Back in Terminal 3 – a reawakening at Heathrow
Terminal 3 a is our home at Heathrow but sadly, due to Covid-19, it's been closed for over 15 months. Today that changed when we reopened our terminal and welcomed back our first customers. It was a fantastic moment. We chat with Suzanne Roddie and Rami M El-Dahshan from our airport and clubhouse leadership team to find out more.
The problem with airports is that we tend to go to them when we have a plane to catch. That's according to the excellent book 'How to Travel' from the School of Life. And that prevents us noticing that we're passing through one of the most interesting places in the modern world. That’s more true of our home at Heathrow's Terminal 3 than most airports. Terminal 3 opened for business in 1961 (before terminal 1 for some reason) as the Oceanic Terminal. Even then it was primarily for longhaul flights. Now, on a busy day, T3 can still evoke those feelings of the golden age of travel. It's a place with soul. A tapestry of colour and culture, blended from all over the world. Fascinating people going on fantastic journeys. Yet the last 15 months, the terminal has been deserted, a consequence of the pandemic. Today we brought it back to life.
Suzanne and Rami
The pandemic and our stay at T2
As flying ground to a halt in early 2020, Heathrow closed Terminal 3. But when the going gets tough, the tough get going, and for us that meant upping sticks and moving across to the road to Terminal 2. Since then Terminal 3 has stood empty save for the occasional crew passing through the vacant departure lounge on their way to operate cargo-only flights. Truly remarkable times.
Stepping into this turmoil, Suzanne Roddie and Rami M El-Dahshan were also on the move - into new jobs. Suzanne as our vice president, airports and clubhouses and Rami as our head of Clubhouses.
Rami had previously led our sales team and Suzanne our people team. Both faced new challenges, leading our global airport and Clubhouse teams through months of uncertainty and change.
"Terminal 2 has looked after us well, and we have been grateful for the opportunity to see so many of our customers there," said Suzanne. "What it has definitely reinforced to us is how important our people are.. Even in a different terminal, we got really great feedback from our customers out of Heathrow, around the warmth of the Virgin welcome and how caring our people are, particularly with the complexity of what you need now to travel in terms of tests and different requirements from different countries".
So how has Suzanne found working at an airport for the first time? "I absolutely love it." She says. "I love being able to have a direct impact on the experience of our customers and our colleagues. . I can see why our people work in our airports and stay for a long time; it's a fantastic team and no two days are the same. More importantly, the ability we have to positively impact the customer journey is really phenomenal. Ultimately, everything we do is in service of getting our customers on the plane, getting them safely to their destination, to theirtheir friends, family or business connections,, and then getting them home safely again".
Moving back into T3 is one of the clearest signs yet that we're getting back on our feet and its been a huge task for our teams. It’s not just a case of switching on the lights, and away we go. Baggage and check-in systems need to be checked and tested. Our customers need to be told about the move. The terminal is also spotless and gleaming having had two deep cleans in the last week alone. And we've been running sessions to reacquaint our people and train them in some of our new ways of working. For some of our team, returning to Terminal 3 brings to an end over 450 days of furlough.
Chatting to Suzanne and Rami confirms one thing we've known all along. Terminal 3 is a special place, from the colourful and open area that welcomes our customers to Zone A right the way through the customer journey to our aircraft. But it's when you add our people to that environment that you elevate the whole experience to extraordinary. Regardless ofwhere you are heading, or how you arrive at Heathrow, you will receive the famous Virgin Atlantic welcome and be guided every step of the way by our fabulous Heathrow airport team.
"Terminal 3 is instantly and uniquely identifiable as us." Says Suzanne. "As people resume travelling, we'll be there to help take some of the anxiety out of that journey, getting them safely checked in and through to the next stage of their journey. This is our natural environment, our home turf, where we know our customers can have the experience we want them to have. And then, of course, for our Upper Class passengers we've got the unique selling points of the Upper Class Wing, the Clubhouse and Revivals when they land. It’s great to be able to open all of those on day one".
For Rami, walking back into the Heathrow Clubhouse to meet his team for the first time was an emotional moment. His whole team had been furloughed for 15 months, and were back together for their first day of training ahead of the Clubhouse reopening. "For me it felt, like the first day back at school," said Rami. "Our people are the elite athletes of the customer service world. After all that time away from their profession they needed time to get together again, get back to the top of their game and learn our new ways of doing things ahead of today's grand opening. They're an amazing team, and I'm proud to be part of it."
In a bid to further increase flexibility, our customers now have multiple choices about how they order their food and drinks. "The most notable change to the Clubhouse will be our new web-based ordering system." Says Rami. “We know that our customers love chatting with our people and we'll never move away from that, but this is a more blended approach to service. So, if you want someone to talk you through the menu, of course you can still do that. But if you just want a quick coffee before you leave the Clubhouse or a bottle of water to take with you, you can order it via the app. We turned the former spa into a wellness retreat where customers have a quiet area where they can relax. We're also have a Peloton zone for our customers , which is really exciting. There are also fewer seats with more space between them. So yes, we've made changes, but we've kept it consistent with how we were pre COVID, and that includes all our customers favourite food and drinks choices. It's still all about making our customers feel like they've come back to an exclusive club and nothing like an airport lounge. That's always been the philosophy, and we're still really proud of our Heathrow Clubhouse and how it achieves that".
Well, it's been a while, hasn't it? Of course, there are changes. We want you to Fly Safe, Fly well. You still need to wear masks throughout the journey There are enhanced thorough cleaning practices at check-in, security, the departure lounge and boarding gates using a high-grade disinfectant.
But some things never change, and Suzanne, Rami and their teams are ready and eager to welcome you back to the wonderful Terminal 3 and give you the very best beginning and end to your travels.
Fly safe, fly well
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