Your forever wing-girl, joins Project Wingman!
It would be fair to say, that on the date of March 23rd 2020, when lock-down was announced in the UK due to the global and ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, lives were most certainly going to be dramatically changed. That included the lives of cabin crew, aviation ground teams, engineers, and pilots (among many other aviation workers) across the country.
With some airlines having to ground up to 100% of their fleet, and other airlines operating purely repatriation, cargo, or one of the very few limited passenger flights out of a handful of UK airports, this suddenly left a huge proportion of the industry grounded, redundant, or furloughed. It was also clear, that with the increased stress and pressure placed upon NHS staff and resources, extra support was going to need to be in place to ensure our key workers, could work safely and healthily during this unprecedented time.
Enter Project Wingman!
Project Wingman, now a registered charity, was set up to give the NHS workers, a 'first-class' lounge experience, in return for all of their hard work ensuring that patients are receiving first-class treatment. Airline workers from 16 airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, Easyjet, Jet2, Norwegian, and Loganair (among many more!) are coming together to prove we truly are 'united by wings', by using our skills to help and improve the wellbeing of staff within the NHS, during this difficult time.
So what skills are these, you might be wondering? What could serving the perfect cup of tea at 40,000 feet have anything to do with helping the NHS?
Crew (cabin and pilots) are all trained in human factors (or in some airlines it is known as CRM- crew resource management), which essentially educates us on the benefits of good communication between ourselves whilst operating. This includes pilots communicating with pilots clearly and efficiently, crew communicating with other crew (even if that's just for asking for more hot water from the galley whilst offering tea and coffee), and also between pilots and crew. Historically, there has sadly been some cases in which thanks to little or no human factors training, the safety of the aircraft has been compromised due to lack of communication between individuals on the aircraft, and as such this training is now mandatory. In our jobs it is imperative that trust between each other is built quickly, and that we learn how to respond appropriately and control our reactions in stressful situations. These stressful situations could be anything from having to deal with a disruptive passenger, to managing responses in an emergency. Within this training, we are encouraged to be strong listeners, clear communicators and have an empathetic ear to support each other through our working lives. Add this to the reality that we too, understand what working within a disciplined and regulated profession is like, and are used to smiling our way through the day, no matter the situation that presents in front of us, and you've got a ready made skill-set here, waiting to be used in times of crisis.
The 'first-class' lounges, now in over 45 hospitals up and down the UK, ensure that NHS workers have a place where they can relax, de-stress and un-wind, before, during, or after a shift. Crew are on hand to 'board' them into our lounges, provide complimentary refreshments (all of which have been donated by communities/businesses), and have a chat to. From my experience, although some staff have wanted to talk about their lives at the hospital, and the issues they are facing on the wards, they have been more inclined to want to discuss how COVID-19 has been challenging them in their own personal lives, so to be able to provide a listening ear here and allow time and space for them to offload is so rewarding.
On the other hand, a lot of the staff have enjoyed asking us about our lives as crew, and for stories of our favourite flights, recommended destinations, and just in general learning about our roles in the sky. Particularly in relation to our Av-Med training and experiences! I think for them, it's potentially provided some escapism from the reality of the situation at hand... I mean let's face it, who better to provide this than the people who spend half the year with their head in the clouds!
So what has my experience been like volunteering for Project Wingman? In short, It has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. I knew at the beginning of my time on furlough, that I wanted to be able to help out somehow in this pandemic. Crew in general, aren't good at sitting back and letting things just happen. We want to be proactive, and help! However I was very adamant that I wanted to look for the right project to be involved with, and when I saw a fellow colleague of mine volunteering with this at another hospital, I knew that Project Wingman was what I wanted to do. It allowed me to help out our frontline staff, alongside fellow crew, and use skills I knew I was sure I had and were useful.
On day 1, I remember arriving at the car park to the hospital, feeling a little bit nervous; after all this was an alien environment to me having been fortunate enough to spend very little time in hospitals in my life. Despite this, the minute I saw other crew and pilots sat in their cars waiting to go in, I felt immediately at ease. These were my team-mates, people who understood me. This was going to be exactly like any other normal day at work, helping people, providing comfort, alongside an amazing team.... the only difference being with our feet firmly planted on the ground instead of 40,000 feet in the air!
From the minute we opened the door to our lounge, we've had the best time. Meeting the NHS staff and learning about the amazing work they've been doing on the front-lines of tackling this virus has been inspiring, and they truly deserve everything we've been able to do for them and more. We now have 'regular' visitors, who I am always pleased to see, but even so, we're still getting new staff use the lounge on a daily basis, and it's always great to introduce them to the 'first-class' treatment they deserve.
I need to mention the generosity of shops, organisations and individuals within the community who have every day ensured we have tea, coffee, soft drinks, cakes, savoury food, newspapers and much more to offer the staff. Without this incredible generosity, we would not be able to offer the same standard of experience we have been able to and I'm truly humbled by every single person who has donated. If anything positive has come out of this, it's that the human spirit is truly alive, even in the darkest of days.
We've also been branching out now the lounge has settled into a comfortable rhythm. We've been playing games, having 'mocktail' afternoons, and encouraging staff to talk to us about where they'd like their future travels to take them. It's been a chance to use our initiative and creativity as crew to create new ways of making a relaxed, and fun environment to take a break in.
The other unexpected benefit I've had from this experience, has been making new friends from other airlines. I never expected to gain a whole new social network of people from Project Wingman, but this is exactly what I've been so lucky to find. Unbelievably, we all live so closely to each other, and whilst we work for different airlines, we are all united in our love and passion for aviation, and during what has been a challenging time for us as crew, with much uncertainty in the aviation industry as to what life will look like for us post COVID-19, I have found a whole new support network to take forward into the future.
A big thankyou to Project Wingman for giving me a chance to be involved with this amazing opportunity, to all the crew I've had the pleasure to work alongside, and to all the NHS staff working so hard to keep the country healthy. Thankyou for everything you do, and we hope if you've had the opportunity to use one of our lounges, you've enjoyed our little way of saying 'thankyou'