Growing up close to Gatwick Airport in the 1970s and 80s, Jane Lewis had a long-standing dream of being an air hostess. Inspired by the tartan-clad Caledonian Girls, she would beg her parents to take her for a day trip to the Spectators’ Roof Terrace to see the planes, and when that closed, to the perimeter road to view the aircraft take off and land. She didn’t know it then, as she stood and watched her favourite Freddie Laker Skytrain soar overhead, but her childhood dreams would eventually come true.
Now, after almost 28 years, Jane is hanging up her wings after an amazing career with Virgin Atlantic, during which she has worked as a stewardess – as the role was known in those days – and in various positions within Cabin Safety Training and Cabin Crew Management. It’s been a lengthy and happy career – in fact, Jane is one of our longest-standing employees – but you know what they say about all good things. As she prepares to embark upon new adventures, we caught up with her to cast a nostalgic eye over an entire working life in aviation, and began by asking how she went from playing with Dusty’s Playjet in her bedroom to jetting off to NYC and Miami several times a month.
“It was a treasured possession,” she says, of the popular doll and model aircraft cabin. “I still have it safely stored away for Antiques Roadshow one day. I cannot seem to find the pilot for whom Mum knitted a uniform but Dusty is still present! I would practise cabin services and be completely transported in my mind to flying adventures around the globe, with thoughts of the heady and glamorous days of an air hostess!”
From small child to imminent school leaver, Jane’s obsession with aviation never wavered and she spent her ‘careers experience week’ at Gatwick Airport – the first stepping stone to fulfilling her dreams. “I got to spend some time with air traffic ground control, the radar centre and with Janet the lovely lady controller in the control tower,” she remembers. “I was in awe of her having such an incredible job and she further inspired my fascination with all things in the aviation world. It was of course in the original control tower, which is now a museum piece of architecture overshadowed by the present one!”
By that point, at the tender age of 16, her mind was made up. Aviation was to be Jane’s destiny. But she owes the next – and most important! – step in her journey to her dear mum, who in 1988 spotted an advert in the Daily Mail for “top airline stewards and stewardesses” with a fast-growing young airline called Virgin Atlantic.
“It was my mum who persuaded me to attend the open day at the Post House Hotel, Gatwick. She was very persuasive – I believe to inspire me to follow my heart and not just because she wished to expand her flight travel! I’ve still got this advert together with some details of the terms of employment back in those days. It still makes me smile.”
Jane, of course, did land the role, but could never have foreseen that her new temporary contract would lead to a nearly three-decade career with the same airline. “It’s been an amazing journey over almost 28 years and a significant part of my life,” she says. “I have been happily devoted to Virgin Atlantic. All of my roles within the business have been special in their own way; the opportunities have been incredible and I have a wealth of great memories – too many to document here. I feel extremely privileged to have had the working life that Virgin has given me.”
“Flying in the early days was a luxury, with only two aircraft and three routes: Miami, Newark and Orlando. I couldn’t quite believe my luck of being sent to fabulous places, staying at lovely hotels, meeting well-known personalities and being paid to do it! Looking back it was quite remarkable.”
“My roles within Cabin Safety Training were equally special. I could act out evacuation scenarios and project my voice which was fun. Being able to venture to Seattle to see our new 747-700 aircraft on the production line at Boeing, help deliver brand new aircraft, and spend time in New Zealand in doing so was just fantastic. Being part of Flying Without Fear and supporting nervous flyers in finding courage to overcome their fears and in turn become very seasoned Virgin Atlantic customers was also an amazing feeling.”
In the last decade or so, Jane has been a pivotal member of Cabin Crew Management, enjoying great opportunities and forging more lifelong friendships along the way. “I’ve worked alongside some fantastic colleagues, and our journey has not been without challenge or uncertainty, but the support and camaraderie has been incredible. So I leave with a wonderful amount of memories.”
Now, with the wings handed back and her feet firmly on the ground, Jane is about to embark on a new project – running a brand new, dog-friendly B&B in the New Forest – an adventure she is more than well prepared for after her many years spent looking after our customers. We’re sad to say goodbye but wish her nothing but happiness in this exciting new chapter – and if you want to follow in Jane’s footsteps, you can! We’re currently recruiting for Cabin Crew positions, so take a look at our dedicated Careers site and find out everything you need to know about life at Virgin Atlantic.