Virgin Atlantic Faces Tribunal Over Claims of Unfair Dismissal of Older Cabin Crew

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Hundreds of long-serving Virgin Atlantic cabin crew members are suing the airline, alleging unfair dismissal as part of Covid-related redundancies targeting older staff.

The London employment tribunal will start examining over 200 cases next month, where former crew will argue that Sir Richard Branson’s airline unfairly made them redundant while retaining newer, cheaper hires.

Virgin Atlantic grounded most of its fleet from March 2020, when the Covid pandemic prompted lockdowns and global travel restrictions. The airline swiftly cut 3,000 jobs, eventually reducing its 10,000-strong workforce by over 40%, and established a “holding pool” for potentially rehiring redundant staff once flights resumed.

However, one claim alleges that Virgin retained 350 new cabin crew through the pool, some with only a week’s training, while onboard managers, averaging 45 years of age with 20 years’ experience, were made redundant.

Susan Mcentegart, a 53-year-old onboard manager with 23 years at Virgin, is part of a group of 51 claimants represented by a Luton-based law firm. She expressed shock at not being included in the holding pool, noting that some retained individuals had not completed their training.

“It was a devastating loss … It felt like my identity was gone, and I was in a dark place with how they went about it,” Mcentegart said. “I’d felt it was an honour to work for Virgin, and I couldn’t believe they’d done what they’d done.”

An additional 150 former staff members are pursuing claims through the Cabin Crew Union, and 11 are represented elsewhere.

A spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic responded: “Following the severe impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the aviation industry, Virgin Atlantic had to make very difficult decisions. Sadly, this included reducing the number of people employed across the business by 45%.

“Our people are incredibly important to us, from those who have been with us since 1984 to our newest recruits. Throughout the redundancy process, we were committed to ensuring all our people were treated fairly and compassionately.

“To allow as many of our people to return as soon as demand allowed, we introduced a holding pool, which meant that more than 1,000 of our cabin crew returned at their previous level of seniority.

“Where people had to unfortunately leave us, it was for unbiased, objective, and lawful reasons, after full consultation with our recognised unions, elected colleague representatives, and clear and open continued communication.”

Before Branson and other shareholders secured a £1.2 billion rescue plan in late 2020, Virgin Atlantic had warned of potential collapse. In a 2022 interview with the Guardian, CEO Shai Weiss stated that the company needed to make cuts before the pandemic after years of marginal profits, using the crisis as an opportunity to become more focused and efficient.