long sector payment in our salary but like so much else, it was taken away in the mid 90’s.
By spending only what was absolutely necessary it was possible to bring money home from each trip which supplemented the appalling salary.
The offer of employment letter stated flying allowances could be as much as £4,500 per year which was fairly accurate but was dependant on which trips you did.
By 1998 I was a Purser (CSS). When I was made redundant in 2020 although part time, my salary was just over £14,000. I had been a Flight Service Manager with Virgin Atlantic for 19 years.
Since the late 90’s the flying allowance had been continually reduced. As opposed to receiving the money in cash as we once did, it was now loaded onto a cash card. Furthermore in accordance with H. M Customs regulations instead of being able to bring the money home to top up our salaries which everyone did, we were informed around 2006 that it all had to be spent whilst downroute.
That was a considerable amount of money to lose from your salary but the change was implemented slowly over several years.
Virgin Atlantic then started telling us flying allowances were never designed to supplement our salary and should always have been used for food and drink whilst away. As you can see from my offer of employment letter, that was never made clear.
When Virgin Atlantic confirmed our salary for the purpose of a mortgage application, a percentage of the flying allowance was added to our basic. That enabled us to borrow slightly more.
My first flight as far as I can remember was uneventful. Although excited about the flight I was more excited about going to New York. I was expecting to walk out the hotel into the hustle and bustle of the city but was disappointed to find it was a long way from Manhattan. In those days you couldn’t just Google the location.
Having arrived at the luxurious Garden City hotel on Long Island (things have changed considerably since then), the crew said they would be meeting downstairs shortly to go out for a drink.
I showered and knocked for my course colleague. She was drying her hair and by the time we got to the lobby everyone had gone. We ventured outside and walked a short way with no idea where we were going. We ended up just going back to our rooms.
The only thing I remember about my return flight was being asked during the night to walk around the cabin. Stepping out of the galley I found what appeared to be a used sanitary item on the floor and was told by the Purser to clear it up. Getting tomato juice off the carpet was never easy!
Playing jokes on cabin crew on their first flight was the norm and something we all did well into the mid 2000’s. As the culture began to change at Virgin Atlantic, the atmosphere on-board also changed. The jokes slowly stopped because everyone was far too scared of being reported which many people were.
With that said, I have always loved to make people laugh so still occasionally joked with colleagues. I was however always very careful because everyone gets offended so easily nowadays.
On my flight home from Atlanta with Bart I played a joke on crew member Ven whilst he was sitting at the Upper Class bar.
I was sweeping the carpet with the dustpan and brush shortly before landing. I was on my hands and knees behind him and he was unaware I was there. I touched his ankle to give him a fright and as soon as my finger made contact with his leg he jumped and looked down.
He was sat on the middle stall, Katrina who was working up as Cabin Service Supervisor was sitting to his left. Lottie was standing at the end of the bar closest to the camera. There were also several customers standing around waiting to use toilets.
Having seen Ven’s reaction everyone laughed. Ven then continued speaking with Katrina and I went off to do other things. Crew member Lottie made reference to this incident in her witness statement.
Although Bart wasn’t present, Ven clearly shared the incident with him at some later stage. I believe this is what gave him the idea to make up the story about inappropriate touching.
The following screenshot comes from Ven’s witness statement. I had praised his standard of work throughout the flight and had thanked him several times for helping us in Upper Class.
He was an experienced crew member who worked to a high standard. It’s for that reason that I asked him to show Katrina how to complete the Upper Class drinks bar paperwork.
Ven is a cunning and malevolent individual who had a score to settle with me. He had been called for the flight from standby and boarded the aircraft at the same time as the passengers. He had been told he was being called out to work up as Cabin Service Supervisor.
I was standing at the boarding door when he arrived. After introducing himself we went into the galley where I explained I no longer needed a CSS. I said I had placed him in the Premium cabin because I felt with his experience, he would be well placed to help in Upper Class if necessary.
That was the position I was going to work before being told someone had been called out on standby. I asked him multiple times whether he minded not working up to which he replied, “I don’t mind where I work”.
As you’ll see from his witness statement in due course, he was in fact irritated at not being allowed to work up.
Although crew receive a ‘working up’ payment which he would now miss out on, it appears from his statement he was more annoyed that two crew who had been with Virgin Atlantic for less time than him were working up as Cabin Service Supervisors.
His witness statement is vile from start to finish. The allegation I squeezed his waist is grotesque. Like me Ven is gay and that’s very relevant because of something I’ll talk about later in the blog.
Despite proving unequivocally not only that he lied throughout his statement but also that he colluded with Bart and another crew member, senior manager xx wasn’t interested in listening.
The inappropriate touching allegation was upheld purely on evidence taken from Bart’s complaint, his fiancee’s witness statement and witness statements written by Ven and Mia.
Crew member Mia also accused me of touching her leg. It really wasn’t difficult to prove both her and Ven were lying.
Ven worked to a very high standard and I praised him on several occasions during the flight. In fact he had attended a recent ‘Incredibles event’ which is a prestigious evening where staff with the highest performance scores are nominated for various awards.
I’m sure many plaques like the one I received for 30 years of service with the word “winner” on it are given out.
Just before I go back to what this page was supposed to be about, I want to show you two screenshots.
The first is upward feedback written on me by one of the crew who worked alongside me in Upper Class. The second is from the witness statement of the crew member who worked up as Cabin Service Supervisor in Upper Class. Both had flown previously for thirty years.
“Rating” is the score she awarded me out of 5;