Changing Virgin Atlantic’s cabin crew swimming policy

Richard Branson with Virgin Atlantic cabin crew in training
Virgin Altantic
A close up of Richard Branson smiling, looking at the camera
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 5 February 2019

Creating an inclusive environment in which everyone can thrive is at the heart of who we are and everything we do at Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Holidays and across the Virgin Group. But we can all always do better and keep improving.

One of the prerequisites for Virgin Atlantic cabin crew is that they must be able to swim and be confident in the water (a common requirement across the airline industry). It’s always felt a little bit unnecessary to me - but safety first.

Richard Branson standing with cabin crew members after a safety drill. Cabin crew are wearing red jumpsuits. Everyone is facing the camera, smiling
Virgin Altantic

I hadn’t given this subject much thought until I was on a Virgin Atlantic flight recently. One of our cabin crew told me how the swimming requirement was a real problem for many people, especially for some minority groups. This is certainly the case here in the Caribbean. I have taught many people to swim personally, and as part of Unite BVI’s work in the British Virgin Islands we are looking into boosting youth swimming education programs.

In order to improve the diversity of our airline and give everybody a fair chance to work with us, we needed to look into the swimming requirement issue. I took my notebook out, wrote down the details and followed up with the team at Virgin Atlantic. Now I’m proud to say we’re changing our policy.

Richard Branson in the ocean, walking to shore, smiling
Image by Charlie Dailey

For Virgin Atlantic’s new cabin crew hires, the screening question states: ‘It is a requirement for the role that all cabin crew are able to swim a minimum distance of 25 metres and tread water (both unaided) by the start of their training course.’ Now we provide multiple accredited swimming schools where applicants can learn to swim between their interview and the beginning of their training.

For successful candidates, their name will be added to a swimming spreadsheet and we will check in with them a week before they are due to start their course. Hopefully by then they will have got the support they need and learnt to swim. Then we can go ahead and complete the hiring. It’s such an improvement on simply writing people off at the start of the process because they can’t swim.

Virgin Atlantic Airbus A330neo
Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Holidays recently launched our Be Yourself manifesto, which highlights all the ways we are working to improve Inclusion and Diversity across the businesses. The swimming policy shift is a small example, but an important one for many people. It is little changes like this that can make all the difference.