VVIPs – what does it take to get on the list?

We love looking after all of our customers. That’s probably why we’ve just been named one of the top five airlines in the world.  But there’s a select group who need and demand extra attention. We’re talking about VIPs, or as we like to call them, our UNIQ customers. There’s no hard and fast rule as to who can become a UNIQ customer. Their ranks include royalty, industry leaders and our most frequent flyers. They might also be government ministers, politicians and ambassadors, or people from the media, film industry or art world. In other words, it can be status, spending or loyalty that gets you on the list, but it’s mostly made up of our highest value, frequently flying customers. And their needs and reasons for travel are as varied as they are. They might require anything from the simplest acknowledgement to full use of the Windsor Suite that circumvents the terminal altogether.

But how do we find out who’s travelling and what needs to be done to make sure they’re cared for at every point of their journey? We meet some of the team that makes our UNIQ programme unique.

Looking after our UNIQ customers is a big team effort by people across the world:

The managers

Maria Bedford and Louise Dixon

Maria Bedford has spent the last three years redeveloping our UNIQ programme, and Louise Dixon looks after any customers who move through our busiest VIP airport, London Heathrow. Maria’s job involves working with our sales team to identify UNIQ clients and then look after the operation that delivers on our promises to them. “Everyone has a list of things that are important to them when they fly,” says Maria. “It might be that you like to be left alone to watch a movie, or you want to avoid the waiting paparazzi. Everyone is different, and that’s the skill of our team; being flexible and creative when it comes to making those journeys both smooth and special.” It goes without saying that communication is key here, making sure everyone along the UNIQ customer’s journey is aware and prepared. Maria has worked with our IT teams to develop a bespoke system that records the preferences of our UNIQ customers and delivers it to everyone who needs it; our airports, Clubhouses and onboard managers.

Louise looks after our UNIQ operation at Heathrow. When our UNIQ customer arrives, she’ll make sure they know where to meet us and the name of their escort. “We’re really good at this because we’re small and can offer little touches and the truly personal service that other airlines can’t deliver,” says Louise. “It’s all about being reassuring and pre-booking everything, as well as knowing a few nifty shortcuts around the airport.” The team are expert at spotting paparazzi and avoiding them if that’s what the UNIQ customer wants.

The booking team

Hannah Welton and Sam Morgan

Hannah Welton and Sam Morgan are coordinators for our UNIQ programme, working at our West Sussex offices. Their job is to cross-reference all our bookings with our UNIQ database and make sure we’re aware of any VIPs flying. “It’s those special extras that make us stand out from our competitors,” says Hannah. “That, and anticipating their needs. We aim to get to them before they ask.”

UNIQ agents are typically long-serving and have huge experience dealing with high profile customers and the people who book their flights. They build strong relationships with the travel agents and assistants of the customers and are the important first point of contact for any of our UNIQ customers. As Robin from the tour operator travelunravel.com said recently: “Hannah really is the best coordinator and has been a one-stop solution for our team. We really respect Virgin Atlantic for always going out of their way to treat our customers like a family member.”

The airport escorts

Senior Agents Maggie Woods and Cassandra Forrester

Maggie Woods and Cassandra Forrester are two of our Heathrow Customer Service team who’ve received enhanced training to look after our UNIQ customers. These are the people who meet and escort our UNIQ customers through the airport, and they must have the very best people skills. They need to be discreet, able to read a customer’s mood, know how to address them (this can be a minefield) and not be intimidated by such high profile clients. According to Maggie: “The trick is to instinctively know what the UNIQ customers want. You never know what sort of day they’re having. You need to be aware they might have something on their minds and not want to converse. On the other hand, they can sometimes be extremely talkative, which demands a different set of social skills.” For Cassandra, getting to know some of our regular UNIQ customers is one of the most satisfying elements of the job “You come to understand their preferences. I even get to know some of their families, and it’s great to be able to remind them of something we were talking about the last time they flew.” For all our UNIQ escorts, the job can be demanding. Speed and efficiency are highly important, but everyone who does it loves the buzz and the opportunity to meet some really special people.

Meeting a UNIQ customer at our Upper Class Wing at Heathrow

The Cabin Crew

Ombi Farr and Rachelle Jardine

Once our UNIQ customers step onboard, the story continues. Ombi Farr, a Cabin Service Supervisor and Rachelle Jardine, a Flight Service Manager are two of our Cabin Crew who look after our UNIQ customers onboard. Although Rachelle, who has been flying with us for 20 years, confirms that everyone on the flight does, in fact, receive the same service. “I will, of course, personally say hello to any UNIQ customers onboard in the same way I do our Gold Card holders,” she says. “But I’m also aware that a first-time flyer in Economy may have saved up years to buy their holiday so they, of course, deserve equally good service. Where our UNIQs are different is that flying might be very rare private time for them. We have to respect that. Also, some of them know more about our flights and service than we do!”

The customer

An example of one of our UNIQ customers is Paulo, who spends his life flying around the world as a Queen’s Messenger. This extremely select group of people are responsible for delivering diplomatic mail to UK embassies all around the globe, which can be very demanding and at times, stressful work.

Paulo has been a loyal Virgin Atlantic customer ever since a flight to Hong Kong in 1995. Even though he normally flies Upper Class these days, it was the inflight entertainment in Economy on that first flight that really impressed him. Today, his job sometimes involves out of the ordinary requests such as visiting the ramp to supervise the cargo being loaded, along with more straightforward needs like making sure the arrival airport is expecting him. What keeps him coming back to us is the attention to detail offered by our UNIQ team. “With Virgin Atlantic, it’s like you’ve already arrived,” he says. “But most of all, I love the friendly and helpful staff who make everything look so easy when it’s not. After a busy schedule, I really look forward to getting onboard Virgin Atlantic and relaxing.”

So how do you get to become one of our elite UNIQ escorts? Simply put, anyone who works in one of our customer-facing roles could be selected for this most sought-after position. As long as you have the right personality, you’ll receive appropriate training and support, before meeting your first VIP. Of course, it goes without saying that you’ll also have first class customer engagement skills and perfect uniform standards. After all, you’ll be representing Virgin Atlantic, and who knows, you might end up in the spotlight of the world’s media.

If this sounds like something you’re interested in, keep an eye on our careers website for future opportunities in customer-facing roles.

 

About Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.
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