Chicks who travel: Q&A with Virgin Atlantic Cabin Crew member Claire
lastminute lovely Nicole caught up with Claire from the Cabin Crew team at Virgin Atlantic to get the inside word on life in the sky and what Richard Branson is really like.
Name: Claire Cousins
Role: Cabin Crew
Time in the industry: 6 years
Hometown: Norwich but I’ve lived in London since flying with Virgin.
What are some of the strangest requests you’ve ever heard from a passenger?
I don’t even know where to begin!
“Could you tell the captain to fly an alternative route as I’d like to see the New York skyline today.”
“Could you tell me if we’ve landed yet?” (Whilst mid-flight with a clear view of sky and clouds outside!).
Upon asking a passenger what meal they’d like, they replied “Do you have burger & fries?”. I’ve also been asked for lobster and steak (medium rare!).
“Could you massage my feet?”
“Could you tell the captain to stop the turbulence and/or put his foot down.”
What are the best parts of the job?
The best part for me is not having a routine (which can also be the worst at times) and getting to travel pretty much wherever I want within reason.
Vegas is great for a night out on the town. For the most delicious steak – it’s got to be Cape Town. A gorgeous beach accompanied by a dark tan – I’ll go to Miami or the Caribbean. A change of scenery and culture – Far East. And if I want to shop-until-I-drop then most definitely New York.
No doubt it’s often the people that make this job in a lot of ways?
I love that we often work with different colleagues every trip and get to meet hundreds of people of all sorts of walks of life, from families on their first holiday to Orlando with kids overwhelmed to meet Mickey Mouse, Vegas bucks parties, celebrities, those visiting long lost family members.
The most bizarre I ever had was on a flight from Nairobi to London where the chief/head of a native Kenyan tribe turned up wearing not much apart from a cloth, lots of beaded jewellery and facial paint (the detail was impressive) and spoke no English.
A lovely couple of older English ladies looked after him and let him borrow one of their jumpers which had nothing more than a giant panda on the front! He had never used a knife & fork, didn’t know what Western food was, couldn’t open any packaging. He had a long connection at Heathrow so I bagged him up some food and gave him an Upper Class sleep suit to wear and he was so overwhelmed he began to cry at everyone’s hospitality and gave me the tightest hug. That’s a rewarding day at the office!
And the not so great parts?
Most obvious is the jet lag! Just because we travel all the time makes it no easier on us. Most of our inbound flights into London are night flights so we miss out on a night’s sleep which is difficult and means that we have to sleep during the day once home, therefore wasting the day then awake most of the night.
As soon as I get my body clock back in sync a couple of days later, I’m off somewhere again so that can get tiring along with those long hours, dehydration & sleep deprivation.
Another is that it’s a 365 day a year operation, so yes I do more often than not have to work Christmas and New Year (but Virgin let’s us take a friend or family member with us on a free & confirmed ticket if working at these times so we’ve got some company from home).
Other than that, I’m often at home when my friends are working and vice-versa so it does take an effect on our social lives to a point, but good friends understand. The benefits most definitely outweigh the negatives!
Have I got any tips for surviving long haul flights?
Oh yes and the biggest is to bring a bottle of water with you onto the flight. It amazes me how many people don’t think of this simple necessity!
No matter how many glasses the cabin crew give you on a flight, there will still be moments you wake up parched and stuck in a window seat. Just buy a bottle of water after you’ve been through security and the crew can fill it up for you on the flight.
It’s all about hydration and comfort so water, face cream (Elizabeth Arden’s Eight hour cream works wonders), and a selection of snacks and a neck pillow is a must. A change of comfortable clothes is also good on a very long flight.
Window or aisle seat in economy?
That depends on whether you’re the type of person that can sleep or not.
For me, I sleep well on flights so I like the window to lean on, but if I was planning to stay awake and watch movies then I’d choose the aisle to save the embarrassment of waking others up for trips to the bathroom.
Another good option, if you can’t afford to upgrade to Premium or Upper Class, Virgin Atlantic sells extra legroom seats and exit row seats at a much smaller price that is worth it on a long flight and they’ve also just introduced a scheme called ‘Seat Plus’ where on quieter flights you can also purchase the seat next to you for a discounted price for extra comfort. I’m sure other airlines do similar deals so it’s always worth enquiring, especially if you’re in the airlines loyalty scheme as you may well just have enough points/ miles to spend on an upgrade!
Have you ever met Richard Branson?
Apologies to disappoint but unfortunately not! Most of my colleagues have but I seem to always almost cross paths with him yet never meet for some reason or another. Perhaps he’s avoiding me?! Everyone that I know that’s met him seems to rave on about how lovely he is.
One of my friends was invited to one of his many parties and she randomly had some cupcakes on her which another crew member had made. She offered him one of the cupcakes and asked him if he’d mind calling the girl that made them to say how much he’d enjoyed them. And he did! Imagine answering your phone to Sir Richard Branson telling you how he’d enjoyed your baking!
As a frequent traveller, do you have any tips on how to pack light?
Yes ladies, why do we seem to feel the need to pack everything but the kitchen sink?! I bet most items in your case aren’t really necessary. I’m not saying pack as if you’re going hiking up Mt Everest but honestly I find it a chore when I pack too much and I’m sure most destinations that you’re going to will provide or sell many of those hundreds of amenities we so desperately need. And those countries that don’t, you probably don’t need to bother getting dolled up for anyway.
First thing is buy mini everything as by the time we pack our toiletries, that’s half our baggage allowance gone, just to find upon arrival that its burst in our case and ruined your favourite dress. Secondly, with all our gadgets we own these days with multiple chargers and adapters, just get a universal plug and multiway charger that fits most appliances that charges via a USB on your laptop. Simple.
Then don’t we always find that we pack this dress in case we attend a….blah blah blah. Just pack items that can be dressed up or down using accessories therefore suitable for day to night. Also rather than packing 20 bikini’s that you won’t wear, take five of your favourites that you know you’ll wear and take a mini bottle of travel wash. Trust me it feels quite liberating packing lighter, and there’s more room in your suitcase for purchases made on holiday rather than struggling, sitting on your case hoping the zip doesn’t split and consequently breaking into a sweat at check in worrying you’ll be overweight! Mini luggage scales are great for this problem too.
When you have time off do you prefer to jet off on holidays or spend quality time at home?
This greatly depends on how much time off I have. I usually try to take big chunks of leave at a time and head to South East Asia and Australia to visit friends, but as I tend to travel on discounted standby tickets, it wouldn’t be worth the risk for a small amount of time. So if I have just a few days of leave I tend to just chill out and rest, get friends from overseas to visit me so I can show them the sights or take a little weekend break somewhere in Europe.
What destination do you most want to visit next?
Definitely South America. I want to go to Rio Carnival then head to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. I booked time off earlier this year to go, only to find that it’s closed for the month of February, so do your research!