Wednesday, 18 April 2012

VS27 Special Blog

Yesterday, we went to Gatwick and spent the whole day offering help,  chatting and getting the stories first hand from those that were flying out on VS127 - which was a special flight for the passengers evacuated the day before on VS27.  It was fascinating talking to people first hand that had been on the evacuated flight, as their stories were very different to what some of the media had portrayed.  The majority of people were saying that Virgin could not have done enough to help them.
This is what Virgin had released:

"Virgin Atlantic confirms that flight VS27 flying from Gatwick to Orlando on Monday 16th April returned to Gatwick following a technical incident and was evacuated in line with emergency procedures.  Our number one priority in this incident is the welfare of our passengers. We have been working around the clock to assist in every way that we can including accompanying customers to hospital, arranging care and overnight accommodation. We understand that 14 passengers attended hospital last night for a variety of injuries and as of this morning, three have stayed overnight for treatment on limb injuries. We will do everything we can to meet their needs and support them at this time.
We have added an additional flight to Orlando today to ensure that as many of those that want to continue their travel plans can do so. For those that would prefer not to travel today, we have helped with their transport home and the returning of their luggage.  We are working closely with the authorities to establish the cause of the incident and will be fully assisting the relevant parties with the investigation. We would like to apologise to all of those customers that were affected by what is a very rare incident.  The flight was operated by an Airbus A330-300 carrying 304 passengers."
Steve Ridgway, CEO, Virgin Atlantic video clip
It was amazing to see the mood of those about to fly. The vast majority were in very good form. Lots of humour and positivity and NOTHING like some press have reported either...

What is our view @ Flying Without Fear?

The pilots did exactly what they are trained to do. They had an alert in the FlightDeck about possible smoke.  The crew checked the cabin and there were no fumes or smoke. So, as always safety first, they followed procedure.   They briefed the cabin crew, alerted the airport and made an emergency landing. The cabin crew were told to evacuate using the slides.  The cabin crew did what they are told to do and got the passengers off the aircraft using the available slides.  There were some 'slide related' injuries.  These are the facts as known. Until the investigation is complete, nothing else is known.  Let us examine this. 
  1. The pilots did what they are trained to do. They would not have known (nor the cabin crew) whether they had 4 days to evacuate the aircraft or 4 minutes!  The training is to get on the ground as soon as possible, evacuate and get away from the aircraft as soon as possible just in case.  As it turned out the aircraft appeared to be fine.  Question. What would you have preferred if you were onboard?  A decisive crew that erred on the side of caution and got you all off straight away or; an indecisive crew that weren't sure what to do so landed and then slowly brought the stairs up to the aircraft to gently get off?  If the Captain had not ordered the doors to be opened and slides activated, it would most likely to have had a tiny amount of coverage. The pilot team think safety first always, so if there was even a slight chance of a risk to safety, they would decide to get straight off the aircraft via the slides.  We find that reassuring.  This would not have been a decision taken lightly.  They would have to leap down the slides as well. Plus, safety aside, can you imagine the millions of pounds that probably cost as a result of it.  But, as we said, safety first always.
  2. The crew are trained to get passengers off an aircraft every year. They are taught to be able to evacuate the whole aircraft of passengers in 90 seconds with only half the doors working.  They are taught to shout positive commands non stop from the moment the Captain says 'evacuate.'  'Open your seatbelts and get out.'  'Come this way.'  'Leave everything behind.' These are the sort of commands that crew are trained in.  99.9% of crew will never use this training ever. But, it still gets drilled into all members of crew and rightly so. The crew are  trained to shout, shout and shout more. Also, they are trained in passenger psychology during an emergency.  This has come from research over the aviation history around what happens in an emergency.  Some passengers will experience 'negative panic' which means they will freeze. Others will experience 'positive panic' and will move and be motivated to get off/help others etc.  The crew are taught that if people aren't moving, you keep shouting.  If they freeze at the top of the slide, you nudge them down it.  This is all part of the training.  Question.  Would you prefer the cabin crew to be strong, assertive and know what they are doing or to dither?  Cabin crew are primarily there for safety. The service stuff is what differentiates the different airlines. The safety training is pretty much the same for every airline.  Imagine if ten minutes earlier, the cabin crew had been serving you. Smiling and offering help. Then suddenly, the diminutive crew member in front of you is shouting and pushing you along - that would be a shock wouldn't it?  BUT, that is what they are trained to do. 
  3. We spoke to many of the passengers yesterday. Many were upset at the negative way some of the media had reported the incident. They had nothing but praise for the staff onboard and at the airport. At the time of interview, some of the people were shocked at the unexpected evacuation. This has nothing to do with having a fear of flying. We think that this is NORMAL reaction that any human might have if something unexpected happened.  It is not inevitable that these 304 passengers will become scared of flying. It is what happens next for them that matters.  We reminded a lot of people yesterday that it was okay to be shaken up by what had happened. It was okay to feel a bit apprehensive.  And, we also reminded them that if they chose not to fly again soon, then it would become harder to face it another time.
  4. Some people were shocked that the crew had shouted at them and nudged them down the slides until we explained point 2 above.  As soon as we heard the news on the radio and that there had been injuries we knew that they would be 'slide-related.'   Question. When are we trained as passengers for an emergency?  Never. A small safety demonstration at the beginning of the flight and the rest of the training sits with the crew. They are trained and tested on it all the time. They even practise jumping down slides.  Even when practising, it is possible to injure oneself - and these are youngish, fit crew that know they are about to jump down a slide.  So, it is unfortunate but inevitable that some people may get injured slightly.  Surely, it is better to be away from any potential danger in any situation?
  5. We don't know yet what happened.  As with anything aviation related, there will be a full investigation and the findings will be reported. Anything that needs to change in the aircraft, will be changed on all aircraft. Anything that needs to change in terms of pilot or crew procedures, will be changed - and not just Virgin.  All airlines will learn. Question.  When an accident occurs on a motorway, what happens? It is investigated fully by the emergency services. The findings are then sent where?  Car companies test their cars for safety and make improvements all the time. If road signs or road conditions are found wanting, the local councils will probably make improvements.  What about the lessons that are learned from the bad driving?  Do you all get a brief about what happened so you can change your driving habits? Will you be tested every year on everything single little and big thing that could go wrong whilst you are driving?  No, of course not. That is the difference with aviation - nothing is left to chance. They will be tested every year and if any new learning comes out of this incident, they will be re-trained and tested on that too. 
  6. Some of the passengers reported the following experiences which were 'true' for them based on what they experienced. This is not to knock what was said or experienced. We were not there so we cannot say what it 'felt' like during the incident. Examples of two comments: 1 'I knew as soon as we took off that there was something wrong as the flight was wobbly and there was turbulence.' 2 'I knew as soon as we landed and I saw all the police, it was probably a bomb.' These are all perceptions. 1 If you are a passenger in the back of an aircraft, it is hard to know what the aircraft is actually doing because you can't see out the front. All aircraft wobble a bit when they go through the clouds. All aircraft can feel like that they sink a little about 1-2 minutes after take off. This is due to the restriction at all airports at 1,500 feet. Engines are made quieter and flaps on the wings are altered. This is a combination of whirring noises, engines going quieter, and the pitch of aircraft changing a couple of degrees. Plus, they could be turning due to air traffic control directions.  If you are not a pilot or crew, you will not know what is going on. Your stomach may well feel movement and the balance organs in your ears are desperately scanning for extra information (as sight forward is limited)   So, what you experience isn't necessarily what is happening.  2 If there is an emergency or even an incident, the airport services will scramble everyone there. There will be Police, fire crews, medics, ground staff etc etc. This is because, they are taught to respond fully to an incident. They won't know at that point how many are needed or what specialisms - so they all come.  So, seeing lots of Police does not mean that anything sinister has happened. It is just about safety first as with anything to do with aviation.  It may interest to you, that the emergency services often follow aircraft in as that is how they get their practice.
This blog was intended to help those that have been writing to us asking, 'What's going on?!'  It was meant with good intentions and not to offend or disturb anyone.   The facts are that an aircraft bound for Orlando returned to Gatwick a short while after take off and upon landing the slides were activated. The reason why will be investigated and the aviation industry will learn from it.  We know about all safety measures and procedures in place. There is no doubt, the investigation will bring out advice to Virgin and other airlines. BUT, they followed procedure.

Please remember that everyone onboard this aircraft is safe.   It was so heartwarming for us to accompany the ground staff, safety staff and cabin crew yesterday and see all those passengers resuming their holiday to Orlando. 
Take care,
Paul & Richard

P.S. We spoke to some of the people that we knew about and had been interviewed by the media. Their feelings about the incident were very different to their immediate shocked responses straight after being evacuated.


  1. Hi Guys
    As an ex Fear of Flying course member I will be flying on the Virgin Airbus to Orlando in September. This unfortunate event has not affected my confidence in flying at all. Well done to all the crew & ground staff.

  2. Superb account, explanation and ressurance. Very well written.

  3. Great post. Hopefully this incident will encourage passengers to pay much more attention to the pre-flight safety briefing instead of the newspaper, book or magazine in front of them.

  4. Ladies and Gentlemen , this is what cabin crew and flight crew are trained for , to evacute an aircraft in the highly unlikely event of an emergency , congratulations to all involved , I have nothing but praise for all of virgins VS27 crew .

  5. Fantastic article. Well done

  6. Top post.... Send it to the media!!!

  7. As ex Virgin crew I am so proud of all the crew on the VS27. Very well written article too.

  8. Thank you for giving us a clear, honest account of the incident, and a little insight into the crew & emergency services training. Would be great if one of the national newspapers would print your account.

  9. I think you should send this link to the editor of the Daily Mail and The Sun, both of whom reported a major fire being fought by firefighters with high pressure hoses. Lies, damn lies and great British journalism. One for Levenson, methinks! Well done to the crew, and an excellent Blog.

  10. Sharon Wellings20 April 2012 at 14:03

    I was on this flight, the actions of the crew were exemplary, as regards the shouting, it was quite obvious to me why they were doing it, and I thought it proved to be very effective, I was aware that the plane may not have jettisoned its fuel, in which case in the event of a fire we were in fact in a very serious position indeed, and if the shoutiing encouraged people to move a bit faster then all the better. I must say evryone treated us with a great deal of kindness, they couldn't have been more helpful and understanding, moreover I was most impressed at how well the children on board the flight reacted, they were so well behaved and took it all in their stride!
    This incident hasn't put me off flying at all, in fact Virgin have demonstrated most clearly how safety first is their priority, and that is exactly what I want from an airline, in fact it is true to say that I would now prefer to fly Virgin over any other airline, as i am confident that my safety comes before their profits, well done Virgin !
    Sharon Wellings (actually the ride down the slide was quite fun as one elderly gent with walking stick confided to me)

  11. So pleased that a more balanced and mature version of events has now been aired on here. I, like so many others watched in disbelief at the over-exaggerated and hysterical news stories and the account of events repeated over and over again by one particular self promoting male passenger (who shall remain nameless!). Well done for explaining to the non-initiated just how thoroughly complete and professional the training and testing is that the Virgin cabin and flight crew have to go through before being allowed to fly, one point also missed is that the world class Virgin training facility at the Base near Gatwick is also utilized by other airlines from around the world, so Virgin must be doing something right, yes?

  12. This is such a wonderfully written surely needs to be published in the press.

  13. Congratulations on an excellent report. First rate!

    Bravo and Cheers,

    Joel Siegfried
    National Desk - Airlines/Airport Examiner
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  14. Excellent report and I agree it should be sent to the press. People are too quick to jump in with their 'opinions' before they bother to find the true facts. Negative press always sells more papers so they forget to bother with the truth.

    However I am still terrified of flying and will be spending a tense 9 hours in the air next week flying Virgin to Orlando!!

  15. no-one would react if they were whispered at, a potential emergency calls for assertive guidance.let's not forget that the pilot and crew also want to avoid being injured or worse. They probably wouldn't choose to misguide others or panic others,as they would also suffer if evacuation went wrong.

  16. Really excellent article - very clearly explained - should definitely be published in the media.

  17. I was on this plane and can't praise VA enough for thier handling of this flight. In the evacuation, the crew were clear and efficient in thier task, I was in the first off at our exit, little panic from passenges and outright professionalism from staff. The only things to be heard were, "Get off the plane" "GO" and "Run away from the Plane". This was all shouted and effective. 10/10 for cabin crew.

    By the time we reached the various muster points the emotion began to overwhelm adrenalin and passengers rallied round oneanother comforting those separated from loved ones. Made me proud to be English. From the side of the runway we are put onto shuttle busses and escorted to a gate assessed and administered by VA ground crew, medical and police.

    We were given food, drink, blankets and emotional support where suitable, VA Ground staff were exceptional in there manner and informative. The police were efficient and often lightened the mood with a touch of humour where appropriate. Two of our party of ten were seen by medical staff quickly, one of whom was taken to Brighton hospital as a precaution.

    Our details taken and our capacity for Boots sandwiches, teas and coffees exhausted we were escorted to the Gatwick Hilton. Greeted by yet more VA staff we had showers in excellent rooms, buffet for dinner.

    Any travel needs were met, one of my party had torn leggins to the groin and a Virgin employee was soon back from tesco with a replacement pair for the night. All similar requests were seemingly met, even a ridiculous one whereby a passenger was bought a nail file?! Some people.

    By 10pm our cabin baggage was back at the hotel, meticulously sorted seat by seat, and with the exception of a few magazines we now had our belongings passports and cash back. Off to the bar!...

    On Tuesday morning we ate a delicious brekkie in the Hilton, quite a task for the hotel staff I'm sure with an extra 300 mouths to feed at short notice.

    Checking in on VS127 we made our way to departures with ample vouchers for food and drink, a disproportionate amount spent on the latter in an exercise of nerve calming :)

    Aboard VS127, crew were again a delight to deal with, and an abundance of spare seats on our bigger plane accommodated some rather sprawled out postures!

    The Pilot was again a pleasure, spending time to speak to every group of passengers in some detail, both about the previous days events and many more humorous and trivial matters.

    We then spent 9 wonderful days in and around Orlando, all a little disappointed at the late and traumatic start to the holiday but nevertheless appreciative of all the efforts of the crew, ground crew, police, fire, medical, airport staff and the generous compensation package that has been offered by Virgin.

    Surely the rest of our travels would be 'plane' sailing?!

    Checking in on our return flight VS28 at 17.55 27/04/12 our palms were again crossed with enough refreshment vouchers to satisfy a small army, virgin again going beyond the call of duty.

    Unfortunately at about 0700 GMT my somewhat now nervous partner(she wasn't before!) noticed a passenger jet alongside no more than half a mile away, and soon realised the skymap was showing a diversion to Shannon airport and soon after Cardiff, the pilot came on to explain our fuel requirements and the proposed diversion. Not again we thought! A few tears were shed. Comforting her we were soon departing Cardiff for a short stint to LGW. The cabin crew team leader came over the tannoy on our approach

    "Cabin Crew take seats for landing at Gatwick....." "woohoo!" *chuckles all-round*

    These comments of praise were echoed by all but a very few, unfortunately the few whom attracted the attention of the media.

    Will we fly Virgin Atlantic again? Even after our free flights?


    Tom Jackson, Bedfordshire.

  18. I was on that flight to Orlando also and couldn't agree more with the comments made here by other passengers. The after care of the Virgin crew was spectacular and still continues!
    Having a fear of flying, which was seeming to worsen as I get older- nausea, palpitations, sweaty palms, the lot, seems to have disappeared since the incident. My trip Orlando and back which normally Would have seen me suffering all the mentioned symptoms the whole 8 hours was a breeze, enjoyable actually!
    I know now that should there be any type of emergency, the pilots and crew are perfectly capable of making the right decisions to ensure our safety.
    Ironic really that an emergency should help me conquer my fear!
    Thanks again Virgin for looking after us during this ordeal, from now on I will actually sit back, relax and enjoy the flight!

    Rosie Taylor, Woking

  19. I am due to fly on VS27 in June 2013 going to Orlando. Does anyone know if the plane was replaced is this still the same plane?

    Karl, Belfast

  20. Hello Karl,

    The aircraft all change around and fly different routes. The 'problem' has been rectified on that aircraft and any similar aircraft. Hope that reassures you. Best wishes Paul

  21. This is really such a great and awesome post .

  22. Great post. Hopefully this incident will encourage passengers to pay much more attention to the pre-flight safety briefing instead of the newspaper, book or magazine in front of them.