September 26, 2019
At just after 8pm last night flight VS 453 touched down in Tel Aviv for the first time
Yesterday marked the beginning of a new phase of growth for Virgin Atlantic, as our maiden flight took off from London Heathrow for Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport.
Back in February we announced the launch of our new route to Israel’s commercial and cultural capital, where skyscrapers tower over pristine urban beaches and cosmopolitan city slickers rub shoulders with artists, street food vendors, and hedonists intent on partying until dawn. Tel Aviv is Israel’s financial centre and one of the world’s leading tech hubs, so alongside our leisure customers we’re anticipating carrying many business travellers and entrepreneurs, many of whom will benefit from the strength of our trans-Atlantic joint venture with Delta to connect through London to onward destinations, such as San Francisco, New York and other major cities across the United States.
The launch of our service to Tel Aviv presented us with a great opportunity to trial a new approach to new route start-ups. Wherever we fly it’s always our aim to showcase the destination with typical Virgin flair, but also to create an irresistible travel experience that’s considerate to cultural expectations. So as part of the preparation for the launch of our new service, we ran two Jewish cultural experience days in London for the onboard managers who’ll be operating this route.
The workshops involved discussion of Jewish customs, religious laws and festivals, as well as an in-depth look at kosher food so that people could really understand what it means. They provided our core crew with newfound knowledge to share with other crew members, and helped them understand some of the specific requests they might receive onboard. Crew members also visited a kosher supermarket, a synagogue and the Jewish Learning Exchange in Golders Green, a north London neighbourhood that’s home to a large Orthodox Jewish community.
Responsible for organising our core crew and getting the route up and running from the cabin team perspective is Mark Turner, who’s been working collaboratively with Darren Sherlock from the customer experience team and Jaime Tripp from training design. Alongside the cultural workshops, Jaime and her colleagues designed a digital training guide for crew and people around the business, to heighten cultural awareness and bridge any knowledge gaps, but also to make the different customer areas aware of each other’s policies so we can deliver a seamless service throughout the customer journey.
According to Mark, who helped develop the experience days, the training was about allowing our crew to better understand the needs and expectations of our customers on this particular route. “We wanted them to come away from the training feeling confident,” he said. “And knowing how best to take care of and make friends with our customers.”
So what are some of the extra touches we’re offering customers on the Tel Aviv route? Some of them are language-related, like making announcements in Hebrew as well as in English – a service not offered by any other airline except El Al, and something we hope will make our customers feel really welcome. We’re also offering Hebrew menu translations, as well as Hebrew subtitles on our inflight entertainment, and a selection of local programming including the Israeli spy thriller False Flag and the vampire series Juda.
Other enhancements include improvements to our kosher menus, plus new replacement kosher snacks and drinks, all with kosher-friendly labelling. Our Wander Wall snacks will be 80% kosher on this route, and in Upper Class we’ll also be serving kosher nibbles with our bar drinks, as well as a final drink before landing served with traditional Jewish honey cake.
We’ve also teamed up with popular London-based Israeli restaurant The Good Egg, who’ve put together some delicious Israeli-inspired, street-food-style dishes for our Upper Class and Premium Economy customers, as well as for those visiting our Heathrow Clubhouse.
In terms of our new approach to launching new routes, our core crew were unanimous in their support of our experience days. Claire Knight, one of our cabin service supervisors who attended the workshop, has long been wanting to visit Tel Aviv. “It was one of the main reasons I put my name forward to be core crew,” she explained. “I’ve heard such great things about the city, and the experience day was so interesting, informative and good fun. I’ve learnt so much about Jewish culture I’m almost a convert! I’m now just really looking forward to getting acquainted with the city and its people.”
Mark Shelton, a flight service manager, was equally effusive. “I’m Jewish myself, so it’s been amazing to see everyone else learn and get to know about Jewish culture and tradition, and gain awareness of cultural differences, especially with our Orthodox customers,” he said. “If other crew members have any questions they can ask any of the onboard managers who’ve been on this training, and those people will feel much more confident and comfortable passing that knowledge on.”
Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to Tel Aviv from London Heathrow.