Back to the Good Old Days
The following photo is just one of so many amazing people who I had the pleasure of working alongside during my time at Virgin Atlantic. My ill-fated flight Atlanta, the trip was originally hers.
When we bumped into each other many months later she told me not everything was a bed of roses on the Seattle flight that she took from me. I never shared with her what happened on my trip, in fact I never told anyone apart from one friend and colleague.
This lovely lady was a CSS (Cabin Service Supervisor) at the time of this flight but soon afterwards was promoted to FSM (Flight Service Manager).
A consummate professional, she carried on regardless despite having a used piece of hazard tape over her perfect make-up.
Taken by me in 2013 with tears of laughter streaming down my face. The one thing that made flying for Virgin Atlantic so different was that we always tried to have fun on the aircraft.
This was often seen by customers who enjoyed seeing the crew having fun and created a nice atmosphere on-board.
Throughout the 1990’s flights were always completely full. Working as a Junior was hectic and non stop. In those days you rarely had a break because there was nowhere on the aircraft to sit down away from customers.
On a day flight it was normal to be on your feet from take-off to landing. East coast USA was manageable but west coast was a killer. The flight to Los Angeles can be close to eleven hours. Night flights were always difficult but we didn’t know any different.
If we were lucky Virgin Atlantic would curtain off four regular Economy seats to share between 18 crew so we could have a break.
Breaks could only be taken in between the main services. If the flight was overbooked which most flights were, the seats would be used for passengers.
With the exception of the Tokyo route breaks were at the discretion of the IFS (Inflight Supervisor now FSM) and many didn’t like giving them.
Towards the late 90’s two existing aircraft were fitted with bunks up in the tail. Some of the slightly newer aircraft that were joining the fleet also had bunks. Despite that, crew breaks for the Junior crew were still very rare.
The Seniors would often get a break on night flights because their services took less time to complete.
On aircraft not fitted with bunks they would either use unoccupied seats in Upper Class or some aircraft had crew seats on the upper deck. I remember on many occasions moving my service cart out the way so the Seniors could pass to get to the bunks.
From about 2004 on west coast U.S flights, the company agreed to leave four seats in the last row of Economy free. By the time we started crew backs passengers had usually moved into them. We were not allowed to move them out.
In more recent years with most aircraft having crew bunks installed, breaks were given on most flights time permitting.
Flying as cabin crew long haul especially full time is extremely tiring. Not only are the flights long but most inbound sectors fly through the night. You also have to deal with jetlag.
Throughout my time as an FSM I always tried to give the crew a decent break on both sectors providing it didn’t jeopardise the service. I felt it was really important for mental and physical health.
I always expected my team to carry out their duties to the highest standard. I led by example and worked hard alongside them in all three cabins. I felt I was warm, approachable and always ready to have a laugh and a joke which created a fun and friendly atmosphere.
The following photo was taken at the evening arranged by Virgin Atlantic to celebrate receiving our wings at the end of our training. The venue was the Roof Gardens in Kensington once owned by Richard Branson.
In those days each group would have an all expenses paid night out at the end of their training often with Richard joining the celebrations.
The crew community during the 1990’s was quite regimental and there was always respect for seniority. Juniors rarely went to the Upper Class cabin even to use the toilets. Seniors never helped in Economy.
The Seniors ate Upper Class food whilst the Juniors ate whatever they could find in the ovens that hadn’t been used during the service. There was always a ‘crew cart’ but the quality of the food was dire. There was never anywhere near enough to go around and the offering rarely changed.
On the bus to the hotel the captain and first officer sat at the front, the IFS (inflight supervisor) sat behind followed by the Pursers and Seniors. The Juniors always went to the back.
Upon arrival at the hotel we’d collect our room keys in the same rotation but there was no resentment because that’s just the way it was. Despite how it may sound, Virgin Atlantic was a great company to work for and most cabin crew were lovely people to be around.
I was a Junior for four years which was unheard of in those days. When the Gulf War broke out in 1991 people stopped flying so flights were going virtually empty. As a result recruitment and any opportunity for promotion dried up for a couple of years.
Despite my length of time in rank I worked hard and had a file full of letters from different managers praising my work. I was eventually given my Seniors course towards the end of 1994.
I was only a Senior for two years before applying for Purser and was successful first time around.
From the late 90’s respect for seniority began to diminish and by mid 2000 it was almost non existent. Whilst things certainly needed to change, it went too far and in later years as you’ll see through the course of this blog, many but certainly not all cabin crew had little or no respect for onboard managers.
I believe respect has to be earned but sadly the standard of leadership in both the CSS and FSM ranks varied greatly.
As Virgin Atlantic began to modernise the Seniors started helping out in Economy once they’d finished in Upper Class. Initially many were very reluctant to walk past the curtain. Juniors who were brave enough also began venturing into Upper Class to use toilets and to ask if there was anything leftover from the service to eat.
I’ve included the following letter because it’s relevant to comments about my performance and ability made by Bart. Ven and Anna also criticised every aspect of the way I carried out my role.
Crew Life Downroute
Whilst waiting for our room keys someone would usually announce a room party. Depending on how late it was or how tired we were, we’d either drop our cases off and go straight there whilst in uniform or get showered and changed first.
Each crew member was allowed to take a small amount of alcohol off the aircraft but the system was usually abused.
At a room party between eighteen crew there was rarely a shortage of something to drink. Cocktails made up in empty water bottles often appeared out of nowhere.
There was almost always a room party on the evening we arrived usually in the room of someone who smoked. Room parties were sociable, rowdy and totally unpredictable. They were always fun but some were more fun than others.
Depending on the length of the layover we often stuck together. We’d usually meet for breakfast and then decide how to spend the rest of the day.
If we had more than one night away we’d often go for dinner as one large group. That usually ended in disaster because too much alcohol was consumed and there were always arguments over settling the bill.
Those early years at Virgin Atlantic were so much fun. It was genuinely the best job in the world. You could check in for a flight and hardly know anyone yet once downroute it was like being away with a bunch of good friends.
Some people you would fly with quite often whilst others you may not see again for many years if ever. At cabin crew check-in and whilst arriving or departing from certain hotels, you could bump into someone you’d once had a great trip with but hadn’t seen for many years. Squeals of delight, laughter and genuinely warm hugs were common.
With the rise of social media it’s much easier to keep in touch nowadays but back then, we were only just beginning to use mobile ‘phones.
Right up until my last flight it wasn’t unusual to bump into someone you hadn’t seen for years. The strange thing about the encounter is that you may only have flown with them once and had never seen them since, yet after a few minutes you’d be chatting and laughing as if you’d never been apart.
Promotion through the ranks including to Purser and Inflight Supervisor (now CSS and FSM) in the early days at Virgin Atlantic was automatic. When the need for more crew in a higher rank was required you’d simply be rostered a training course.
It was done strictly by original training course number but changed to an application and interview process shortly before I applied for Purser in 1996.
In August 1990 I went horse riding on a trip to Los Angeles. I say horse riding but it was actually sitting on the back of a horse whilst it followed the horse in front up towards the Hollywood sign. It’s something I’ve always remembered because on the way down the horses walked the entire way on the edge of the path. Immediately to the left was a sheer drop into a deep canyon.
As we reached the bottom, the ranch staff were gathered around a radio listening to the news. America had just bombed Baghdad and that was the beginning of the first Gulf war.
Virgin Atlantic struggled through the next few years but as things gradually began to improve, they leased more aircraft and introduced new routes.
Having finally been promoted to Senior I loved working in Upper Class. The cabin was calm, spacious and unlike Economy there was plenty of time to chat with customers.
Being someone who once loved to talk, I could usually be found at the bar playing barman whilst exchanging stories with people from all walks of life.
Once cabin crew arrive at the crew check-in area they wait to be called for the pre-flight briefing. Conducted by the Inflight Supervisor now Flight Service Manager, it lasts about twenty minutes and is the first time the entire crew get together.
It’s an opportunity for the FSM to introduce themself and each CSS. They talk about the flight, the services and cover all aspects of safety. Other relevant points relating to the flight or trip are also covered.
Up until the early 2000’s it was rare not to know a least a couple of people on the crew. More recently there were many times when I checked in for a flight and didn’t know anyone.
One of my last flights was with a CSS who had been flying for 18 years yet we had never met.
The UK Civil Aviation Authority requires each crew member to be asked at least one safety question during the briefing. This is the most nerve racking part and once over, everyone begins to relax.
The FSM asks each crew member a question individually. If you can’t answer or answer incorrectly you’re asked a second question. Failure to answer will lead to you being stood down. In thirty years of flying I had never known anyone to be stood down although I was aware it did happen albeit very rarely.
The safety questions are written by the safety department and come from the Safety and Emergency Procedures (S.E.P) Manual.
Until about 2003 the FSM wrote their own pre-flight safety briefing so you could literally be asked anything from the entire manual. With that said, the same questions would usually come up again and again. It was rare to be asked something you’d not been asked before.
I never forgot how nervous I felt during that part of the briefing. In nineteen years of being an FSM I always tried to take the pressure off as much as possible when asking safety questions. I think I only had to ask a crew member a second question a handful of times.
In later years Virgin Atlantic’s safety department issued the questions for the pre flight briefing. The cabin crew were advised in advance which section of the manual they should look at.
The same questions were used for about four months so the crew would hear them time and time again.
Over the next couple of paragraphs I want to explain something that will make more sense as you read down the page. The way Virgin Atlantic wanted Flight Service Managers to conduct the pre flight briefing changed many times over the years.
A couple of months before my Christmas Atlanta, during a conversation with my manager he told me the company wanted briefings to be more interactive. The Flight Service Manager had always done most of the talking and they wanted to get the crew more involved. The first time they really got to speak was to answer their safety question.
There was already a huge amount of information we had to deliver and the briefing could only be twenty minutes.
One of the first things we had to do was read out some ‘aircraft familiarisation points’. With us all flying on several different types of aircraft, it was an opportunity to refresh everyone’s memory with regards to the aircraft we were about to fly on.
There were seven points all of which were written by the safety department. They were always the same and never changed. The FSM had to choose at least three to read out. It’s important to emphasise these were basic safety points that everyone would have heard many times before
Whilst rewriting my briefing I decided instead of reading the points out, I would ask them as questions to the crew as a whole. Asking them to shout out the answers would enable everyone to get involved from the start and act as an ice-breaker.
I included all seven points and added a further two of my own. The additional questions were how do you make an emergency announcement and how do you make a regular announcement. I included them because it changed from aircraft to aircraft so thought it may be useful.
With a list of nine points I could use different questions each flight. Due to time constraints I’d usually ask about four.
Having used the new format a few times the response from the crew was mixed.
In the pre-flight briefing for the Christmas Atlanta there were ten cabin crew with experience ranging from six months to eight years.
The following screenshot comes from the witness statement of Anna, Bart’s fiancée at the time. The black mark obscures Bart’s real name.
The crew were asked questions twice during the briefing. The first time was the aircraft familiarisation points that I asked as questions to the group as a whole. I said “just shout the answers out”.
Each crew member was then asked an individual safety question which is a mandatory part of the pre-flight briefing. The questions which are supplied by the company are uploaded to the FSM’s iPad. With this set of questions having been used for the previous three months, the crew would have heard them many times before.
Anna claimed her and Bart were asked more difficult questions yet I was unaware they even knew each other let alone were engaged.
Absolutely nothing that Anna says in her witness statement is supported by other members of the crew in their witness statements. As I will prove throughout my blog, she’s a particularly nasty and deceitful individual.
The following screenshot also comes from her witness statement. The black mark covers my surname.
As part of the Witness Statement the crew were asked the following questions;
Please share any observations on FSM Laurence’s PA’s on board the aircraft. Were you aware of any feedback from crew or customers regarding the PA’s?
Only Bart, Anna, Ven and T who was working up as Economy Cabin Service Supervisor claimed they were aware of negative comments regarding my P.A’s. In the remaining five witness statements nobody was aware of any complaints from members of the crew or passengers.
Crew member Peter who had been with the company for six months brought a friend with him on the trip. She had never flown with Virgin Atlantic before and had never been cabin crew. In his witness statement he wrote;
“I can’t recall any customers commenting on his PA’s but took a companion and she did mention his PA’s were really long and didn’t need to be.”
Peter and Mia are best friends. Mia accused me of touching her leg. She is also good friends with Anna. You may recall crew member T said he had two friends on the flight who would support him in working up. They were Mia and Anna. Peter and Ven are also closely connected which will become clear in due course.
In T’s witness statement he wrote;
“I remember a few crew members comment about them (my P.A’s) not sounding particularly professional.”
Were this to be true which I don’t believe it is, he could have addressed this in the anonymous upward feedback that he was required to write on me towards the end of the flight. He didn’t complete any upward feedback or performance monitoring on his crew despite it being mandatory on both sectors.
He had told me he didn’t have his iPad but this could have been done using a pen and paper. This is how it had always been done prior to iPads being introduced.
As you’ll see from his statement, he was not aware of any complaints from customers regarding my P.A’s. No complaints were received from customer questionnaires completed on either sector and customer relations didn’t receive any complaints either.
The following screenshot comes from the witness statement of crew member Ven;
I’m assuming the reason he believes my P.A’s were “strange” is because instead of reading them from the P.A book, I ad-libbed them which not many FSM’s did. I had always done that and it had been noted in performance assessments many times over the years.
The following comes from an old performance assessment written on me by my manager. The full document can be seen here; (scroll down to last screenshot).
After take-off the Flight Service Manager makes a welcome announcement to introduce themselves and the Cabin Service Supervisors. It includes important safety information regarding smoking regulations and compliance with the seat belt signs. For this reason it’s impossible for it not to be done.
I want to share with you some details about this flight to Atlanta.
The flight was half empty so I gave the cabin crew a two hour break in the bunks. I didn’t take a rest break because out of eleven crew, six were relatively new and two were working up in supervisory roles. For that reason I didn’t feel comfortable leaving the cabin.
During the flight I spoke with all of the crew and did a drinks service in Economy with crew member Mia. Anna worked on the cart in the opposite aisle with a crew member who didn’t return her witness statement.
It was a quiet, problem free and pleasant flight. Virgin Atlantic had asked the hotel to lay on a buffet dinner for us that evening which included complimentary alcohol. Some of the crew went to a Karaoke bar afterwards but the Captain, First Officer, crew member Lottie and myself went to bed after dinner.
The following morning was Christmas Day and a few of us met downstairs for a long breakfast. I then returned to my room, slept for a couple of hours before checking out for our inbound flight.
It had been a nice trip but I was looking forward to getting home. Just prior to leaving the hotel I spoke to my dad who really wasn’t well. A few minutes later someone asked everyone to get together for a group photo. Several crew grabbed their cameras.
I tried hard to smile but it didn’t come naturally. Although I’ve masked faces to protect identity, this was a very happy photo and everyone was in high spirits. The eyes really are the window to the soul and by masking them, it’s difficult to fully appreciate the atmosphere.
I didn’t have a copy of the photo but whilst gathering evidence for this case, found one online. In fact I found a few interesting things particularly on social media which were subsequently included as evidence. I don’t use Facebook often but many people’s pages have free access to whoever wants to look at it.
Think back for a moment to Ven’s witness statement in which he said he was called out for the flight and didn’t know anybody on the crew. He’s standing behind me and has his arm draped over the shoulder of crew member Peter. If you look closely you’ll see Peter’s arm is around Ven’s waist.
In Ven’s witness statement he wrote; “he (Laurence) is quite touchy feels which is really uncomfortable on the recovering end. I would get a squeeze round my waste. It made me feel very uncomfortable”.
In Bart’s complaint he wrote;
“Laurence constantly touched me and other crew-members on or below the hips. I’m not a touchy feely person and this action made me very uncomfortable.”
In Mia’s statement she accused me of touching her leg and then stated she did not want the matter to be taken further.
According to witness statements nobody else on the crew was aware of, or saw me touch anyone inappropriately.
Mia and Peter are best friends. This excerpt comes from Peter’s witness statement;
The following is another excerpt from Anna’s witness statement. Before reading it take a very close look at the photo above. She’s the crew member not wearing a Virgin Atlantic Christmas sweatshirt. I’m five foot seven.
On the inbound flight as will become clear when you read more of my defence, Anna only came to the front of the aircraft once during the entire flight. She was there for just a few minutes. I rarely had the opportunity on this sector to go to the back where she was working.
I find it interesting that if I was behind Anna with my hands on her hips, how did she know I was “hunched over”?
Another thing to consider is Bart as an ex police officer of eight years is a “fairly confident individual” according to his own complaint. Yet when a strange man allegedly touches his fiancée in a way that makes her feel uncomfortable, he says nothing to him or anyone else.
Bart, Anna and Ven say repeatedly throughout their statements that my alleged touching made them feel very uncomfortable. I’m sure Bart as an ex police officer knows the importance of making that point.
When asked during the grievance investigation meeting how I would touch someone if I had to move them out the way, this was my reply. This screenshot comes from evidence submitted to Virgin Atlantic as part of my defence.
At the time of the first meeting when I was asked this question, the company had not yet requested witness statements.
Take a look at what senior manager xx said regarding the allegations of inappropriate touching following my appeal. It’s important to remember that according to witness statements, only Bart and Anna state they saw me touching anyone. Everyone else including Ven who accused me of squeezing his waist and Mia who accused me of touching her leg, state they did not see me touch anyone.
So the only physical contact that could be confirmed by my admission and through supporting evidence, was the moment I touched Ven’s ankle for a split second whilst playing a joke with him. The incident was witnessed by two other crew members and was mentioned by Lottie in her witness statement.
As I’ve said many times already, I proved without a shadow of a doubt that everything that engaged to be married couple Anna and Bart said in their documentation, was lies.
To further prove what a prolific liar Anna is, she stated in her witness statement that she complained to a cabin crew manager about my behaviour prior to checking-in for her next rostered flight.
I spoke to that cabin crew manager and we discussed the conversation that took place. She told me NOTHING was said about any inappropriate touching of any member of the crew. She went on to say that had such a complaint been made, Virgin Atlantic would have launched an investigation immediately.
She also explained that what Anna had actually complained about was the email I sent to her and the rest of the Economy crew after the flight.
In that email as well as thanking them for their hard work, I also shared the results from the Voice of Customer questionnaires I received following the flight.
With them all being relatively new I offered some ideas as to how the scores could be improved. One customer had given a negative comment about one of the female crew working in Economy. Including Anna there were three female crew in that cabin one of whom I had worked with on the outbound sector. I had seen the positive and friendly way in which Mia (the crew member who subsequently accused me of touching her leg) interacted with customers and shared that information with her.
Remember the scores given to the cabin crew through the Voice of Customer programme directly affect the performance scores of the FSM. Those scores were subsequently used to make many people redundant.