To tackle the coronavirus pandemic, the NHS has had to mobilise like never before. That includes recalling retired nurses and doctors, and turning the giant ExCeL conference centre in East London into a 500-bed hospital. As the situation evolves, the NHS is going to need all the help it can get.

With travel restrictions grounding our aircraft it soon became apparent that there was a massive opportunity for our cabin crew and their trainers to join the effort. The call went out from the NHS nationwide for volunteers, and they’ve chosen independently to sign up in their droves.

We choose our cabin crew for their calm and resilient nature. We also choose those who clearly love people, are empathetic and have bundles of energy. We then give them some extensive and industry-leading medical training. This enables them to deal with the countless types of medical situations they might be faced with onboard, while far from the nearest medical help. In this blog post about our human factors training we discovered our flying teams and ambulance drivers have a lot in common. Both have safety-critical roles that rely on teamwork. Both need to make quick decisions, often working in cramped conditions. Fatigue and stress can play a big part in both jobs and they need to be managed effectively. And there’s an incredible dedication to the wellbeing of their colleagues, as well as their customers or patients.

Linda Porter, our senior manager, operations medicine, explains:

“Our crew are incredible – they deal with a spectrum of in-flight medical events every day, ranging from nosebleeds and faints to childbirth and sudden cardiac arrest. Out of the six million customers we fly around the world every year, 4,000 will become unwell in-flight, requiring our crew’s immediate care and intervention. Out of these 4,000, some 400 will be full-blown medical emergencies which on the ground would require an ambulance. Our crew are trained to use equipment such as telemedicine, defibrillators and advanced airways, and also to lead medical emergencies with the assertiveness required of a medical professional in an emergency department. We have many customers whose lives have been literally saved thanks to our cabin crew and their excellent training. Our crew are world-class, and I am humbled and inspired by them daily.”

Those of our crew who independently choose to volunteer will perform clinical support roles, under the close instruction of nurses and senior clinicians on the wards at the NHS Nightingale Hospitals across the country. These are being built in London, Birmingham and Manchester, and other sites are being considered. Support workers will change beds, tend to patients and assist doctors and nurses working on the wards. Staff and volunteers working at the new hospitals will also be offered free accommodation. Those staying in the hotels will have meals provided.

Our chief customer officer Corneel Koster said:

“We are very grateful to the NHS for everything they are doing in extremely challenging circumstances and we’re committed to doing all we can to support the national effort against the rapid acceleration of Covid-19.


“We are very proud of our highly skilled people at Virgin Atlantic and since the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme was announced, we have been inundated with our employees looking to help other organisations at this time of crisis. The NHS approached us with this unique opportunity as they recognise the value and experience our medically trained cabin crew and trainers will bring to the incredible Nightingale Hospital initiative.


“In addition, our cargo business is very busy with extra flights, keeping global supply chains running and transporting essential medical supplies into the UK at this time.”


So you can see why we’re incredibly proud that our brilliant people, and the training we provide, are going to be helping where it’s needed the most. Our recruitment team continues to work with the NHS and other organisations to help our people and the wider effort to get through this crisis.