Our CEO dons a high vis to make sure our flights get away on time

By: Dave Gunner

June 1, 2017

Craig and Paul with the VS23 to Los Angeles

Craig and Paul with the VS23 to Los Angeles

Craig Kreeger on the ramp at Heathrow

Glimpsed from the departure gate or aircraft window, the airport ramp is a familiar yet mesmerising sight. Busy people in hi-vis jackets tend the parked aircraft as fuel, bags, cargo and catering are loaded and unloaded by a selection of strange vehicles. It’s a hive of activity.

At the centre of this commotion are our turnaround officers. Their job is to oversee everything that happens on an aircraft while it’s on the ground. They’re responsible for making sure our flights depart safely and on time while delivering impeccable customer service. It’s a high pressured environment where anything can and does happen, so it couldn’t be more important.

Last month, we sent our CEO Craig Kreeger ‘back to the floor’ to work alongside one of our turnaround officers at Heathrow and went along to see how he got on.


Back to the ramp

An airline guy through and through, Craig’s whole career has been in aviation so he relished the chance to get out of the office and fill his lungs with the sweet smell of kerosene. On arrival at Heathrow, he was met by turnaround officer Paul Murt who took him under his wing, in both senses, to work the departure of the VS23 to Los Angeles.

Everything was going well. The cleaning and catering were done. Crew checks and fuel uplift were complete. The baggage and cargo were loaded, and the passengers had starting boarding early. But, like we said, things can go south very quickly … Craig takes up the story:

“When you work in an office, you can sometimes forget what if feels like to be at the airport and experience the whole hustle and bustle of the ramp. An awful lot comes together in the role that Paul does and you get to see all it takes to make it happen.

“This was an interesting flight to observe because at 20 minutes before departure it turned from a straightforward, simple flight, to a complicated one with a medical offload. That involved caring for a customer who was too sick to travel, removing their bags and making the necessary changes to the load sheet. Despite all this, the aircraft still pushed back a minute early.

“I was so impressed with how quickly all this happened. These guys found the bags in seven or eight minutes. I saw the customer dealt with in a very humane way, with transport back to town, advice on what they needed to do to be ready to fly, and offer to rebook them. We got the airplane away on time, all credit to Paul, and demonstrated our values with our customers. So in my mind, I got to see our team do what our team does best.”

Craig and Paul with the VS23 to Los Angeles

Craig and Paul with the VS23 to Los Angeles

Getting it right for our customers

Paramount for our teams is making sure our customers get to where they want to go, safely, on time, with their bags. “This job comes with a lot of responsibility,” Craig continues. “There’s a huge amount of checking and double checking of the data entries because weight and balance are so important. Those responsible for creating and carrying out the flight rely on accurate information and need to know that it’s compliant with our legal and safety requirements.”
“Before we went down onto the ramp Paul said to me ‘The first thing we focus on is safety’. We had a number of tasks to make sure the plane was safely parked, the fuellers  were set up correctly and that everyone working on the airplane was doing so properly.
“So we start with safety and security first and foremost. From then on the best thing for our customers is for us to get them onboard comfortably, hand them over to our cabin crew, make sure all their bags are onboard and then get them away on time.
Signing off some of the paperwork

Signing off some of the paperwork

“In many ways Paul acts as a central hub, solving the day to day problems that can threaten all those things. The fact we lead the on-time departure leagues for longhaul carriers at Heathrow suggests we’re doing a pretty good job here, and that’s thanks to a great team effort across the airline. But that’s just viewing our airports through a purely operational lens. On this flight I saw the human side too, and I personally felt a great sense of accomplishment when looking at my watch to see the aircraft taking off a minute early.”
Craig calls the departure one minute early

Craig calls the departure one minute early

Craig has promised to do more of these back to floor days and we look forward to sharing his behind the scenes observations in coming blog posts. A massive thank you to Paul and the Heathrow team for hosting Craig.
If you want to learn more about the role of the turnaround officer and find out how far they walk in a day click here. Keep an eye open for vacancies on our recruitment site and Linkedin page.

Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.

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