According to the NHS, we should all be aiming to walk 10,000 steps every day, with the benefits including increased stamina, excess calorie burning and an overall improvement in health. Yet the average person only manages between 3,000 and 4,000 steps daily, especially if they have a sedentary desk job or spend most of their time travelling by car or public transport.

Claire vs Carly

Here at Virgin Atlantic, we've long suspected our airport and on-board staff regularly exceed this target, so we decided to test this assumption by comparing two very different roles which both involve a lot of walking. Meet Claire, a turnaround officer at Heathrow and Carly, one of our cabin crew. Both are highly trained. Their primary role is the safety and security of our customers, our people and our aircraft. And in the course of a day, they both cover a lot of ground. We spent time with both to find out more about their jobs and discover who puts in the most footwork.

Airbus A330 winglet

Walking on air

Carly Navin spends most of her time delivering fabulous service to our customers. Mostly spent at 35,000 feet, her days can be long, attending to our passengers' needs and serving food and drinks up and down the aisles of our aircraft. In the close knit community of our cabin crew she has to work in a team that has only met the morning of the flight. It's a job that requires the very best people skills and the ability to deal with any sort of crisis from a spilt drink to a heart attack in the air.

High vis and steel toecaps

As a turnaround officer, Claire Ilett may not be so visible but her role is equally important. She monitors everything that goes on while an aircraft is on the ground and is responsible for getting our flights away on time. Claire is on stand 15 minutes before an aircraft arrives. She does a thorough inspection of the parking area to make sure it's clear of obstructions and litter and ensures all the service vehicles meeting the aircraft are present and in their allotted parking bays. Only when Claire is satisfied the aircraft is safe to park will she turn on the guidance system that the pilots follow onto stand. She's also the person you spy out the window putting the airbridge onto the aircraft. Claire then takes on one of two roles for departure. Overwing looks after everything that happens up top; the catering, cleaning, passenger boarding and the actual departure. The other part of her job is ‘below the wing’ where she supervises loading of baggage and cargo and all the activity on the ramp. She works with the captain to make sure everything is loaded in accordance with our operating procedures and the aircraft is ready and safe for its flight.  The final task before departure is to sign off the final paperwork with the captain, ensure the final aircraft door is safely closed, and remove the airbridge for departure.

In terms of workwear, there’s a noticeable difference. Carly, of course, wears the bright red Vivienne Westwood uniform with two pairs of shoes, one for onboard and one for getting to and from the aircraft, whereas Claire is all about high vis jackets and steel toecaps. In fact, part of Claire’s role is to ensure everyone in the area around an aircraft is wearing the right protective equipment. That includes our cabin crew and pilots, who also have to wear high viz while on the ground outside the aircraft.


Before we unveil the stepping stats, we caught up with them to find out a bit more about their working lives.


Tell us a bit about yourself and the route you took to your current job?

Carly: I decided I wanted to travel the world when I was around 21 years old, but like most 21 year olds, I didn’t have much money to do it! How can you travel the world, staying in luxury hotels in some of the most exciting places on this planet? By becoming cabin crew! Claire: After studying Technical Theatre at university I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My dad works at Virgin so I started what I thought would be a short term job on the check-in desks at Heathrow. Having tried a few other jobs, such as immigration officer, I returned to Virgin, and last year a turnaround officer job came up so I applied and was lucky enough to get it.


How was your training?

Carly: Training was intense. It was a six-week course at our training centre in Crawley. Every day we had an exam we had to pass as well as practical drills to learn. I live in Essex and commuted over three hours every day to Gatwick which made the training extra tiring at times, but what’s six weeks of hard work for a job of a lifetime! Claire: Training for below the wing was a two-week course followed by shadowing of about a month until I was ready for verification. Training for the above wing role was on the job. We have to pass a number of different exams, and hold three different licences in order to do the job.

What’s the best part of your role?

Carly: Without a doubt, the best bit about my job is the people you meet. From passengers to fellow crew members to other Virgin staff all over the world, I have met some amazing people. When it comes to passengers, I've met all kind of celebrities including personal icons of mine from the fitness industry, as well as some absolutely fascinating customers like a 90 year old lady who survived the holocaust. Claire: No two days are the same and it’s very satisfying when you see an aircraft depart safely, securely and on time.


Tell us about the service you deliver and what’s so special about it.

Carly: I think as crew our customer service is so special because we actually care. We want all our customers to have a happy and enjoyable flight. We put ourselves in our customer’s shoes by drawing on our own and our loved ones' experiences. From elderly passengers that remind us of our grandparents, to families with young children, pregnant mums-to-be, people celebrating special occasions and families who've saved for years for a holiday of a lifetime – if we haven’t experienced it ourselves, someone close to us has and we recognise all those feelings our customers are going through. Claire: The main service I deliver to our people and our customers is the safety of the operation on the ground. We must get that right before we do anything else. In my job I also have to deal with people who are experiencing a whole spectrum of emotions. Sometimes we have to deliver bad news or deal sympathetically with somebody who might have missed their flight.


How important is teamwork in your job?

Carly: Making relationships quickly is a very important part of the cabin crew role. In fact, your ability to do this is assessed during the whole of the interview process. There are 5,000 cabin crew and after nearly 10 years in the role I still work with people I’ve never met before on a weekly basis. I believe you have to be open and accepting to all different types of personalities but the main thing is that you’re adaptable. Claire: Everything we do is teamwork. We're either working with colleagues on the ground to make sure everything and everyone is on board at the right time, or working closely with all the other people involved in servicing an aircraft to ensure the working environment is safe and secure and all the processes are followed, or working with the pilots and cabin crew to sign off the aircraft for the flight.

Thank you to the crew of the VS7 to Los Angeles. Still looking bright 12 hours later.

Were you surprised about how far you walk in your role?

Carly: I wasn’t surprised I did as many steps as I did because as crew we're always on our feet, in fact sometimes on busy flights we eat standing up! London Heathrow is such a big airport I think I probably did half the steps before I even reached the aircraft and I think I deserve extra points for doing them in red heels! Claire: I imagine it varies from day to day, but no. We are always on the move. If you think of how long any walk to the gate is at any airport, we do that many times every day.

And the winner is….

And so to our original question. Who walks the furthest in the course of day? Carly, while walking up and down the aisles? Or Claire, rushing around the airport, meeting and departing aircraft? We tried to even out their days as best we could. A long shift for Claire, and a flight to Los Angeles for Carly. Both walked tremendous distances in the course of their day. But there can only be one winner and that is Claire who recorded 15,761 steps against Carly who did 11,108. However, although Claire walked 11.85 kilometers in her day, Carly ended up 5,437 miles away in Los Angeles. Now that’s a lot of walking.