“You never forget your first time.” The slogan used by Virgin Atlantic when it introduced direct service from Toronto to London.
” Flying in the face of ordinary.” The current slogan in use by Virgin Atlantic which suggests its flight attendants and staff have super-human powers.
“More Experience Than Our Name Suggests” “Extra inches where it counts.” “One call does it all.” All Virgin Atlantic slogans and all slogans that imply a) the airline likes to push the boundaries and b) the airline’s marketing team hasn’t actually dealt with the customer service team in a long, long time.
Of all of those slogan, none describes my experience with Virgin Atlantic. I booked my very first flight with Virgin Atlantic in Economy Plus about 2 weeks before my trip. I heard great things about Virgin Atlantic (VS is its airline code) from friends and on forums. In fact, I even used Routehappy and the flight I chose was listed as the best flight option. Another huge factor for me is that VS flights count towards status and earn miles on US Airways (through June 11, 2013.) so this was my chance to try it out and earn points/status.
The Booking Experience
I booked the flight on my iPad and the experience wasn’t good. I had a much better user experience on my laptop. My chief complaint about the booking process was that you couldn’t see what seats were open until after you provided a credit card. With multiple direct flights a day to London, that made it hard to make the best choice (with hopes of a semi-full flight.)
The day before the flight I decided that I wanted to upgrade to Upper Class, Virgin Atlantic’s version of business class. I went online and used the chat feature to see about upgrading. I provided my name, my booking confirmation number and flights to the agent on the chat. They told me that seats were available for upgrade for 10,000 points. I asked if I could hold the upgrade for a few hours while I transferred in the miles from another program. They said no, but that there were a few seats available for upgrade.
I called Chase and was able to transfer 10,000 points to Virgin Atlantic and they posted within 5 minutes. I called Virgin and the person I spoke with wasn’t as helpful as the chat agent. They told me no seats were open for upgrade – at this point, I was confused and annoyed that I’d just transferred points. I asked if there was a supervisor to speak with since I was given bad information and I had the chat log to prove it. They said to call back the next morning and speak to a specific team for further assistance.
The next morning I called and spent 2 hours and 9 minutes on hold waiting for someone from this special team to pick up the line. When the agent answered I learned that my economy plus ticket was not eligible for an upgrade using points – even though I have a chat log saying otherwise – and that I could pay cash to either pay the difference between my fare and an upgradable fare ($3,000 approximately) or I could pay cash for an upgrade ($2,400). Neither were good options. The agent suggested I ask at the airport about other upgrade options. After that call ended I called Chase and told them about the situation, a very kind supervisor cancelled the transaction and the points have re-posted to my account (Phew!)
At the airport I decided to pay for an upgrade since the price they offered for upgrade was reasonable and I really wanted sleep on the flight (this was a business trip, not holiday.) I used the Clubhouse – the VS airport lounge – and it was very nice. The service was good and for the most part, it was a very comfortable lounge. There was a spa which looked very nice – but had high prices compared to the ExpressSpa directly below the lounge. The lounge is trendy and quite busy before flight time.
The boarding process was straight forward and quite easy. Once on-board I found the crew to be very friendly. Upper Class filled up and the crew handed out sleep suits (PJs) and amenity kits. I would rate this amenity kit as one of the worst I’ve ever received and will be curious to see how FrequentlyFlying rates it (I picked one up for him.) There were no blankets handed out and no headphones handed out. The seats were angled toward the aisles in a strange configuration – you were essentially looking at the person across from you the entire flight. I immediately noticed that my seat lamp was not working, but wasn’t too concerned because I planned to sleep.
The seats lacked storage space and the overhead bins (there were none over the center seats) were small too. Many people were asked to put larger bags back further on the plane. There was a small space under the foot rest where I was able to store the amenity kit and a packet of tissues. There was nowhere to store my purse so I just shoved it under the foot rest. The crew didn’t seem to care.
There were a few things that I found odd – the crew announced several times that you could use the in-flight entertainment system during takeoff, but only if you used the headset provided by the airline – they never handed out any headsets. They also made an announcement about the power in the seats saying that you could use it after takeoff only. After take-off I plugged in my iPhone to charge using the USB cable and a crew member came over, unplugged it and told me it couldn’t be used for charging devices – I had to be using the device if it was plugged in. She did the same to a few other people.
After the meal service – which I decided to forgo since it was nearly 11pm – the crew handed out blankets and pillows (which had been stored behind the seats.) It was at this point that I discovered that my seat didn’t work. Four different crew members tried very hard to make it work – but none of them could make it happen. I spent most of the flight watching movies since I really couldn’t fall asleep. As they began the breakfast service I learned that my table didn’t work either – so the flight attendant gave me a tray to balance on my knees so I could “enjoy” some cereal and hot tea. It’s really hard to balance a tray, eat cereal and not spill hot tea on yourself. The crew apologized.
The Customer Service Experience
Overall, I have to say I’m incredibly disappointed with my customer service experience. Perhaps Virgin Atlantic needs to revisit the “One call does it all” slogan. I’ve yet to solve anything with one call, or email, or tweet. After the issues I experienced on-board I spoke to someone at the airport who told me I had to write or email w/my compliant/issue. I did. After 5 days of not hearing anything I tweeted and the social media team replied that it could take 28 days to get a reply. In fact, when I looked at the website it said that the response time was 28-60 days. It’s now been 7 days and I’ve still not heard anything.
Based on my experiences with the call center, the flight and the lack of responsiveness about my issues, I doubt I will fly Virgin Atlantic again. It would be incredibly hard for me imagine a situation where I’d feel differently. I have a lot of flights to the UK between now and the end of the year and I suspect you’ll see me on British Airways (since those miles will post to American Airlines and American will soon be merged with US Airways, it’s a good option for me.)