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Training Detroit: Behind the scenes with Sam Hammond

By: Maxine Sheppard

June 16, 2015

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The launch of our new direct service to Detroit is an exciting moment for everyone at Virgin Atlantic, but especially for those who’ve worked so hard behind the scenes to make it happen.

Sam Hammond is one such member of staff. As an Airport Operations Training Officer, she’s been instrumental in preparing Detroit-based team members for their new responsibilities, having recently returned from the Motor City after delivering a two-week Turnaround Coordinator (TCO) course to those who’ll be responsible for our planes on the ground.

It’s a position that Sam understands inside out, having previously been one herself for four years until moving into a training role in 2010. But what exactly does a TCO do, and why do they play such a pivotal part in getting our aircraft into the skies?

“A TCO is the main coordinator whilst the aircraft is on the ground, and we’re there to oversee the safety of the aircraft and everyone working in and around it,” Sam explains. “We manage the timelines of the aircraft; driving the turnaround and we’re responsible for getting it away safely and on time. As a TCO, I liaised with the cleaners, caterers, pilots, gate staff and crew on board.”

And it doesn’t stop there. Turnaround Coordinators must also communicate with our centralised load planning department who produce the weight and balance documents, keep in contact with the Loading Supervisors and ramp teams who load the aircraft, as well as liaise with the Virgin Operations Team in the event of any delays or other issues. It’s a busy, exciting environment for those who enjoy the stimulation of being in an airport, and as Sam explains, it’s never dull or routine. “I loved the buzz of being out in the live operation and speaking with so many different people every day,” she says. “No two days were ever the same.”

So why did she take the decision to move on? “I loved my time as a TCO but wanted to take it that one stage further,” she says. “Having the chance to train other people, to travel, and to see how other airports operate was a great opportunity for me. I went through the interview process and got the job, and I’ve been in this department ever since. I love the diversity, and how I get to develop and design the training. We deliver the training in the classroom, so I’m always thinking about how to make it fun and engaging.”

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Sam Hammond’s career as an Airport Operations Training Officer has taken her around the globe

For the new TCOs, Sam’s expertly-delivered training is only the start. “After I left Detroit, the TCOs went across to JFK so they could shadow others,” she says. “It’s a practical role, so it’s really important they embed everything they’ve learned in the classroom and practise it. The management team at JFK supported their shadowing and initially verified them before they returned to Detroit, in time for my colleague to go out and verify them ready for the live start up.”

For those considering this kind of airline role, it helps to have an aviation or airport background – but most importantly, a desire to help people is essential. “First and foremost you need to have a passion for customer service,” says Sam. “Previous airport experience is important too; perhaps you’ll have worked at check-in or in baggage before. It’s all about safety and on-time performance: that is a critical part of the role. Also, as a TCO you’ll be making decisions regarding the turnaround of the aircraft, so you need to make them confidently and be able to justify those decisions too. Situational awareness is key.”

But while our airport personnel take their responsibilities extremely seriously, there’s always time for a few fun moments and the nature of the work means you never quite know who you’ll bump into next. And as Sam recalls, the time she spent as a TCO led to some of her all-time favourite Virgin Atlantic memories.

“I truly have so many,” she says. “I remember being a TCO when we did the James Bond movie crew flight. We sent the aircraft out to South America and we had all the props and weapons in the hold. As you can imagine there was quite a lot of planning for that flight, though unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Daniel Craig!”

“I’ve also dispatched the England cricket team, Christian Slater and Hugh Grant, and helped to see Richard Branson off on the “˜Harry Potter’ aircraft to Orlando to name but a few. I also cherish memories of working in the operation away from base, both within the Training department and as a TCO in Cape Town, Accra, Chicago and Manston (for a Ghurkha charter flight) as well as the many varied TCO courses I’ve now been lucky enough to deliver worldwide.

“But throughout it all, my memories always come back to the same thing – the people! I think my everlasting memory of working for Virgin Atlantic will be just that; the many wonderful people I’ve met, trained and worked with. It’s priceless.” Visit our dedicated Careers pages and find out more about life at Virgin Atlantic – you could soon be creating some amazing memories of your own.

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.

Categories: Our People