Airport Live: Behind the scenes with the BBC

By: Maxine Sheppard

June 21, 2013

As the VS601 to Johannesburg pushed back a couple of minutes early on Wednesday night millions of people watched it live on television. Dave Gunner from our Communications team explains what went on behind the scenes…

Behind the scenes with the BBC

This week, our airport, cargo, flying and engineering teams were centre stage in a unique four part BBC Airport Live special. Unlike previous shows, these programmes focused on the ramp and control tower of the UK’s busiest and most fascinating airport, London Heathrow. Centre stage were two of our dispatchers,  Graham Cornish and Jeannine Reid-Hall.

Virgin Atlantic dispatcher's Jeannine and Graham.jpg

In the first instalment on Monday we saw Graham go about his job as a senior dispatcher, explaining the complex processes that go on during an aircraft turnaround, including making sure the plane is cleaned and serviceable with all the catering, bags, passengers and cargo on board and on time.

The second programme, on Wednesday, followed the VS601 departure from start to finish. While Graham was filmed doing his job, Jeannine was narrating and answering questions from presenter Anita Rani, all live on national TV – no pressure then. Just before the show, Jeannine was showing no sign of nerves. “I teach and give talks at my children’s Sunday school. In fact I’m always talking, it comes naturally to me!” said Jeannine as our Clubhouse Spa team put the finishing touches to her hair and make-up. We bet the kids get to hear an even better story after her appearance!

Jeannine live on air.jpg

Our involvement in the show began many months earlier when the BBC contacted us to take part. The massive job of organising the whole thing fell to Jan Doy in our Press Office, who liaised with the BBC and arranged everything, ensuring she was on hand right up to the last second to advise our stars and the BBC production team. The end result was a really polished performance that impressed even the BBC.

Overnight superstars

Graham and Jeannine have found themselves under the spotlight since their programmes aired on Monday and Wednesday, with lots of questions from friends, family and colleagues. There’s even been a slight air of celebrity surrounding them, being recognised on buses, in the airport and going through security. Graham even had a Facebook request from someone he didn’t know, who’d tracked him down to say how much they would really like to do his job.

Among the comments were many mentions of a “˜fantastic programme’ and for Graham, a certain amount of ribbing for a comment he made about salmon. His “Four tons of fish… unbelievable” as he watched cargo load two pallets of salmon in the first episode is already the stuff of legend among his Heathrow colleagues, causing a spate of salmon jokes and notices on the crew room wall.

Graham spies something fishy.jpg

Jeannine has also been over whelmed with Facebook comments since her appearance. “Three past employees said I made them reflect on the great fun time they had here and how they really miss Virgin now. I’ve had, in total so far, 270 comments and likes on Facebook saying I was amazing and made them proud. I was asked by airport workers to have my picture taken with them and was tooted by drivers on my way in to work this morning.”

Strange cargo

Our cargo team also featured on the show, with great footage of some fascinating items making their way in and out of the hold, from exotic cars to pets travelling on our Flying Paws scheme. We even saw the band Green Day’s drumsticks being loaded and yes, more of that famous four tonnes of fish!

Ford Fiesta on its way to Jo'burg.jpg

Our cargo team transport a lot of really exotic cars and it isn’t unusual to see a Ferrari or similar in our hold. The team were hoping for a really rare and unusual car to star in the programme, but the one on the featured flight turned out to be a humble Ford Fiesta! It was, however, a very cool Fiesta indeed, on its way to a rally in Jo’berg – so cool in fact that BBC presenter Anita Rani tweeted a picture of it just before she went live.

Find out more about life in our dispatch team in our next post, learn how to send your precious cargo around the world with us, or simply book a flight to any of our worldwide destinations.

Did you watch Airport Live? What did you think of the show? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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.