MY WORKING LIFE
As duty manager of Virgin Atlantic, Rishi Mehta has seen it all in check in baggages – dead cow and live goldfish, included.
As duty manager for Virgin Atlantic at Dubai International Airport, Rishi Mehta does everything to get passengers on board – from checking in to opening the aircraft doors – even arranging the catering.
What got you interested in a career with airplanes and airports?
As a child, I was always mesmerised watching airplanes take off and land at the airport not far from where I grew up. We used to go every evening and sit outside, with the airport runway in view, and watch them flying in and out for hours. Even though I had an interest in planes growing up, landing a career in aviation was actually just a coincidence. My mum spotted an advertisement for an airline in India, and mums being mums, she was convinced I was the right fit for the job… and turns out she was right.
What was your first job?
I worked in credit card sales – vastly different to the pace and environment I work in today.
What is the first thing you do at work?
Make a hot cup of black tea to shake off the cobwebs, before attending to pre-flight prep.
What is your typical day like?
I wake up every morning at around 5.30. The first thing I do is check our mobile app to see if our flight from the UK to Dubai is scheduled for an on-time arrival. Once I’m ready, suited and booted in my Vivienne Westwood-designed uniform, I leave the house, and normally arrive at the airport at around 6.45am. First thing I do is to begin the pre-flight procedures with our team. These processes allow us to establish what the specific requirements are for the flight that day, for both the arrival of the aircraft from the UK and departure of the aircraft back to London Heathrow. We always commit time in the morning to reviewing the latest feedback on our route. We have technology that allows us to gather timely feedback on our customers’ experience with us, from check-in all the way through to their arrival at their destination. Then, it’s off to the check-in desk.
What happens there?
During check-in, it’s my job to meet and greet as many customers possible, support the operations team with any system issues or situations that might arise, and be on hand in case of any issues with checking in specific customers.
Throughout the check-in process, I’m also in constant contact with our teams who are overseeing the arrival of the aircraft, cleaning the aircraft, loading in our catering and all the other teams who are involved in getting our aircraft ready to depart, to ensure that all is going smoothly. Once check-in is complete, my team and I move to the boarding gate to greet our customers, wish them a safe and happy journey to London, and, most importantly, help facilitate an on-time departure. Once our VS401 has departed, we have a post-flight debrief to discuss any learnings to improve future flight handling.
Did you have to take any particular courses?
I joined the aviation industry at a young age, so have had a lot of on-the-job training. My role is integral to ensuring the safety and security of our customers each and every day. It’s extremely important that I have consistently up-to-date training so I can perform my duties effectively to keep our customers safe. The courses I’ve completed are as long as your arm.
Tell us one misconception that people have seem to have about your job?
For a lot of people, all Virgin Atlantic staff are also pilots!
What has been the most amusing moment in your career?
The strange items people have tried to check in with Virgin Atlantic. We’ve had it all, from a bag filled with water with four live goldfish; loose car tyres; a fridge-freezer; a dead cow, wrapped in bubble wrap; the headboard of a bed. It’s fair to say no day is the same when you work in aviation.
What are the joys of your job?
It has to be the people I get to work with every day. And by that I mean my colleagues and our customers. At Virgin Atlantic, we all have a shared passion for the brand and everything it stands for. We’re instrumental in the start of people’s holidays, honeymoons or business trips to the UK and it’s not a responsibility we take lightly. When you see that passion come through in our customer comments from our surveys, it’s a really satisfying feeling. The perks: I’ve travelled the world.
Tell us a time when you went the extra mile to make a traveller happy?
Recently, we had a family of four travelling back to the UK; the mum was travelling on her Pakistani passport and the dad and two children were travelling on British passports. At check-in, the mum realised her residency visa was in her old passport, which she had left in the UK on a previous visit. Realising, that as per standard immigration rules, this would mean that mum wouldn’t be able to travel, the whole family became extremely upset as the prospect of them travelling separately. I met the family, then coordinated with the British Embassy who agreed to help facilitate the travel and we managed to board the whole family together off on their trip to the UK. The tears stopped, there were lots of hugs and we were just delighted that we could help.
My mum spotted an advertisement for an airline in India, and mums being mums, she was convinced I was the right fit for the job