Now Boarding: Virgin Atlantic’s Well-Groomed Cabin Crew
Virgin Atlantic’s positioning has always been pretty clear: Since it started its long-haul service from the U.K. to major metropolitan hubs in the U.S. over 25 years ago, Sir Richard Branson’s fleet of jetliners have been efficient, comfortable, and above all cool. Cue the signature red uniforms and all those hip extras, like an “Upper Class” cabin with the biggest fully flat bed of any airline’s business class service, an in-flight bar, and London terminals equipped with Bumble and Bumble salons to help you get properly coiffed before or after a flight. The company’s perfectly primped personnel also try to keep that Pan Am-era high-altitude glamour alive.
“It’s a big part of our customer service,” the company’s grooming manager, Rebecca Creer, says of having a “very well put-together” staff. And Creer would know; she literally wrote the book on touch-ups at 30,000 feet. This month sees the release of Runway, a new training manual that teaches incoming employees how to choose a hairstyle that works with their face shape, the best way to work a messy chignon à la Natalie Portman at the Oscars, and all the products they’ll need to get the look. “We always had a grooming manual, but it was a little corporate. We wanted to vamp it up so people were excited about it.” Here, as we gear up for the holiday travel season, Creer talks in-flight beauty tips, “Virgin’s next top model,” and why, as far as she’s concerned, there’s a red lipstick out there for everyone.
So what exactly does it mean to be a “grooming manager” for an airline? Was there a major for that in college?
I basically set the standard for all of the grooming for all of our uniformed staff across the globe. I’m a trained beauty therapist and I flew with Virgin Atlantic as an in-flight therapist when we still offered that service, but on our staff there’s also a fully trained hairdresser, another fully trained beauty therapist, and we have two salons at our head offices so our staff and their families can come in to have haircuts, makeup applications, and facials.
Is there a prescribed Virgin “look,” something that everyone who puts on the red uniform must comply with?
It really varies. We’re not overly strict for makeup. But we do expect the minimum, so some blusher, mascara, and of course the red lipstick. With hair, if it’s long we expect it to be up; if it’s a bob, it can’t sit any longer than the base of the collar of the uniform.
Tell me more about “the red lipstick.” Is there one bullet that you dole out to everyone who comes into your office?
That’s one of the questions we get most frequently, actually. People say, “Red lipstick doesn’t suit me,” but we always believe that there’s a red lipstick for everyone. At the moment, we’re working with Bare Minerals. For the last few years, they’ve been trying to come up with a red lipstick for our staff and it’s just come out. It’s called Strength. It last for ages, it doesn’t bleed—it’s like a gloss but it goes on like a lipstick and it’s got a beautiful wand.
How do you choose the products you recommend to new recruits and ultimately put into the training manual?
We try to pick products that people can buy that are inexpensive, that they can find across the globe, and that are also trustworthy things that work well. Regarding styling, we try to pick things that have longevity and won’t look dated if someone new starts in two years’ time. Also, about every six months, at the beginning of each season, we try to see what the new looks are, so we can say to our staff, here’s what you can do in your uniform. We also held a “Virgin’s next top model” contest to choose the people in the magazine. We had a casting and whittled it down to 22 people from 400!
Is there a certain hair style or hair tool that you’ve found is particularly popular in-flight?
We tend to go with the hair donuts a lot. When people have long hair, they’re really easy to use.
When cabin crews stock their makeup bags for a full day of flying, what products do you recommend as must-haves?
It would be your red lipstick—if you’ve got that on, it brightens everything up—and a powder to take off any shine. We recommend the Bare Minerals to both male and female staff because it has zinc oxide which helps with swelling and calms the skin down. And we always recommend bringing along a good lip balm because your lips get so dry. If you get the tins, you can use it around the cuticles, too. Otherwise, we say to carry a spare pair of tights and a nail varnish for touch-ups.
Are there restrictions on nail colors as well?
Yes. You can wear red, French manicures, or a nude color. A lot of our staff are into Shellac. It’s fantastic. There’s no chipping, so you don’t need to touch it up!
What about skincare? How do your flight attendants battle excessive dehydration?
A good moisturizer! We always tell people to exfoliate the night before they fly and bring a moisturizer with them. For customers, we recommend that they actually take their makeup off before they fly and then just apply a heavy moisturizer in-flight like MD Formulations Moisture Defense Cream. I also like Dr. Hauschka Rhythmic Night Conditioner. It’s great on night flights. They also make an Eye Solace that’s literally like eye drops, but it’s quite calming.
Do you find that all the extra work pays off? Like, is a primped and preened flight attendant a better flight attendant?
Definitely. If you look good, you feel good, and you can provide better customer service.
Photo: Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic