The last 30 years have literally flown by for Cabin Safety Manager Mary Gooding. We get the inside scoop on how things at the airline have changed.
Preparing for take off
I was always fascinated by the aircraft that flew over our home in Barbados. I could identify each airline by the engine sound, and from an early age wanted to be an air hostess – as cabin crew were then called. What brought me to Virgin Atlantic? I had flown for two previous airlines but being part of a new venture was really exciting; I also thought my experience would be valued by a new start up.
I joined literally 'before records began' on 21 May 1984. In the month leading up to the first flight I wasn't busy training, as you'd expect, but spent the time at our Woodstock Street office in London counting money: hundreds of bags containing thousands of pounds of cash, because back in those days we didn't accept anything else. Training was a two-day safety course and one day of first aid with British Caledonian. I remember very well the day our first aircraft went off for its certification flight from Gatwick. The British Caledonian trainers took us out to the side of the runway to watch it take off.
I first flew on the second or third flight and the sense of excitement was still very much evident. There were just 100 cabin crew members. Everyone knew everyone and there was an amazing camaraderie and a party after every flight. In fact, the party was compulsory because that is where the Captain handed out allowances, and you had to go to the party to get your money. It was a great opportunity to get to know everyone socially and talk about the flights. A lot of the pilots were seasoned captains and they were like our dads! Passengers were even allowed to smoke on board – in fact, we could smell the aircraft from across the gate. We called it Eau de Boeing.
Obviously we’re a much bigger airline these days, but one thing has not changed: life is never dull. You never know what you’ll encounter on a trip – or who. I remember watching southern right whales all morning on two consecutive days from my patio in Gansbaai just outside Cape Town and seeing them breach was simply awesome. And when I went to Auckland to pick up B747s we’d bought from Air New Zealand, I had the time to cruise with dolphins off the Bay of Islands. I was on board our first A340-300 in 1993 and had the privilege of greeting the Princess of Wales after she had completed the naming ceremony. As we flew over Windsor Castle, she shouted excitedly: “There’s granny’s house!” I also recall being entertained by Danny La Rue’s tales on a flight to Miami. He was a truly gentle, kind and funny man with no airs and graces whatsoever.
If you're thinking of joining Virgin Atlantic, you’ll find the people you’ll work with are dedicated to their jobs and care about their passengers, but they also know how to have fun. I know it’s a cliché, but ‘work hard, play hard’ really does apply to Virgin Atlantic.
1984: Counted thousands of pounds of cash. No cheques.
2014: Responsible for safety in aircraft cabins. Plenty of checks.
Find out what more about our culture on the Virgin Atlantic careers website
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About the author: MaxineMaxine Sheppard
Maxine is the editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog. Travel and music are her joint first loves, and despite having written for Virgin for more years than she cares to remember she still loves nothing more than jumping on a plane in search of new sights and new sounds.