The last time I flew Virgin was Melbourne to Sydney and back, and my flight back was cancelled and as a result the delay I had to wait in Sydney for 5 hours and I said then I'd never fly Virgin again.
After all, if I have to fly in to a city to do a corporate show, but I miss it because a plane is cancelled, it costs me a lot of money in lost income and the client could be left with no entertainment.
However, that was a few years ago and the client for my Canberra show last night booked me on Virgin to keep costs down.
I got to Canberra pretty much on time yesterday, but this morning my 10am flight home was cancelled.
Apparently it had made a "semi-emergency landing" according to other passengers, and was slightly damaged.
These things happen, but the way Virgin handled the situation was pretty bad.
First they announced that all passengers need to return to check-in. So the race was on and it put the elderly passengers and those with small children at an obvious disadvantage.
Once everyone was lined up we were told we had to go to the baggage carousel and collect our luggage, then rejoin the line to re-check it. Now passengers with no luggage were at the front of the line.
The intention of Virgin was to reschedule passengers from the 10am flight to Melbourne, to the next available flight, which was 12.45pm. Unfortunately, that flight only had 6 empty seats, so I was put on the 5pm flight, others behind me were put on the 8pm flight. I have no idea where they put all the other passengers as that was the last direct flight of the day, but I did hear some were returning via Sydney.
When I approached the check-in I asked the lady behind the desk if Virgin were doing anything to compensate the passengers for the delay. They broke out some certificates and gave me one. It was a food voucher to the value of $6.
I had of wait in the terminal for 7 hours... and they gave me $6. The cheapest sandwich was $6.50. Even Qantas, when dealing with similar situations, gives vouchers of greater value, and usually without passengers having to ask for them. They did say they'd refund the $75 value of my flight, but seeing as the client booked it they'll see the benefit of that.
I asked what I should do for the next 7 hours and they suggested I go to The Lounge. So, I headed upstairs to Virgin's 'The Lounge'... and they wouldn't let me in. Apparently when the lady said 'The Lounge' she meant the lounge, not 'The Lounge'. Again, when faced with similar delays Qantas gives it's customers access to the Qantas Lounge so they can endure the delay in a slightly better mood. Not Virgin.
The check-in lady explained that they only give passengers access to 'The Lounge' if their flight is cancelled. I said that my flight was cancelled. She said it wasn't, I was just delayed. I asked her what her definition of cancelled was, and she told me that if I wasn't able to fly out until tomorrow then that would mean my flight was cancelled. Then why, I asked, would I want access to 'The Lounge' as opposed to leaving the airport to find a hotel???
She had no idea and made it very clear she didn't care. She offered to give me the Virgin Customer Service number to call and maybe I could ask them to give me access to 'The Lounge'. I said "They're probably not open today are they?" She said no they weren't, I could call them on Monday.
So after phoning the people I was supposed to be meeting today and tendering my apologies, I sat in the lounge and read not one but two excellent 'Tony Valentine' novels by James Swain ('Deadman's Poker' and 'Deadman's Bluff')
When the plane finally boarded another passenger told me it cost her $75 in taxi fares to go into Canberra and back rather than wait at the airport. She wasn't exactly impressed with the way Virgin treated their customers either.
Virgin prides itself as being Australia's "on time airline", and compared to Qantas that's not really very hard. But it's what you do when things don't run smoothly that really counts. Perhaps Qantas is just more experienced in appeasing angry customers because they run late so frequently...?
When things happen like a 9 hour flight from Hong Kong taking 36 hours, and a constant stream of problems due to Qantas outsourcing it's mechanical servicing, you have to offer your customers more than a $6 food voucher to keep them coming back...