This is a copy of a letter that I sent to Richard Branson & Rod Eddington about a nightmare trip with Virgin Atlantic. So much for their "customer is king" mantra I have never received a response. I cc'd BA Exec on this though and received an apology for any part they may have plaid in delayed return of our luggage.
Abysmal Virgin Experience
Below I have outlined an experience that we had flying with Virgin Atlantic in November & December which I can honestly say compounded literally hour by hour, to be the worst overall experience that I have had in dealing with any organization.
Perhaps the fact that both my wife and I had a somewhat positive expectation of the Virgin brand prior to this trip, meant that you had further to fall, resulting in increased disappointment. Needless to say when my wife flew out to South Africa in mid November and had a negative experience we were initially prepared to write it off as just bad luck. We normally travel primarily on British Airways, and when, due to heavy booking I was not able to redeem two free tickets that I had with them, we decided to take the opportunity to try out Virgin Atlantic for the London to Cape Town leg of our journey.
My wife flew on BA from Seattle to London along with our 20 month old daughter. As per usual BA staff were extremely helpful in assisting her to and from the gate etc. Given the length of the overall 2 day journey, we purchased a separate seat for our daughter. At Heathrow there was no Virgin assistance or pre-boarding for people with children.
In addition, despite her calling ahead, my wife and child were not given bulkhead seating, which I'm lead to believe is meant to be a standard practice. A number of passengers on the flight commented to her that they could not believe that people without kids or any disability were sitting in bulkhead seats while she was not. To compound matters, staff would not let her keep our baby's car seat, and insisted on her being placed in a ridged badly designed L-shaped seat which has minimal support and is clearly not designed for young children to sleep on a 10 hour flight.
Although somewhat perturbed, I was prepared to be optimistic when I flew out to join them two weeks later. Boarding at Heathrow provided much the same experience as my wife's.
The glass doors at the gate were not opened till 10 minutes prior to the scheduled boarding time, meaning that the entire plane load of passengers was lined up and waiting with no structured boarding approach, it was just first come first board.
Once on the plane I encountered the same I'm something special because I'm wearing a short red skirt attitude as your ground staff exhibited.
There were numerous examples of this throughout the flight, but this one sums it up perfectly. Mid-flight I entered the galley and asked if I could please get a glass of water. The response I received with a flicked point of the wrist was There's the water and glasses over there, you can pour it yourself.
Upon arriving in Johannesburg my luggage was missing. Your ground staff did not even have an in-flight toiletry bag to provide me with, and it took over two days for my luggage to arrive, with extremely curt, sorry nothing we can do about it interaction from your staff during that time. You should take a lesson from your local partner there Nationwide airlines, I had a much more pleasant experience in interacting with them on this.
It gets worse the return journey.
All three of us were traveling together on the return flight, and I called Virgin in South Africa two days prior to departure to request that we be assigned bulkhead seats, due to limited transition time in Johannesburg.
I was informed that these are only assigned on the day, but not to worry since when checking in with Nationwide in Cape Town, they would be able to assign the seats on the Virgin flight. At check in we discovered this was not the case, and in addition Nationwide could only check our bags as far as London. We chose to recheck our bags in Johannesburg with Virgin in order to receive them in Seattle.
When we came to board the Virgin flight we were informed that despite the fact that our car seat is certified for airline travel, we would not be allowed to use it.(We have traveled with this seat on British Airways, Quantas, United, American, Hawaiian, Midland, Air France and SAS with no issues in the past).
I'm not sure who designs your kids seats but it is highly unlikely that they have ever encountered a real child or done any testing to see if a kid could last more than 15 minutes in one, let alone 10 hours. The car seat & compact fold up stroller were tagged, and we were told we could collect them as we got off the plane in London. The head cabin attendant said they would come and discuss our bad experience once we were airborne, but this never occurred.
And still worse Heathrow
We arrived in London to discover that Virgin does not deliver the stroller and car seat to the planes door, and that we needed to go to baggage claim to collect. Not desirable since we were in transit. When I asked to speak to someone who could help, since I was extremely frustrated about the overall experience, I was curtly informed that There's nothing that we can do about it sorry. Even more frustrating was hearing the sn***ers from your staff as we walked up the gang way to try & resolve by ourselves.
Once in the terminal there was no one from Virgin to be found. Eventually a helpful individual from London Airport company pointed us to the airport security information booth who directed us to stand in the security line to go to Terminal 3 where we would find a Virgin booth. We were 8th in line at the Virgin booth, which had one person on duty. After 18 minutes in the line the first customer was still being attended to, and the Virgin attendant called out that she was going to be about another 10 minutes attending to the first customer.
I stepped out of the line and asked her if we were in the correct line. She informed me that she could help us but only in an hour and fifteen minutes when her colleague came on duty. I asked what our alternative was since we needed to get to terminal 4, and was informed can you not see I'm busy? My second request for an alternative received a response that we could go to baggage claim, which is what we decided to do.
If this wasn't frustrating enough, I travel a lot for work and currently have limited remaining pages in my passport. The customs official chose to place an entry stamp on a new clean page in my passport, an additional frustration point which I can attribute to Virgin's inefficiency and will impact me in the next two months. It was with welcome respite that we fled to terminal 4 and the polite and helpful BA staff who warmly welcomed us & in addition upgraded me.
Could it get worse still? The Virgin check-in in Johannesburg incorrectly labeled my bags, placing a Virgin flight number in the final destination of SEA (where you do not fly). One bag arrived two days later while the other (which contained numerous Christmas presents etc) arrived 10 days late, post Christmas.
Thank you Virgin for the most unpleasant travel experience of my life, I will be sure to share this nightmare with as many people as I can. My only remaining disappointment is that I did not get a photograph of our daughter writhing in discomfort on the Virgin flight to place next to the one of her smiling on her BA flight in her own comfortable car seat, as I'm sure it would make a good ad campaign for them.
Yours in extreme disappointment