“Up In The Air”, the long-awaited three part behind the scenes documentary at Virgin Atlantic, will premier in the UK on ITV at 9pm Tuesday 7 July.
This follows recent behind the scenes series at Heathrow by both the BBC and ITV (“Airport Live” and “Britain’s Busiest Airport”) and “A Very British Airline”, a behind the scenes look at British Airways by the BBC.
The documentary will cover Virgin Atlantic’s quest to recover from four consecutive years of financial losses with the delivery of its new fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft, the airline’s 30th birthday celebrations and the recruitment of new cabin crew.
Episode 1 – Tuesday 7 July
In episode one we meet the team at the Virgin Atlantic base in Crawley, preparing for the airline’s 30th birthday event. Richard Branson, who founded the airline when he was just 34, is making a rare appearance.
Although the airline is celebrating its staying power in a notoriously fickle business, times have been hard recently, with finances up and down and often millions in the red. Whilst he hasn’t been involved in the day to day running of the airline for more than ten years, Richard Branson is still the face of the brand. He says: “Fortunately, I’ve been in the airline business long enough to know that you have tough years and good years. (We’ll still be around in 30 years) as long as we keep reinventing ourselves and keep ahead of the crowd.”
With a small fleet of 38, some of Virgin’s planes have been in service for around 20 years. The airline is hoping that its route back into profit lies in their five billion pound investment of new fuel efficient Dreamliner planes, which will eventually replace half its existing fleet of older gas guzzlers.
Certifying Engineer Paul, says: “This (plane’s) design is 1980s, over 25 years old. So the computing power in your smart phone is easily a match for this. If you can keep your aircraft age young, then you can always stay in the game.”
The first Dreamliner is on the production line and Customer Experience Design Manager Nik Lusardi is off on an unusual shopping trip to the Boeing factory in the States, where he will select passenger seats and most importantly – the swanky cabin loo. The pressure is on to get Nik’s upper class seats, which cost around £100,000 each, tweaked, tested and fitted into the Dreamliner in time.
After a recruitment freeze of two years, Virgin is finally hiring cabin crew again, and over 2000 people apply for a job in just 48 hours. Jonathan, part of the Cabin Crew Recruitment team, says: “The golden question, ‘What are we looking for?’ I guess it’s that natural enthusiasm, that natural warmth and friendliness. I’ve always said, you’re either naturally a Virgin Atlantic Crew Member or… maybe it’s not for you.”
The modest £12,500 starting salary hasn’t put off 58-year-old grandmother Katrine, who is hoping to fulfill her life long dream to become a ‘trolley dolly’. Katrine says: “It’s what I’ve been wanting to do for 25-30 years, and I feel the time is right. That’s why I haven’t gone for it before, I had young children so I couldn’t give 110% to the role at the time. It’s time for me now… touch wood!”
We follow the new recruits through training, styling and their eventful first flights to Cancun and Dubai. With delays, turbulence and passenger sickness, will their training have equipped the fledgling cabin crew with everything they need to make their first flights a success?
Episode 2 – Tuesday 14 July
In episode two, we follow the team launching the airline’s new Vivienne Westwood designed staff uniform. It’s the first new uniform in 15 years and Annie has the responsibility of fitting out thousands of staff from all over the business – some love the tight curves but not everyone is convinced by the new look.
Rebe, Mim and Helen, Virgin Atlantic’s very own style team, are putting together a glossy style bible for company staff, which lays down the law on everything from hair and make up, to how to wear the new uniform. They want airline staff to be the magazine’s models, so hopefuls fly in to Crawley from as far afield as India and San Francisco to compete in Virgin’s Top Model competition. Rodrigo, who admits to having a lot of ‘work’ done has flown in from a transatlantic shift to take part in the competition, but will his sharp suit and hand painted contact lenses be enough to land him a modeling spot?
Meanwhile the pressure is on to get Virgin’s new Dreamliner plane delivered on time from Boeing – any hold up could cost the airline millions in lost revenue. Designer Nik is doing the final touches to his cabin lighting which have cost more than the Blackpool illuminations to develop and install and we meet the team in Heathrow’s upper class lounge, whose job is to keep Virgin’s highest paying customers happy, whether whisking them through check in or directing them to the jacuzzi.
As ever, the warehouse boys back in Crawley offer their own down to earth insights into the airline’s fortunes and misfortunes and play their own part in the uniform launch.
Episode 3 – Tuesday 21 July
Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Atlantic when he was just 34, is still the face of the airline and we meet him in Florida as he shoots a range of adverts for the brand. It’s a chance for Meigan, the airline’s new Director of Communications, to meet her boss for the first time, and a surprise lies in store for her. As Virgin Atlantic turns 30 the company is thinking ahead to its future. But how will an airline based on youthful exuberance cope with middle age? Reuben is Head of Customer Experience, responsible for and everything to do with how the airline looks and feels. His big job is to oversee the company’s new TV ad campaign, the first in 2 years and he has the tricky job of combining Virgin’s cheeky and sexy past with its maturer years – without being boring. Nailing this idea in a new advert isn’t easy, and the ad shoot in Budapest has its ups and downs.
After seven years of waiting, the team at Virgin Atlantic are finally about to get their hands on their new Dreamliner plane. Designer Nik and cabin crew trainer Matt Whip are amongst the crew flying the new plane back to the UK. On the flight home Nik discovers that his new lighting has an unfortunate side effect on the crew blouses, while back at Heathrow Chief Exec Craig and his senior team find the welcoming party doesn’t run as smoothly as expected.
Once it has landed the team has only have a few weeks to get the plane ready for going into service. The Dreamliner flies a different altitude to their older planes, which makes food and drink taste different to the discerning passenger, so Reuben has the all important job of selecting the sparkling wine with the right amount of bubbles for the new altitude.
Also in the episode we also meet the team at the customer complaints centre in Swansea, who are dealing with customer’s increasingly high expectations – and the occasional caller who thinks Richard Branson might be available for a chat. Back in the warehouse in Crawley, Tom is thinking ahead to his own future, with possible retirement on the horizon. The team on the ground at Heathrow reveal some of the stranger things that customers have tried to bring onto a plane, and a Dreamliner launch in Atlanta keeps Richard Branson and the Virgin Atlantic team on their toes.
Full details are available from the ITV Press Office.
“Up In The Air” is produced for ITV by The Garden Productions.