30 Year Journey: Below Stairs at 35,000 Feet

By: Maxine Sheppard

June 23, 2014

To celebrate turning the big 3-0 we caught up with some of the amazing employees whose three decades of service have helped make Virgin Atlantic the airline it is today. To kick things off, Flight Service Manager Dave Flanagan takes us back to the start…

30 years young

How did I get to be one of those who got Virgin Atlantic off the ground? I’d flown previously for BOAC, who I joined in 1975, and also trained as a chef. My partner at the time went to Virgin for an interview as a “˜butler’ and got the job. Later, he got a call from the Crew Manager at the time who said he needed another four butlers and did my partner know anyone. He passed the phone to me. It seems that there were two butlers looking after eight passengers in Upper Class at the time. Yes, I know: those were the days, more like “˜Downton Abbey’ than an airline! The next day I went to Gatwick where training was taking place and met the Crew Manager who had called. He said, “I’m sure you know all about the job. Can you stay for training?” That was my interview. I then trotted off to Savile Row to be fitted with my butler’s tails and then to Maxim’s in London for training on the elaborate caviar style dinner service! The rest, as they say, is history.


Thirty years on, I’m still here and still looking for the glamour. Only joking! I’ve travelled to some fantastic places such as Hong Kong, where my sister used to live; San Francisco, one of my favourite cities; and Cuba and its spectacular architecture. And I love the people I work with, love their energy and enthusiasm. We get on the aircraft as a team and work together to give our customers the best Virgin experience we can. It’s not like an office environment where you work or see the same people every day. As crew, we meet roughly an hour before our passengers board the aircraft so it’s important we gel quickly and often passengers assume we fly together as a team all the time. It’s the people who keep me young and when I retire at 65 next year I’ll be able to say that I’ve contributed to Virgin’s success and had a career that was full of memorable moments.

Yes, it’s certainly been some ride. When we got the second aircraft to operate the Miami route, I was called into the office and told that I was ‘to do the training because you’ll be good at it’. Initially meant to be for six months, I ended up being the Training Manager for ten years. The job taught me to get as much information about the subject you’re dealing with before making a decision but to do this quickly. This has served particularly useful on board when things go wrong or there is a situation that needs your attention and a speedy outcome.

We’ve come a long way

The biggest change I’ve seen is the airline’s growth. When we began there were only 82 cabin crew and everyone was in one building. Now we’re much bigger and that has impacted on cabin crew training. We taught the first groups of cabin crew in two rooms at the Gatwick Hilton hotel. We just had flip charts and had to wait until the aircraft arrived from Newark (EWR) in the morning so we could nip down to the aircraft, take off the safety equipment, run back to the Hilton, show it to the group and then run it back to the aircraft before it departed to fly back to EWR in the afternoon. Now I see The BASE as the largest crew training facility in Europe with all you need to train flight and cabin crews to be the world’s best.


And I really do believe that we have the best cabin crew in the world, so my advice for newcomers would be to enjoy your job and learn from the people you work with. Have a laugh and get out and see the places you visit. Facebook will still be there when you get back!

Dave Flanagan

1984: Joined Virgin Atlantic as a butler.

2014: Looking forward to being waited on hand and foot in retirement.

Find out where a career at Virgin Atlantic can take you at


Maxine Sheppard

Maxine is the co-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.