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Lisa Holt was placed on furlough by Virgin Atlantic in March last year, but since joining Project Wingman she’s been bringing a touch of cabin crew camaraderie to hospitals across the UK.

Project Wingman is a charity that brings together current and former airline employees to support the National Health Service’s nurses and doctors. Holt’s volunteer work there initially involved setting up makeshift lounges at hospitals to offer medical workers some space to unwind, and the chance to have a “chit chat,” but she has now trained as a Covid vaccinator at London’s ExCeL  a venue better known as the home of World Travel Market, but which now serves as the Nightingale Hospital.

“Two years ago, if you thought I’d be in this position, I would have said you’re mad,” she said. “But I’m just grateful I’m able to use the skills I’ve learned through my career at Virgin, and put them to some use.”

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The temporary side job isn’t as mad as it sounds, though. Cabin crew regularly receive medical training to deal with onboard emergencies, so well suited to this clinical environment, where Holt has been joined by furloughed staff from other airlines including British Airways, easyJet and Titan Airways.

Project Wingman has created spaces for hospital staff to unwind, including this “lounge” at Homerton Hospital, London. Picture: Project Wingman

“Part of the training was about how to inject people, but there’s also standard CPR, and learning how to administer adrenaline in case anyone goes into shock,” said Holt, who has been with Virgin Atlantic for 16 years.

At the vaccination center, she works 12-hour shifts, starting at 8am. She’s also splitting her time there with hospitals, where airline employees continue to bring some light relief.

First-Class Service

Project Wingman helps transform the staff canteens in hospitals into airport lounges, complete with relaxing background music, and even a trolley service. Volunteers also take part in baking competitions and bring cakes and sandwiches, while they are also aided by donations from companies including Ikea.

“The departments are so big, and people don’t normally interact, but because the crew are there, there’s a nice community and they love having us around because we’ve brought them altogether,” Holt said. “Crew have that ability to just get on with things, and get on with each other. I’ve gotten to know all the doctors and nurses; we’re all on a first-name basis.”

Holt has already had her first vaccination jab, so feels more reassured. But she said she was concerned when first working at the hospital, particularly at entrances to make sure everyone’s wearing PPE equipment, and being “front of house” for patients and staff.

“But now, I don’t think about it because I enjoy being there. It’s such an atmosphere, you don’t think about the bad stuff,” she added.

Despite her passion, she’s not quite ready for a career change just yet. “There’s a lot of opportunity there, but I would like to go back to my flying. I’m not ready to let go of Virgin Atlantic just yet,” she said. “I miss flying dreadfully, and starting to miss it more than ever.”

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Photo Credit: Virgin Atlantic's Lisa Holt (center) has joined other cabin crew to volunteer for UK charity Project Wingman, which supports the UK's National Health Service. Project Wingman