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A sense of pride
Away from the fun and the joking, there's a very real sense of pride from the dispatch team. Both Graham and Jeannine clearly love their jobs and view the team as a close knit family. The work is incredibly varied, with lots of pressure and, as you’d expect, very strict with its time keeping. Interestingly, away from work Jeannine is still a stickler for punctuality whereas Graham leaves that behind at the airport and, by his own admission, has been known to be a bit tardy out of work.
What does the job entail?
We caught up with Roger Scott, Head of Operations at Heathrow, as well as Graham and Jeannine, to find out what it takes to become one of the few people able to do this very special job.
Roger heads up the team of 36 dispatchers and senior dispatchers who are responsible for our Heathrow turnarounds. What's immediately apparent is that every flight is a story to be shared (often as a way to offload the stress!) and after each departure there is invariably a recalling of the experience to colleagues. Of course it’s not all fun and games – there are real challenges too. As shown on the programme, a problematic element of the dispatcher’s job is having to deal with passengers who are ‘late to gate’. This can often result in bags being offloaded and flights delayed. On more than one occasion an Upper Class passenger has fallen asleep in The Clubhouse and missed their flight!
But the rewards are very high. No two days are the same and Graham sweeps his hand over the ramp at Heathrow and proudly says ‘this is my office!' Roger talks of new recruits who can often work for six months and have something different happen every day. There are also real emotional highs and lows to deal with, from sick and bereaved passengers to really happy and funny moments.
Both Graham and Jeannine started working at Heathrow as check-in agents. Jeannine had a background in customer services, and Graham worked in the Premier team, dealing with all our VIPs. The main requirements for the job are to be calm, able to deal with pressure and able to work with everyone from our pilots to the general public. You need to be a quick thinker and able to multitask: that means managing the different companies and departments, and coping with all the different things that can happen in that short space of time we call an aircraft turnaround.
Our dispatchers do a really important and complicated job. And every now and then, just when they think they’ve heard it all, something even more unusual will come along – such as letting millions of people watch them do their tricky and unpredictable job live on television. But for them, it's all in a day's work.
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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.