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From Aviation to Vaccination. Meet the Virgin Atlantic volunteers

By: Dave Gunner

February 15, 2021

With some of the other volunteers at the hospital. Left to Right - Sam Heenan, Donna Matheson, Vanessa Casas, Marie Mowle, Corrine Reynolds.

"On my first shift as a volunteer vaccinator I had five people in a row who were petrified of needles. Without realising it, I used the skills I've learned as cabin crew to show empathy and make them relax". - Ania J Choppy-Hansford, Flight Service Manager.

Is there a more important job in the world right now than administering vaccinations? And our NHS is leading the way. At the time of writing the UK was number three in the league table of most vaccinated countries in the world. That’s a considerable achievement, which has been helped by an army of volunteers and we’re incredibly proud to count many of our own people among them.

You might think airline staff and NHS medical professionals don’t have too much in common. But you’d be wrong. Both are safety-critical roles that rely on teamwork. Both need to make quick decisions and manage the occasional stressful situation. Both have tremendous life experience, dealing daily with anything and everything that’s thrown at them. And then there are the people skills. Empathy, caring and reassurance, often dished up with a sprinkling of appropriate humour. They’re also used to constant learning and can turn their hand to anything. Virgin Atlantic training includes dealing with medical emergencies so it’s no surprise that our people who have volunteered have won the respect of the medical staff they are working alongside.

We caught up with a few of our vaccinators who are volunteering at the vaccination hub at St Peter’s Hospital in Chertsey, near our home at Heathrow. Here’s how they’ve been getting on.

Meet our volunteers

Alanna

Alanna Strong has been cabin crew since the age of 18. She joined Ashford and St Peter’s back in March as a temporary staffing coordinator helping bank staff find roles around the hospital but most recently working as a recruitment advisor for the hospital’s new recruitment Hub. Knowing that her colleagues would be a great addition to the trust due to the transferable skills they had she put a call out on social media for crew to help with the vaccines. The response was fantastic, and she has managed to recruit over 95 staff for the hub, a good 80% with an airline background!

Lucy Downey has flown as part of our cabin crew team since 1995 and requested furlough just so she could help with the vaccination programme. She is also helping with the admin at the vaccine centre.

Mohammed Mamujee has worked in various roles at Heathrow since 2007. He is now a volunteer in the admin department at the hospital. Used to checking in customers at Heathrow, Mohammed now checks patients in when they arrive for their vaccinations. He also makes phone calls to fulfil available appointments ensuring none of the Pfizer vaccines are wasted and inputs all patient information into the national statistic’s database.

Sam Heenan works in our Heathrow airport services team but before that worked as Paramedic for the ambulance service. He switched careers to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot but has dusted off his ambulance uniform “greens” and is back working as a paramedic in the hub. Sam is vaccinating, supervising the non-clinical staff and drawing up the vaccine.

Charlotte Palmer has been cabin crew since 2003 and is a vaccinator at the hub.

Natasha Hall has flown as a cabin crew for 18 years. Both her children were born at St Peter’s Hospital, so she immediately signed up to help.

Marie Mowle has been cabin crew with us for 12 years. Like Natasha she had both her children at St Peter’s. She’s currently working as a vaccinator and helps with various roles within the hub.

Donna Mathiason has been flying as cabin crew for 14 years and is now a vaccinator.

Ania J Choppy-Hansford joined as Cabin Crew in 1994 and now flies as a Flight Service Manager. Her other ambition is to own a beach shack bar in the Seychelles where she was born.  Ania is primarily a vaccinator but also works with the admin team.

Natasha Hall

What made you sign up?

Alanna – I was born at St Peter’s, so it’s always had a place in my heart, especially after taking care of my family pre and during Covid. They have cared for my grandad, who is thankfully now Covid free and treated other family members when they’ve had cancer. It’s been great to give back, and I’ve loved meeting and working with the staff here. It’s amazing to feel like we are all contributing to getting the country back on its feet and hopefully restoring some normality!

Marie – I had both of my children at St Peters hospital, Bella age 6 and Jimi age 4. When I saw that I could be part of this team at St Peter’s and help during this pandemic, I jumped at the opportunity. I did all my e-learning online then got stuck into the role once the hub opened.

Lucy – I wanted to do this because I felt that if we, as a country, have as many hands on deck as possible to get this vaccination programme delivered, the sooner we can edge towards some normality.

Sam – I feel very privileged to have the opportunity to be part of what will be a massive part of history. From an airline perspective, efficiently distributing this vaccine and getting a good majority of the country vaccinated is the only way that aviation will recover and not be continually faced with tougher travel restrictions.

Ania

Describe the atmosphere at the centre

Marie – All the nurses and doctors that I’ve met have been so supportive and welcoming. I am enjoying every minute of working alongside the team at St Peter’s.

Donna – There’s a real buzz about the place. We are working alongside surgeons and consultants who have had their usual work suspended due to the pandemic. Everyone feels that now we have this vaccine the end of this pandemic is in sight. They have welcomed us with open arms and are really interested in our careers with Virgin Atlantic.

Mohammed – It’s buzzing with everyone coming together, working as a team, and making the centre work like a well-oiled machine. We all chip in to do whatever we can to run the centre as smoothly as we can.

Sam – The hub is fast-paced, the aim is to do 600 vaccinations per day in the five vaccination bays. This averages one per minute. We peaked one weekend at 670 people vaccinated in a single day.

Charlotte – During my first shift as a vaccinator I had doctors coming to me to be vaccinated. One of the doctors was very emotional as I did his vaccine. I thought I’d hurt him, but he said it was the relief of having the vaccine.

Marie – The atmosphere amongst the staff at the hub is amazing and getting to know the team at Ashford and St Peter’s is so interesting.

Marie

Mohammed

How has your experience at Virgin Atlantic helped?

Lucy – I’ve never given vaccinations before, but most certainly my Virgin Atlantic medical training has been invaluable.

Alanna – All the medical training has helped massively. Our customer service skills are invaluable. Patients can’t see a smile under a mask so a calming friendly chat and making someone relax and laugh always helps!

Sam – It is amazing hearing the doctors and nurses saying, “What training do the crews get, they have fitted in so well and are just up for anything, so willing to learn new skills”. Their conclusion was that they were hired based on that personality type. They are so used to working with a different team each day that they can just slot into any gaps within the team.

Ania – Being a vaccinator is a first for me. Still, because of how we are trained as cabin crew, no matter what gets in the way, we just get on and deal with the situation.

Mohammed – Working as a team member, problem-solving, working under pressure as well as diplomacy and empathy are all skills that help me in the vaccine centre.

Donna – Our experience with Virgin Atlantic has been a godsend. It’s all about teamwork, our medical training and our customer service skills. These helped us get the job with the NHS and helped when we undertook extensive E-learning and in-house training run by the vaccination hub.

Charlotte – As cabin crew, we automatically make people feel at ease which I think is so important. When completing the online learning, a question will pop up and you find yourself back in the Virgin medical training class remembering the answer.

Natasha – Without my training and experience from Virgin, I would never have been able to do this job. I am really loving it.

Donna

What does it mean to be part of the UK vaccination programme?

Natasha – I am so proud to be a part of this as this is my local hospital where I had both my children. It means so much to give back to my local community.

Alanna – It’s almost a feeling of relief to feel like we are almost getting ourselves out of the worst of it.

Mohammed – Being a part of the UK’s vaccination programme is great; it is part of making history and giving something back to the community. Knowing that you are making a difference also makes me feel proud representing our airline at the same time.

Charlotte – To feel your knowledge and experience as cabin crew is so openly accepted and to be able to give back is wonderful This has been a massive eye-opener to me, to hear so many amazing stories from medical staff and to hear how people have had to change their career and take on a path they never thought they go on.

Ania – I really don’t believe that I am doing something special. My family and friends are the ones who are saying that I should be proud of myself and that I am helping the community.

The best part of the job?

Charlotte – You go home, thinking, I’ve just vaccinated a doctor, who will then go on and help someone else. When I read on our intranet about how our cargo flights bought over the gloves and PPE we wore, it makes you realise how airlines and the NHS are all connected to each other.

Donna – The best part about the job is working with my fellow virgin colleagues; it’s like a home from home. I’m so happy to be working. This vaccine can only be a good thing for the aviation industry. Hopefully, we will all be back in the skies soon.

Ania – Interacting with the public which I miss so much. The precious moment for me is when patients are surprised the procedure is over and say ‘Is that it?’ They thank you for making them feel so relaxed. That always brings a smile behind my mask!

Natasha – The best bit about the job is meeting new people from all walks of life. The gratitude and appreciation from people having the vaccination gives you a real buzz.

Sam – Knowing that you are helping to put a dent in those figures you see in the Coronavirus briefing when you get home. Knowing that you have made someone’s day as this is the first “excuse” they have had to leave the house in over two months. Knowing that you are working alongside both NHS staff and airline staff to achieve a common goal.

Even on a snowy day in London (it doesn’t happen that often) the team still managed to vaccinate their full quota of 500 people

This weekend the NHS passed a huge milestone when they exceeded 15 million vaccinations administered. That’s an incredible achievement. If you haven’t already had your vaccination, rest assured that the NHS teams, along with their volunteers, are doing everything to deliver them as quickly as possible right across the country. And you never know; when you do head to one of the vaccination centres, you might just meet one of our brilliant team. Please say hello, because as soon as we can get this terrible virus under control, you might meet them in altogether different circumstances, at 35,000 feet, exploring the world once again.

We can’t wait to welcome our customers onboard when they are ready and able to fly.

Dave Gunner

Dave Gunner

I love telling the story of our people, our planes, our places and our planet through Ruby Blog.

Categories: Our People