Flight Service Manager Angela Lawson was already an old hand at flying when she joined us in 1984, but the early years were still a thrill...
I’d been working for Laker Airways for just over two years when, in February 1982, they went bankrupt. I loved the job but, with so many crew now out of work, I had to explore other avenues. I worked for six months on a private yacht and then got a job in advertising and publishing. Then I saw Virgin Atlantic’s advert in the London standard and jumped at the chance to get back to flying, despite the fact it was only one plane and one destination.
A friend also applied and we were interviewed together. We spent most of the interview chatting about the yacht we had both worked on and them telling us about the job. After about 40 minutes they said: "Well, would you like the job?" We said ‘yes’ and went to the bar to celebrate.
On the first day, all the 100 crew who had been taken on met up at the George Hotel in Crawley. Richard Branson and the co-founder Randolph Fields spoke to us about their plans. They said in a few years we would be flying to Australia. Okay, it might have taken more than a ‘few years’ to happen but it was very exciting. It’s such a shame that we no longer fly there.
Because I had previous flying experience, my training was less intense than others received: two days Safety and Emergency Procedures (SEP) training and a day’s cabin training. The rest of the time I was on the phone in an office just off Bond Street taking and making flight bookings. I remember that it was all done by phone and pen and paper – there were no computers to help us back then! One evening I was working late when I answered the phone to Richard. I was a bit flustered and started to call him ‘Mr Branson’. He was so informal and insisted I call him by his first name!
I’ll always remember the first flight. There was champagne everywhere, the press and celebrities hounding us for more to drink. Service was very difficult. The next day Richard invited us all to lunch at a flash restaurant on 5th Avenue before flying us all home. I do remember at that lunch Richard performing a disappearing watch trick that Uri Gellar had taught him on the flight.
A rewarding life
Thirty years later I’m still here because I don’t want to do anything else. It’s a lifestyle thing. My personal circumstances have changed, I’m now the mother of a ten-year-old boy, and I work part-time but there’s still the same buzz when it comes to building a team, getting to know them, sharing a laugh and helping customers to enjoy themselves. When flights are full and busy it is hard work, but very rewarding when everyone pulls together and passengers get off happy. We work in such confined spaces you have to interact with your crew very quickly and barriers which would take other people a long time to break down dissolve within an hour of meeting each other. You can find yourself sharing intimate details of your life with someone you’ve only just met!
Virgin Atlantic is still a great company to work for and I am so glad to have stayed the course. If you’re thinking about a cabin crew job job, I’d say enjoy it, give it everything and you’ll get a lot back. And get out there and see places when you can – don’t stay in your room saving money, because there will be plenty of trips when you won’t have the opportunity to explore.
1984: Replied to our ad in the Evening Standard.
2014: Photo album records trips to everywhere from New York to the Taj Mahal.
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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.