A former Virgin Atlantic flight attendant has accused the airline of using them as a “show pony” after they led a campaign to get the airline to ditch traditional gender-based uniforms. But Jaianni Olivier Russo spectacularly quit their dream job last week after accusing the airline of trying to “capitalise” on its new gender identity policy.
Virgin Atlantic brought in a bevy of celebrities including RuPaul’s Drag Race and Strictly Come Dancing star Michaelle Visage last week to help promote the new policy. The headline change allows employees to pick whichever uniform they feel best represents them regardless of their gender, gender identity, or gender expression.
Traditionally, Virgin Atlantic’s uniforms were divided by gender and up until recently female cabin crew had to wear a skirt. But last week, the airline said uniforms would no longer be gendered and will simply be known as the ‘burgundy’ and ‘red’ uniforms.
The burgundy uniform is made up of a three-piece suit and was traditionally gendered as male, while the red Vivienne West-designed uniform kit comprises a red pencil skirt and bright red jacket with nipped in waist.
Jaianni, who was born a male, says they spearheaded a campaign to convince Virgin Atlantic to change its gender identity policy after they first asked permission to wear elements of what was then known as the female uniform back in 2020.
At the time, Jaianni says the airline didn’t seem very receptive and told them they would have to wear the male uniform. The airline did, however, say it might consider a change at some point in the future.
Shortly afterwards, Jaianni was made redundant as a result of the pandemic but when they returned they again started campaigning for the right to wear the ‘red’ uniform and this time around managers were much more open about the idea, Jaianni claims.
“I was the person to start this huge change,” Jaianni says in a Facebook post entitled ‘Virgin Atlantic exposed’.
“I started to do different things including a red talk with the company to educate people about non-binary and who we are and why we need to be acknowledged and represented and seen,” the post continues.
After “many months” and lots of back and forth, Jaianni says the new policy was agreed and to help launch it Jaianni claims the airline told them that they would be a “major part” of a promotional campaign as they “had started this whole process off”.
But after a long day of filming, Jaianni says they had a different opinion of what Virgin Atlantic was doing.
“My problem is that I started this whole process for a company to take my idea and CAPITALISE on it when they don’t actually authentically care about their staff and our background of what non-binary means,” Jaianni says in their Facebook post.
“My problem is that without me this whole process wouldn’t of started when it did and they don’t even want to recognise me or care about me.”
When the social media campaign was finally unveiled last week, Jaianni realised they had been completely “erased” from the final commercial.
“Not one bit of me is in this commercial the one person who started this whole change and process off,” Jaianni continues.
“I have spent my entire time at Virgin Atlantic fighting for change… THIS COMPANY had just disregarded me as if I meant absolutely nothing. It’s worth mentioning that SAID COMPANY (Virgin Atlantic) didn’t even have the policy ready when they launched the commercial which is an absolute joke!”
After learning that they had been cut from the campaign, Jaianni reportedly quit the airline.
But a spokesperson for Virgin Atlantic says it was impossible to include everyone who took part in the finished campaign after capturing hours of footage that had to be condensed into a 60-second video.
“This initiative champions the individuality of all our amazing people by allowing them to truly be themselves when they come to work,” the airline told us in an emailed statement.
“With all filming projects, filming takes place over many hours and footage has to be edited down to just sixty seconds, so unfortunately not everything that is captured on the day can be shown.”
Also cut from the final commercial was Virgin Atlantic’s chief people officer, Estelle Hollingsworth who also championed the gender identity policy change.
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.