Monday, September 30, 2013

Dear Virgin Airlines Customer Service

Dear Virgin Airlines,

I am writing you this letter through the blog because after a series of completely frustrating experiences I can’t even use your online feedback form because of the character limit. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

My family and I recently relocated from London to Sydney and we needed to book our travel with a stop in Seattle in between. We figured that 5 people flying LHR to LAX, LAX to SEA (roundtrip) and then LAX to SYD we would be getting a fair amount of miles so wanted to try and book through one airline. Since Virgin has Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America and Virgin Australia it seemed like a good fit. We debated using Alaska Airlines for the flights between LAX and SEA as they were cheaper but my hope was that we could check our bags through without having to collect them at LAX only to recheck them for the next flight. Before booking I called your customer service line as the flights were under separate bookings, some done through our relocation and some paid for personally, I was assured that it would be the discretion of the person checking us in but we should have no problems checking the bags through to our final destination so we went ahead and booked all of our travel with Virgin.

Finally our travel date arrived and I should have known how the experience would go as soon as we checked in. Either the person checking us in used their discretion to make an already difficult day of travel more difficult for me traveling on my own with 3 kids or the person on your customer service line was just wrong. We were unable to check our bags through so as I boarded the 11+ hour flight from LHR to LAX I had a difficult connection already to look forward to. We got on our flight, got the kids settled and soon enough the meal service started. I was informed that there were no kid’s meals booked for my 2 and 4 year old. It turns out that this was AMEX Travel’s mistake so there were no kids meals allocated for my kids. By the time the meal options got to our row there was only one option and I could hardly eat it let alone my toddlers. There was no other option. Shame on me, I should have been loaded with snacks for them but in our experience with British Airways there are always snacks available to walk up and get so I assumed the experience would be similar and food was just another thing to carry around in an already overloaded set of carry ons. Once snacks were available for sale I bought as many small containers of pringles and packages of Haribos that I could so that they could have something to eat. The flight attendant even made a comment about how much I was buying and I informed her that it was all the kids had to eat. Finally about 8 hours into the flight a flight attendant from first class walked by our aisle and from one look could tell that the flight wasn’t going well. When she stopped to ask if we needed anything I said the only thing I need is food and she immediately got together a plate of fruit and cheese from first class, she was a total life saver. Here is why this is so frustrating, I now know that the mistake was made by AMEX and I understand that it isn’t a restaurant when you are flying; the options are what they are. I spent 8 hours on a very long flight with kids who hadn’t eaten, I asked multiple people if there were any food options they could have, anything I could buy, and was told no there was nothing. I was just looking for a shred of empathy, maybe an extra little packet of pretzels or whatever the free snack was, anything. It took 8 hours and one person who seemed to understand the situation to get a few grapes and blocks of cheddar.

We finally arrived in LAX got our baggage only to turn around and recheck our baggage and then get the kids fed. After 11+ hours wide awake on the first flight luckily the 5 of us slept through the LAX to SEA flight.

3 weeks later we were ready to go on the 2nd half of our trip and head from SEA to SYD with a connection in LAX. Once again we were told we couldn’t check our bags through but this time I expected it. Our flight from SEA to LAX was uneventful until we arrived only to find that the wheel had been broken off of our gate checked stroller. Since we had to get our bags and then check in for our long flight we couldn’t spend much time in baggage claim and needed to move on. Once we were checked in again and at the gate I approached the Virgin desk to ask about the stroller and what I needed to do to have it repaired. I was told that the only thing I could do was go back to baggage claim and deal with it there but there probably wasn’t time before my flight. I asked if I could do anything once we arrived in Sydney and the guy honestly said “I can’t cut you a check if that’s what you’re looking for.” If I was already frustrated by the stroller wheel I was just aggravated further by the helpful customer service. No I wasn’t looking for a check, I just wanted to find out how to get the wheel fixed as I was going to have no access to another stroller for another 8 weeks. Again given our experience up to that point it just reinforced our impression of Virgin. In all fairness I should say the inflight service from LAX to SYD was great. They were helpful and nice and everything went smoothly.

So now here we are in Sydney, we finally have an address and while I wouldn’t want to fly Virgin again with ticket prices from SYD to SEA we will most likely be in the position to fly based on price not service. I signed up for our frequent flyer account and as I went to enter our first flight I received a message that as it has been more than 30 days we can no longer claim the miles. So I of course call the customer service number on the screen hoping maybe if I talk to someone or there might be a process to follow to get an exception. The girl spent about 2 minutes on the phone with me and just said that it’s pretty clear on the website, essentially why was I calling her?

It seems that every step of the way has been just a little more difficult than it should be. From checking in, the flight experience, damaging our things and now trying to claim the miles. Any one of these things might be a minor frustration but the consistently bad experience has been kind of unbelievable. I know there are people that travel what we do all year in a month so one family choosing not to fly Virgin again really has no impact and there is really no resolution I’m looking for.

All I can do now is warn friends and family that you should not fly Virgin! Sure the domestic US flights have cool lighting and they play hip hop at the check in desk, that’s awesome if I was 19. If you have any interest in the actual experience, safety of your baggage, etc. I would go elsewhere.

Thank you,


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