An Australian employment tribunal has ruled that a Virgin Australia flight attendant who was sacked for napping and watching a movie during a flight she was working on must be given her job back after deciding that dismissing her was “harsh, unjust and unreasonable”.
DeVania Blackburn was a veteran flight attendant who had worked for Virgin Australia for 14 years when she was dumped by the airline in July 2021 after an investigation into a string of allegations made against the long-serving crew member.
Amongst the allegations made against Blackburn was that she stole four packs of food which were meant to be given out on flights, turned up late for work and breached Virgin Australia’s strict uniform standards by failing to wear makeup or stockings.
All of the allegations spanned a one-month period in early 2021 after Blackburn had just returned to work following a lengthy pandemic absence and sick leave.
On her return to work, on 31st January 2021, Blackburn was required to work as a ‘supernumerary’ crew member on a flight to observe other crew members and refamiliarize herself with the aircraft. Supernumerary crew don’t form part of the legally required minimum crew and aren’t responsible for an assigned door.
During the flight, other flight attendants reported Blackburn for sitting at a window seat in the last row of seats and watching a movie on her iPad. She also allegedly fell asleep and refused to return to a crew seat before the aircraft landed.
Blackburn explained away her attitude on the flight, saying that after 14 years as a flight attendant she was confident that she still had a “robust knowledge” of the aircraft, as well as the airline’s policies and procedures, despite her extended break from work.
She did, however, deny watching a movie and dismissed allegations that she had misappropriated onboard food by sneaking it into her crew bag.
Blackburn was suspended in March 2021 and fired after a short investigation. She then filed a claim with the Fair Work Commission, accusing Virgin Australia of unfair dismissal on the grounds that she hadn’t been afforded procedural fairness.
In a witness statement, Blackburn accused the airline of seeking to substantiate the allegation against her without first asking her direct questions about the claims.
In finding that Blackburn had misappropriated food, the airline concluded that Blackburn couldn’t have eaten so many snacks on the flight but she told the commission “not once have I been asked how many did I eat”.
“After flight duty not once did I get asked if I had any items from onboard, nor did I get asked what was in my crew bag. I have openly advised my actions and why. Yet assumptions were made creating these allegations,” Blackburn said.
She also refuted the allegations that she failed to meet Virgin Australia’s grooming standards.
“I had my grooming standards exceeded with my nails just done professionally SNS red, my make-up included nude tones and my staple process being bronzer, mascara and lip gloss,” her statement continued. “My hair had just been straightened and in an up style meeting LookBook standards.”
The tribunal found her dismissal was “harsh, unjust and unreasonable” but admitted that Blackburn’s contributed to her situation because she “belligerently” relied on her own experience rather than complying with procedures and policies.
Blackburn will be allowed to return to work in August 2022, although the commission declined to order Virgin Australia to pay her missed wages during the time she was off work.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.