First Class Service For Our NHS Heroes – Project Wingman

There’s no denying that times are tough for anyone working in the aviation industry right now. Furloughed, grounded and with the threat of redundancy hanging over our heads, these are unprecedented times. 

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But our woes pale in comparison to what our incredible NHS staff have had to deal with over these last few months. They are heroes, each and every one!

And so to reward our amazing NHS workers over 5,000 airline crew volunteers from various UK airlines have been giving first class service at the fabulous Project Wingman First Class Lounges. 

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Set up by two pilots, Captain Emma Henderson (easyJet), Captain David Fielding (British Airways), and clinical psychologist Professor Rob Bor, these ‘First Class’ lounges have been opening in hospitals across the UK and has now spread its wings across the Atlantic and is making waves in America. 

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The idea was simple, set up a space for staff to unwind, de-compress and destress before, during and after their shifts, and who better to look after and offer these heroes but grounded air crew. “Staff come into the lounge, we make them a nice cup of tea in a nice environment and we talk—and before they know it they’ve had 10-15 minutes without thinking about work,” Fielding said.

Where it all began

“As the Covid-19 crisis was developing, I had been thinking how aircrew would be a great resource for the NHS, because of our experience of working in a safety-focused environment – and, of course, the warm welcome we are famous for,” says Emma Henderson.

So the team reached out to the airline community with this idea: taking airline crew into NHS hospital settings to give staff a real morale boost, looking after them during their breaks in dedicated lounges. They named this Project Wingman.

A light-hearted nod to Top Gun, the concept of Project Wingman is rooted in the famous camaraderie of aircrew which this organisation is mobilising to help support the NHS through this tough time.

– Project Wingman.

The first opened at the Whittington Hospital in North London on April 2. “We want to look after the wellbeing of all frontline NHS staff” says Professor Rob Bor, Consultant Clinical psychologist: “We immediately thought of airline staff. Many have been grounded by the global effects of Covid-19 and we recognised that this represents a rich resource of a uniformed and disciplined workforce, used to problem-solving and providing care.”

Project Wingman USA opened its two inaugural lounges on May 6, at Flushing Hospital Medical Centre and Jamaica Hospital Medical Centre in Queens, New York City. 

“It is especially fitting to launch Project Wingman USA at two hospitals located close to two of the busiest airports in the country and so close to where many airline employees live.” –  Anders Lindström, Project Wingman USA Chairman & U.S. Director of Communications, Norwegian Air.

Here the lounges are staffed with volunteer Flight Attendants from a number of airlines including American, Delta, Endeavour Air, JetBlue, Norwegian, Spirit and United Airlines. 

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Project Wingman USA opened its two inaugural lounges on May 6, at Flushing Hospital Medical Centre and Jamaica Hospital Medical Centre in Queens, New York City.

Looking after one another, being kind and always polite are key elements of working as aircrew, and are values that staff have readily translated into their temporary roles in hospitals. “We want our frontline workers to feel how grateful we are to them, in a really tangible way,” Henderson says. “We are doing this by serving people who are used to serving others, and caring for those who are busy being carers themselves.” 

In the UK there are now 50 lounges across the country, an incredible feat in such a short space of time. 

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Epsom Hospital became Project Wingman’s 50th First Class lounge!

How do Project Wingman First Class lounges get started? 

Co-founder Emma explained: “A hospital or trust contacts us and asks for more information which is sent to them and they then take this to whoever makes the decisions of whether we can open a lounge or not. At the same time, I ask our database team to reach out to our volunteers in that area to check you are all still available. In some cases this is very straightforward and they come back immediately and ask us to support them, we then mobilise our team and our First Class Lounge can be up and running very quickly. In other cases this takes a little bit longer – which is why some of you haven’t heard anything, some have head a little bit, and some are working in hospitals already.”

Once a “Wingman” request is agreed with a hospital the project team launch into action: contacting local volunteers to set up a roster of airline crew and sourcing equipment and donations that are then delivered by volunteers directly to the lounge. The hospital has only to provide a “support area” with sufficient space to maintain social distancing; which Project Wingman’s community of volunteers converts into a ‘first-class’ Wingman Lounge. The team work closely with the hospitals to ensure all of the Trust requirements to operate safely are met.

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All volunteers go through a brief induction/training session at their hospital.

Once launched, the airline volunteers operate the Wingman Lounge. It’s a very simple concept in that Wingman teams are providing service with a smile, but feedback from staff is that support from a team of like-minded, uniformed professionals is a welcome boost to morale. Whether it’s talking about experiences on the job, travelling or simply being handed a cup of tea, Project Wingman’s exceptional airline crew are proud to be putting smiles on the faces of NHS workers across the country.

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“This is just amazing! Such a lovely idea. Has had such a massive effect on the morale of staff. It cannot be understated how wonderful this is!”

– NHS Worker Testimonial.

How can I help?

Well there are numerous ways you can get involved. 

The first and most obvious ways to help is by offering your fabulous first class service and volunteering! Yes, while Project Wingman may have been running for a few months now they are always in need of new ‘Wingpeople’. And who knows, you may be lucky enough to be working alongside yours truly! What more of an incentive do you need? 

If you’re in any doubt as to how amazing it is to be a member of the Project Wingman team then check out this great post by Wingwoman and Virgin Atlantic hostie Jordan over at her blog ‘Passport and Pants’

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Lovely Jordan and her Wingman colleagues at Wexham Park Hospital.

Donations – To run a first class lounge wingman needs first class products to offer to our incredible NHS and are relying on the kindness of others to keep the lounges going. So many companies both big and small have offered their services support, but each lounge across the country can always have more.

Do you know of any local businesses or does anyone in your family own a business and may be able to help?

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Just a few of the amazing donations for the lounges around the country from various local businesses and those wanting to help.

Maybe over the course of lockdown you’ve likened yourself to the next Paul Hollywood or Mary Berry and bake a mean cake and would like to make one for you local lounge?

Food or drink, decorations to make our lounges look good, all donations are welcome and if you’d like to contribute then please contact the Project Wingman team here.

Financial donations are also always greatly appreciated and Project Wingman now has a dedicated gofundme page. Any donations, no matter how big or small you can make are always HUGELY appreciated!

On the weekend of 13th and 14th of June there will also be the first (of many hopefully) charity fund raising events with the ‘Wingman Workout’. Find out more about this here.

What does the future hold for Project Wingman?

Hopefully many of us will soon be putting on the polyester again and returning to the skies. But that doesn’t mean that Project Wingman will be coming to an end. The team behind the project are currently looking at ways to keep the first class lounges going from coffee mornings to combining lounges that are close to each other. 

There is hope that the service will be able to spread around the world with talk of first class lounges opening in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

The Project is also offering a ‘Peer Support Team’ for its volunteers for anyone who feels they would benefit from talking through any issues they may be experiencing. 

And for those volunteers who are uncertain about their future careers within the industry, ‘Wingman Recruitment’ has been established so that hospital trusts can recruit volunteers if vacancies are available. 

The response to the lounges has been fantastic….

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This is thanks entirely to the AMAZING volunteers who have represented themselves, their airlines and the project in an exemplary manner. Long may it continue!

Check out our Project Wingman gallery below with some of the fabulous Wingmen and Wingwomen bringing their first class service to those NHS heroes who deserve it the most….

© by Dan Air.

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