30 Years at Virgin Atlantic | The Ugly Truth – Part 3


Table of Contents

 

The Ugly Truth Part 2
Page 1 – The Importance of Evidence
Page 2 – Hideous Bunch of Misfits 
Page 3 – Writing Reviews Post Flight 
Page 4 – Another Incompetent Manager
The Ugly Truth Part 4 (TBA)

 


Writing Reviews Post Flight

I have to apologise, this page is quite long but I couldn’t find an appropriate point to split it.

I want to start by explaining why I wrote a performance review on Bart after the flight instead of writing and delivering it during the flight which is the norm.

Over the years the way the cabin crews’ performance has been assessed has continually changed. One thing that has remained the same is that CSS’s and FSM’s have always been expected to occasionally write a more detailed assessment on a crew member instead of just completing the standard Performance Monitoring form.

Until the introduction of iPads in 2017, these were always done by hand.

The FSM’s role in recent years has become much busier. Until a few years ago we were not written into any of the onboard services so could use our initiative to work out where we were needed to help out. Whilst many FSM’s worked as hard as everyone else, some took advantage and did as little as possible.

It was something Virgin Atlantic had always been aware of so after many many years, the FSM was finally written into the services.

For those of us who already worked hard, that put us under even more pressure. The role of FSM is to supervise the running of the flight and to coach and develop both the cabin crew and CSS’s. They also have an important role to play as an ambassador for Virgin Atlantic.

Throughout my time as a Flight Service Manager I would always try to work in all three cabins and with as many of the crew as possible. In between services I kept myself busy and rarely sat down other than to do my paperwork.

Before the introduction of iPads the paperwork would take about forty minutes depending on what needed to be written. In recent years Virgin Atlantic have worked hard to reduce the amount of paperwork. With less paperwork the FSM had more time to help and support the crew.

With regards to writing performance reviews, it should be remembered that many inbound Virgin Atlantic flights fly through the night. Writing a performance review whilst tired was never easy. Some flights could be so busy there simply wasn’t time to do anything more than the standard performance monitoring.

Some years ago after a flight during which I’d had an issue with a crew member, I wrote a review on her once I was home. I had spoken to her during the flight but didn’t have time to document what had been discussed.

Once home after having slept, I wrote a detailed review which I sent to her, her manager and copied in my manager. It has always been company policy that a crew member’s manager be copied in on performance reviews that are written.

From then on I occasionally wrote reviews from home if I felt they were necessary or deserved. I still did the standard performance monitoring that had to be completed and returned it with flight paperwork.

More recently all performance monitoring was done on the iPad. The reviews I wrote from home were additional reviews.

Let me put this into perspective. The screenshot below shows ALL performance reviews that I ever wrote from home. I was an FSM for 19 years. Only one of those was constructive, the rest were all positive. The crew members always emailed me back to thank me for taking the time to write the review.

Only two crew members never replied. The first was the person who received the constructive review. The second was a relatively new crew member who worked in Upper Class. She had done well during the flight and worked very hard but being relatively new, still had much to learn.

Although her performance review was very positive, I highlighted some areas where I felt she could improve. She never replied nor did her manager.


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Performance reviews written from home during my 19 years as FSM

The following screenshot comes from the grievance submitted by Bart to the company. His comments are in blue, mine are in green. I was asked to respond to his complaint as part of the investigation.


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OBM is Onboard Manager


This is the closing paragraph of my performance review on Bart. He added “bullying; discussed with other crew” in green plus the the text in blue. The second paragraph in green is my response;


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The reason his performance monitoring was completed by Katrina was because with him working in Upper Class, the Cabin Service Supervisor in that cabin is responsible for doing it.

With Katrina working up in that role it meant she had to do it. His performance monitoring would only have been loaded on her iPad. The only way I could have done it would be to complete it on her iPad. Doing that would be a breach of confidentiality because Katrina would be able look at what I wrote.

Considering she had been in Virgin Atlantic for a similar amount of time as him, I didn’t feel that was appropriate. According to Bart’s complaint he was given 10 out of 10 by Katrina on both sectors.

The following is from T’s witness statement;


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from T’s witness statement


Katrina didn’t mention that in her witness statement because it wasn’t true. We spoke extensively throughout both sectors about the role of Cabin Service Supervisor. Lottie confirmed that in her witness statement.

Having flown as a manager with another airline for so many years, Katrina took a keen interest in her development and wanted to learn. I was happy to coach her as much as I could.

Regarding trying to get Katrina to give feedback to other crew members on their performance, Claire who was working in Upper Class was Katrina’s best friend. She was very experienced and needed no coaching. Lottie was also very experienced and knew exactly what she was doing. I spoke to Bart myself several times during both sectors about the way he was delivering the service. That only leaves Bruce who was working in the galley. I also spoke to him about the way he was presenting the food.

One thing to remember is T is friends with Anna, Bart’s fiancee. His witness statement was really quite strange. Some of his answers were simply not true like the comment about me trying to get Katrina to give feedback to crew about their performance.

In response to other questions, what he wrote was honest and supportive of me and the way I carried out my role. Most of what he wrote about Bart was negative.

This also comes from his statement;


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Bear in mind Katrina had only been in Virgin Atlantic for just over year. She was working up as Cabin Service Supervisor in a very busy cabin. One of her team was an inexperienced crew member (Bart) and another was running the galley, badly.

Allowing someone to work up means guiding them without taking over completely. That’s exactly what I was doing and she didn’t have a problem with that. She states that herself in her witness statement.

I didn’t need to manage Upper Class directly, I was overseeing Katrina doing that and she was working extremely hard. Ven was working in Premium and despite being the vile creature that he is, he had everything in that cabin under control.

Regarding managing the flight, I was the only person on the aircraft capable of doing that. I’m not sure I would have managed as well had it not been for Ven’s help. Just for clarification, I’m being sarcastic.

In Voice of Customer questionnaires returned after this sector, in Upper Class we were marked “excellent”.

The following screenshot comes from the grievance I submitted to Virgin Atlantic regarding the way the appeal and entire matter had been handled.

Question 3 comes from witness statements sent to the cabin crew. The orange text is crew member T.

I sent the grievance to a different senior manager, not senior manager xx. I was told my complaint had to be handled by someone more senior than her.

Literally within a couple of minutes she replied. She said she was leaving Virgin Atlantic at the end of the week so would forward my email to her boss. That was Chief People Officer Estelle Hollingsworth.

This was at the start of Covid-19 so I suspect although I really don’t know, that she had been made redundant.

I also sent individual grievances against Bart, Anna, Mia, Ven and Peter to my own manager.

I never heard back from Estelle or anyone else before being made redundant.


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Had I completed performance feedback on Bart using Katrina’s iPad as two managers and a senior manager had recommended, apart from it being totally unprofessional, I would have been in breach of data protection laws.

Imagine writing constructive feedback on Bart using Katrina’s iPad and then handing it back to her. I can just imagine what he would have said about that in his complaint.

Looking back there are ways I could have worked around that but it was an incredibly busy and stressful flight and towards the end, I was extremely tired.

The following screenshot comes from the appeal I submitted to senior manager xx. In the first line I’m talking about crew manager Hayley who conducted the grievance investigation (not the initial investigation).


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This “Table of Contents” (see link) comes from my appeal. Exhibit and page numbers refer to all documented evidence.


I wrote hundreds of performance reviews during my nineteen years as a Flight Service Manager with Virgin Atlantic. Most of those were written and delivered to the crew member during long haul night flights.

The few that I wrote from home in more recent years were written because I was too tired to write anything constructive during the flight. As I’ve already mentioned, these were additional reviews, not the standard performance monitoring that had to be completed.

Performance reviews were always copied to the crew member’s manager and my own manager. This was not as Bart stated in his complaint an underhanded tactic to damage his reputation or promotion. Nor was it a deliberate attempt to cause trouble and jeopardise his position for future promotion.

Those comments demonstrate he has no understanding of the reasons why performance feedback is written. Nor does he understand the role of a “Performance and Development Manager”. For that matter I’m not sure the managers themselves have a comprehensive understanding of it.

Considering all twelve reports I wrote from home were copied to my manager and the manager of the crew member, I have never received any criticism about words that have been used. Nor have I ever been asked not to send them a copy. Every report I have ever written on the aircraft has also been copied to the crew member’s manager.

Bart said he found my use of the words “quite why” ridiculing and condescending.


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Taken from evidence that I submitted to Virgin Atlantic. Obviously I’ve changed his name


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Taken from the performance review I wrote on Bart

His complaint regarding my use of the words “quite why” was upheld by crew manager Lana who initially investigated the complaint. It was also upheld by crew manager Hayley who conducted the grievance meeting and senior manager xx who heard my appeal.

Bart states he felt targeted by me and felt there was an underlying reason why I copied in his manager on his feedback. Crew manager Lana told him during their meeting she would ask me why I felt it necessary to do that!

The following comes from evidence I submitted to the company;


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I find it ABSOLUTELY incredulous this crew manager said that. It’s Virgin Atlantic company policy yet during my meeting with her, she asked me why I felt it necessary to copy in his manager?

Worse still, two further managers agreed with her. Despite asking in all three meetings and in my written documentation whether policy had changed, nobody answered the question.

Clearly I had been doing something very wrong for nineteen years yet nobody ever addressed it with me.

The following comes from Virgin Atlantic policy manuals issued to cabin crew in all ranks;


""

In his complaint Bart refers to me as inflexible, robotic and only wanting things to be done my way or face the wrath of a long-winded email. He goes on to say “I am
open to feedback but to include my manager in a manner which he did was an underhanded tactic. This could have seriously damaged my reputation, average scores and progression aspirations in the future.”

I did not want things to be done “my way”, I wanted them to be done as they’re written in the Virgin Atlantic Service Procedures Manual. That was part of my job as a Flight Service Manager.

I find it incredibly disrespectful to refer to a performance review written by an experienced Flight Service Manager in his own time for the purpose of development, as “long winded”. But then Bart also referred to my service delivery procedures as being “excessive and long winded”, my P.A’s as being “long winded and rambling” and wrote elsewhere in his complaint “I felt Laurence was speaking in a long and rambling tone and there was no need for him to lift a policy and send it to me”.

Remember this is someone who had been with the company for eleven months and was still in probation. In line with Virgin Atlantic’s anti-harassment and bullying policy I found all of his statements personal, highly offensive, disrespectful and gave no consideration as to how I may feel when I read them.

The reason I say “how I may feel when I read them” is because crew manager Lana stated I did not give appropriate consideration to how Bart may feel after having received the performance review I wrote on him. Crew manager Hayley and senior manager xx agreed and the complaint was upheld.

How does any crew member “feel” when they’re given constructive feedback even when it’s delivered face to face? Bear in mind feedback is usually delivered towards the end of a long night flight when the crew are extremely tired and jetlagged.

I sent Bart his Performance Review more than twenty four hours after we landed home. By that time he would have been very well rested.

I want to mention something that I’ll talk about in more detail in the next chapter of my blog. Despite asking cabin crew manager Hayley in writing to be mindful of when she sent me the outcome of her grievance investigation, she sent it to me one hour after I landed home from a flight. Having seen the outcome, because of the trip I had just returned home from and how I was feeling at the time, I came very close to taking my own life.

In the outcome to my appeal conducted by senior manager xx in regards to this matter she said;


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Names have been changed for privacy purposes


She says Hayley was conscious of how long the process had taken and wanted to ensure I didn’t wait any longer than necessary. I had waited six weeks to receive her outcome letter. Another twenty four hours wouldn’t have made the slightest bit of difference.


The following comes from Bart’s complaint;

“I believe Laurence is very clever with the wording of his email. He structures it to appear as “constructive feedback” when in fact it is personal, bullying and targeted.

He hides behind written feedback and fails in his role as FSM to deal with any issues in the moment or face to face. Instead he has chosen to write long-winded emails during rest days when most of the crew were celebrating their Christmas causing undue harassment, distress and jeopardising a healthy work-life-balance, negatively impacting my mental health.

Laurence’s feedback is disguised as constructive but is cleverly worded. I believe it is personal, bullying unwarranted harassment. I believe Laurence regularly behaves in this manner but due to the nature of crew not regularly working with the same FSM, it has gone unreported. I feel I have a duty to report this bullying behaviour and request a full investigation, followed by an appropriate sanction.

Laurence did not allocate positions on the ipad which led to no crew member being able to score or provide feedback to him. I believe this is a deliberate action which he has completed in the past.

I have discussed this with the union and they agree, it seems an intentional way of stripping the crew of any opportunity to provide much needed feedback to the company and Lawrence.”


Having spoken to the union, I was told they said nothing of the sort. Bart did speak to them about the performance review and was advised to go through mediation.

To repeat what I have already said previously in my blog, I spoke to Bart numerous times on both sectors of our flight. Regarding the issue of not putting working positions into the iPad, that has already been covered.

You’ll see “bullying behaviour” when you read his grievance in full. You’ve already seen excerpts from witness statements written by his fiancee and crew member Ven but there’s still much to come.


During my nineteen years as a Flight Service Manager with Virgin Atlantic I wrote several constructive performance reviews. I never informed a crew member in advance I would be writing a review on them. Once it was written I sat with them and went through it. In all cases but one (or two including Bart’s) that was done on the aircraft.

That one exception was on a flight where I didn’t have time to write the review. I felt the matter needed to be documented so wrote it from home.

With the new performance feedback system on the iPad, it wasn’t possible to write more than a couple of short paragraphs. Having raised that with a manager in the office he told me if a longer review was necessary it should be written by hand.

Having written this constructive review from home, I sent the following email to the crew member’s manager. I wanted to ensure he was around before sending the review to her.

The screenshots below are self explanatory. I have blackened out some details for confidentiality.


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Email sent to a Cabin Crew Manager re a constructive review
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Reply from Crew Manger in response to a constructive review that I wrote


The following comes from minutes taken during the appeal meeting with senior manager xx;


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Minutes from appeal meeting with Senior Manager XX

The following comes from Virgin Atlantic’s procedures manual;


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Despite Bart still being in his probation he told his manager he wanted this matter to be dealt with as a grievance. He also said and I quote, “I expect the maximum sanction” and “am happy for this to be as severe as loss of employment for Laurence.”


Our inbound flight to London was exceptionally busy and I had many challenges to deal with. I was also exhausted because I didn’t feel I could take a break on either sector.

As well as having two crew members working up as Cabin Service Supervisors, only two of the crew had been with the company for any length of time. Another was on his first flight back after being off for a year. The crew had long rest breaks in the bunks on both sectors.

Had there been two Cabin Service Supervisors on the flight in the first place which there should have been, things may well have been very different. With this being a Christmas trip sickness was high as usual and there were very few crew left to call out on standby.


Virgin Atlantic policy states crew rest breaks must be split into 3. Many FSM’s still do them in 2 because it’s neither practical or necessary especially on night flights, to do them in 3.

I did breaks in 2 on both sectors of our flight. Despite Bart, Anna and Ven complaining about every single aspect of my conduct, behaviour, performance and professionalism, not one of them mentioned breaks were done in 2. Of course this was mentioned numerous times in my defence documentation but like so much else, fell on deaf ears.


When an FSM or CSS writes a constructive review on-board, it’s then discussed with the crew member. In the vast majority of cases that will be towards the end of a long and/or busy night flight. The FSM or CSS and crew member are likely to be tired, jetlagged and probably not in the best frame of mind. For that reason tears often follow which makes the delivery even more difficult.

When delivering this type of review I often asked the CSS to be present as a witness. Had I spoken to Bart on this flight I would not have done that because both CSS’s were the same rank as him but were working up.

Considering the vile nature of his complaint, I strongly suspect that had I sat and spoken with him during the flight about writing a constructive review, he still would have submitted a very similar complaint.

The following is from documentation submitted as part of my grievance against Virgin Atlantic for the way the matter was handled. Bear in mind my flight to Atlanta landed back into Heathrow on 26th December 2018.


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From correspondence submitted in my grievance against the company


I sent Bart’s review to him mid afternoon on the day following our flight. We had landed the previous day at 07.00. The following comes from minutes taken by Employee Relations Consultant Pedro during that first investigative meeting.

All names have been changed as they have been throughout my blog.


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This screenshot comes from documents I submitted as part of my appeal heard by senior manager xx;


""
From documents submitted with my appeal

This is the email sent by Bart to his manager. It’s followed by other correspondence that’s self explanatory;


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Bart’s email to his manager


The reason Bart didn’t want to go through mediation was because having told a pack of lies, he knew how difficult it would be to uphold his version of events in a face to face meeting.

He also certainly wouldn’t have wanted to come face to face with me at cabin crew check-in or for us to end up on another flight together.


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From minutes taken during the grievance investigation meeting with Bart and hearing manager Lana/Pedro (employee relations consultant)


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From minutes taken during my disciplinary meeting with Manager Hayley


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Taken from my appeal submitted to Senior Manager XX

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From documents submitted as part of my appeal

The following comes from the witness statement of crew member Mia. She came to the front with T to help with the dinner service on the inbound flight;


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From Mia’s witness statement


Despite feeling stressed I was remained professional and polite.

In T’s witness statement he said “I do not recall seeing any communication directly between Bart and Laurence”.

The following comes from Anna’s witness statement;


""

Nothing unusual was noticed by Katrina, Claire and Lottie who worked alongside Bart and I in the Upper Class cabin. The Captain and First Officer were also unaware of any unfriendliness or unusual behaviour.

In her witness statement Lottie said nothing about me picking on Bart or any other member of the crew. Nor did she have any concerns about my ability or competence as a Flight Service Manager.

Anna spent about three minutes in total at the front of the aircraft and that was just on the inbound sector.

In the initial grievance investigation carried out by crew manager Lana, she said the following in her outcome document;


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It’s important to remember the inappropriate touching allegation against me was upheld by senior manager xx based solely on evidence from the witness statements of Anna and Ven. Nobody else on the aircraft saw me or was aware of me touching anyone inappropriately, apart from Peter. With that said, his version of events didn’t tally with those written by Mia.

He claims she told him I had been “quite physical on a few occasions”. In Mia’s statement she writes I touched her leg whilst she was in Upper Class.

What Mia wrote in her statement despite being completely untrue, should not have been considered as evidence because she stated she did not wish the matter to be taken further.

In Bart’s review I reminded him when working in Upper Class he must remember to check on the flight crew regularly (Captain and First Officer). Of course he argued he did and even stated he “served them their food.”

The following comes from evidence submitted to the company. This text comes from correspondence I sent to crew manager Lana the day after the first investigative meeting. Witness statements had not yet been requested from the rest of the crew;


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From evidence I submitted to the company


Witness statements provided by the Captain and First Officer showed neither had any recollection of Bart serving them. The Captain even had a copy of the photograph taken of the entire crew before we left the hotel in Atlanta.

Considering what Bart wrote in his complaint, as a “fairly confident” ex police officer of eight years you would have thought he would have mentioned the following allegation to the Captain and First Officer at some point during the flight. Needless to say, they were unaware of any such behaviour.


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From Bart’s complaint


The following screenshots come from the witness statement of crew member T who was working up as Economy Cabin Service Supervisor. He came to the front several times during the inbound sector and helped out during the dinner service.


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From witness statement of crew member T


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From witness statement of crew member T


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From the witness statement of crew member T


Despite Bart being so vocal about my ability in my absence, he clearly didn’t say anything about inappropriate touching. T states elsewhere in his statement that he was totally unaware of any inappropriate touching towards himself or any other member of the crew.

I’m aware that whilst on a ground placement for a year he had been working in recruitment.

I spoke to Bart several times about the way he was delivering the service during both sectors but more so during the inbound flight. This was because he was struggling to keep up which is why I asked Mia to help on his side when she came to help out.

I understood he was still relatively new so was trying to guide him as much as I could. Only crew members Anna, Ven and Peter claim I was “singling out” or “picking on” Bart. Peter was working at the other end of the aircraft and didn’t come to the front once on either sector. But he had become very friendly with Ven.

The following screenshot comes from Lottie’s witness statement. Lottie was an experienced member of crew who had been with Virgin Atlantic for about eight years.


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From the witness statement of Lottie

It saddens me to think the crew felt I came across as patronising because that really would never have been my intention.

With the company having recently introduced upward feedback, I’m sure that would eventually have come to my attention.

In the feedback I received in the twelve months before being made redundant which was written anonymously, nobody mentioned anything about me being patronising.

I think maybe on this flight it came across that way because the environment was very stressful for many reasons. With the way the situation was, I was being more assertive than I would normally be but clearly that came across as patronising.


4 thoughts on “30 Years at Virgin Atlantic | The Ugly Truth – Part 3

  1. Ahhh thank you Justine. We flew together many times and I always remember your smile. I met so many amazing people during my time with Virgin Atlantic and you were definitely one of them. It really was the best job in the world.

    The company has certainly changed but so has the world we live in.

    Thank you for your lovely words, they mean a great deal to me.

    x

    Like

  2. I always loved flying with you Laurence , im sorry you have gone through this after so many years working for VA with an unblemished working record .. you were always the name on the check in sheet to bring a smile to the crew that it was going to be a fun flight ! Big hugs J xx

    Like

  3. Thank you Donna for your kind words. It’s been a tough couple of years and what I had to deal with has certainly taken its toll. Life goes on and I am trying hard to get back on track. Sadly it doesn’t leave me with very good memories of my time at Virgin Atlantic.

    I had twenty eight amazing years and two terrible ones. In time I’ll hopefully forget about the last two and remember the previous twenty eight.

    I hope life is treating you well.

    Like

  4. Hi Lawrence, I have just managed to read all you have written and I feel sad to hear what a horrible time you had, I worked with you on numerous flights, I was crew from 1996 to 2010 , I was always happy to see your name on the list and always remember you to be fun, approachable and professional, I was actually shocked to read this and the terrible things said about you, I wish all the best for the future and hope you can find some peace after all this

    Liked by 1 person

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