Debbie Mason, 24, is a stewardess with Virgin Atlantic. She told Sue Wheeler about her life on Richard Branson’s airline and what it takes to get on in this high-flying job.
Some time ago, I was working in an office when I saw a picture of  Richard Branson and read about him starting a new airline, Virgin. I sent him a letter saying I was interested in working for him. After a successful interview, I began their four-week training course.

The personnel officers say it’s usually obvious at the start whether somebody has the right qualities or not. Personality is very important. You have to be flexible, attractive, and able to smile when duty calls even if you don’t feel like it. Obviously you don’t need airline experience, but nursing, or other work with people, is useful.

The training course is really common sense although the practical side includes things like life-boat sessions in a swimming pool, fire fighting in a smoke-filled room and learning how to deliver a baby. In reality, though, you end up dealing mainly with travel sickness.


The point is you have to be prepared for everything. I work on flights from Gatwick to New York or Miami. Only 10% of my work involves serving people. The emphasis is on safety and  that’s what we’re here for. Before every flight there’s a briefing where the crew are asked questions on first-aid and safety. Those who claim that working in such a job makes you look much older than you really are have a point. I also think this job ages you.


On flights to New York I’m on board from 2:15 in the afternoon until  nearly midnight our time. I have to drink eight pints of water per flight to prevent my body from dehydrating, but it is nearly impossible to consume that much. So my skin is probably suffering. But I think these are minor disadvantages.

When we get to New York it’s only 6:55 pm American time and we usually go out and have a party!  I fly about four or five times in 28 days, which means I work hard for two or three days, then take time off. I get at least eight days off every month, so it doesn’t feel like most other fulltime jobs. I get four weeks holiday a year, three of which have to be in the winter.


But as one of the advantages of this job is being able to fly with any airline  for 10% of the normal cost, I can afford to go to far away places in search of winter sun. It’s a sociable job on board and off. There are only 220 crew members in total so there is a close relationship among us. This means things are very friendly and I think it’s obvious to the passengers that  we’re having a good time, which helps them relax. When people leave Virgin to work for other airlines they often miss the intimacy of a small company and come back.

But although the social life with Virgin is fabulous, outside it is non-existent. Friends and family know my time off is precious, but even at home I’m sometimes on standby.  The job puts a strain on any romance. Happily, my boyfriend works for Virgin too, and we choose to work a ‘married roster’ which means we fly together all the time. It’s either this or taking the chance of bumping into each other once in a while.


A. What do the following refer to?
1. ‘that much’ (line 27):
2. ‘it’ (line 43):
B. Mark the best choice.
1. If something ‘ages’ (line 23) you, it . a) makes you look older b) takes most of your time c) affects your age
2. Dehydrate (line 26) is to . a) feel ill while flying b) lose too much water c) drink a lot of liquid
3. Line 41, ‘intimacy’ is . a) making something obvious b) working ‘or a small company c) having a close relationship
4. Bump into (line 48) means . a) work together b) meet by chance c) find romance
5. The main aim of the training course is to . a) train the personnel to fight a fire b) teach the personnel how to deal with travel sickness c) give an idea about all rescue techniques d) prepare the personnel for unexpected things
6. Which of the following is not correct? a) Debbie’s job is different from many full-time jobs. b) She can get a holiday of two weeks in the summer. c) She used to work in an office before she got her present job. d) She is attractive, flexible and can smile when necessary.
C. Mark the statements as True (T) or False (F). 1. A person can work for Virgin Atlantic only if s/he is experienced.
2. Debbie can fly cheaply on any airline

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