May 17, 2021
The next in the series of guest blogs from our leadership team comes from Chief Customer and Operating Officer, Corneel Koster, who has almost 25 years’ international experience in the aviation industry.
While I have a lot of aviation stories to tell, to the surprise of many I am not a pure aviation geek or plane enthusiast. I’m a people enthusiast and I enjoy complex systems delivering an excellent outcome for customers. I love the way that aviation reflects what’s happening in the world at large, and how it brings people together, fostering an understanding across diverse cultures & geographies. My career began in my home country, The Netherlands, and has since taken me to Africa, the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico City and the UK, which has become our family home. What I’ve learnt from my time in aviation is that no two days are ever the same, but through careful and considered scenario planning, nothing is impossible. I’ve never met a group of people whose energy and enthusiasm reaches further than my colleagues in aviation, no matter what gets thrown our way.
Despite the impact of Covid-19 on our industry, there is nowhere I’d rather be working right now, and the learnings I’ve taken as a leader during this pandemic have been invaluable. The decisions we’ve had to take along the way have been incredibly painful at times – none more so than saying goodbye to so many of our amazing people as demand for travel completely collapsed.
In the UK alone, aviation underpins our economy, connecting friends and family, supporting business and leisure tourism, international trade and global supply chains, collectively contributing $120bn each year. We have waited a long time for today and international travel being allowed to gradually resume is a significant step forward. However, it fails to go far enough, knowing that with the right precautions’ aviation can resume safely and given that economic recovery and 500,000 jobs are at stake. The absence of the US – our largest trading partner – from the ‘Green’ list is a big blow and represents an overly cautious approach from UK Government, failing to reap the benefits of the hugely successful vaccination programme on both sides of the Atlantic.
Despite remaining uncertainty on when we’ll be able to fly our full global route network, our agile and extensive planning throughout the pandemic puts us in a very good position to return our customers to the skies at scale. We always approach a task with realism and work to multiple scenarios. No matter what happens, we adjust and are prepared for anything. The strength of our cargo operations has kept global supply chains moving and provided a revenue lifeline. With 77% of our fleet currently active and half of our sectors being flown, the teams are raring to welcome customers onboard more of our flights and reactivate the network.
Once demand grows at Heathrow, I can tell you that the first passenger terminal to reopen will be our home at Terminal 3 and we look forward to being the first airline to fly from there, alongside our partners at Delta. Terminal 3 has been closed for over a year, and with that so has our much-loved Clubhouse and Revivals Lounge. These facilities are currently undergoing a thorough deep-clean and refresh, and the teams who help make them so unique – many of whom have been furloughed for over a year – are passionately impatient to get back to caring for our customers. Around the world, our international airport teams have their checklists dotted and crossed. Over the pandemic, we have closed and reopened several of our destinations, and started new ones for cargo-only operations as well as passenger flying.
To lay the foundations to add more flying and get our A330 fleet back in the air, we have been fortunate to welcome 40 of our amazing pilots back into the fold. During the remainder of this year, we hope to welcome up to 1,000 cabin crew back as well as up to 200 pilots. We were the first UK airline to introduce a holding pool for those sadly impacted by redundancy, and we hope to welcome many others back as demand for international travel returns. With the health, safety & security always remaining our number one priority, these teams will undergo a very thorough, enhanced training programme to ensure a safe return to the skies. As of today, our teams will be training in a new Crawley-based centre, provided to us in partnership with CAE. In addition, our engineers have extensive experience in maintaining and reactivating our parked aircraft, which have already moved from Spain to Manchester, so we are ready for them to join our A350s and B787s – one of the youngest, cleanest and greenest fleets in the skies.
Throughout the pandemic, we have led the way by adopting new ways of working to ensure our customers and our crew can Fly Safe and Fly Well with us. The extensive additional cleaning measures implemented early-on in the crisis – such as electrostatic disinfectant on every aircraft turn (fogging), an onsite crew testing centre (with LAMP, lateral flow and rapid PCR ability), customer health packs, and the proven effectiveness of the HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters – have all become part of the ‘new normal’ in our operations. These measures have been acknowledged as Diamond status in Health & Safety by APEX, making us the first airline in Europe to receive this highest possible standard of its kind. So rest assured, you’re in extremely safe hands when you fly with us.
For further peace of mind, and to make sure the customer journey is seamless in a post-pandemic era, a huge amount of work has been done behind the scenes. Just last week, we announced our partnership with Prenetics, offering customers reliable, competitively priced and convenient return-trip Covid-19 testing bundles, via a dedicated microsite. In parallel, our work with Digital Health Pass providers, IATA Travel Pass and TrustAssure™, is critical to a successful return to travel at scale. These innovative solutions verify proof of Covid-19 credentials within a smartphone app, demonstrating a customer’s compliance with travel requirements pre-departure and aids with a smoother transit through border checks upon arrival. It’s essential in the coming months that these types of solutions are adopted by governments and accepted at borders, based on global common standards.
It’s these frictionless journeys which we obsess over, ensuring that every last detail is carefully considered. We are renowned for cutting-edge design and the genuine passion of our teams. We will keep innovating to offer our customers personalised, healthy, more sustainable journeys, delivered with our iconic Virgin flair.
Our vision for the future remains – to be the most loved travel company. Due to the pandemic, it may take us longer to get there, but it’s still our aim and everyone here at Virgin Atlantic is working hard to make that happen. We will continue to play a significant role in the country’s response to, and recovery from, Covid-19. We will build on our heritage, as a full-service brand to capture pent up demand as confidence to travel internationally increases. We will offer industry leading flexibility when our customers need it, deliver a digital first experience across the entire customer journey, while our Virgin Atlantic teams will pamper, delight and care for our customers, ensuring they Fly Safe and Fly Well.