Virgin Atlantic Flight 45

Bulletpoints of woe.

• Broken rear cargo door.
• Diverted from JFK to Philly.
• Philly tries to prohibit Virgin from landing and refueling.
• Fuel company demands to be paid in cash, on the tarmac.
• Police surround plane to ensure no one escaped customs.
• Because it would violate labor laws for the crew to keep working, flight halted.
• Passengers forced to watch “Chicken Little” and “Scrubs.”

And that’s just the beginning…


Amy writes:

“Last Friday, July 21, I boarded Virgin Atlantic Flight 45 in London Heathrow at 1 pm BST. Little did I know that I would be spending the next 17 hours of my life on that plane. We were due to land at JFK at 4 pm EST, which was delayed until 6 pm because of a broken rear cargo door. The crew was extremely apologetic about that, and frankly because of their British accents, I didn’t care much.

At around 6 pm, as we were descending into JFK, we were told that we would have to go instead to Philadelphia International Airport because JFK was shutting down due to the bad weather conditions. We landed there around 6:30 pm, and were told that we would have to find a gate to refuel at, and then we’d be on our way to JFK. And, as a little side note, the flight supervisor (or someone like that) mentioned that there might come a time where the crew could no longer fly the plane due to labor laws. WHAT?! I have never heard of that in my life, but hoped that we would be long gone before that. No such luck.

Over the next 7 hours, we were told that the Philadelphia airport was bullying the crew and allowing other diverted planes to disembark and refuel over us because Virgin Atlantic had no right to be at that airport. And to add insult to injury, the fuel company was demanding to be paid in cash in full at the time of refueling.

So the pilot was back and forth with Virgin Atlantic in England. Finally around 9:30 or so, we finally began to refuel and were told that we’d be in the air in no time. We started to taxi down the runway and then….stopped. For 45 mintues. I fell asleep and woke up at 10:45 and we were still in the same spot. The flight supervisor came on again and said that if we didn’t land within the next 20 minutes, the crew would be over their allowed hours worked, and thus would be illegally operating the plane.

So we had to disembark in Philly, which would be a little difficult seeing as how we still had no gate or way to get through customs. I kind of felt like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal”. Unless they brought in a new crew, the plane could never fly, and without customs, we could never enter the US (legally at least). And to make sure that no one tried to escape onto the runway and make a run for it, the Philadelphia PD had been called in and surrounded the plane.

To keep us occupied, they showed “Chicken Little” and episodes of “The Simpsons” and “Scrubs”. Too bad they couldn’t come up some food, as all they were able to give us were little bags of pretzels and the smallest cans of soda I had ever seen in my life. I was sitting in Economy so who knows how the Upper class passengers were treated. And to make the situation even more complicated, 2 planes full of American citizens from Lebanon had also landed in Philly, so the airport was overwhelmed.

To make a really long story short, we were told that we would receive accommodations and transportation to New York, and that representatives or crew members from Virgin would be waiting for us after we left the plane, which was around 2 am (time gets fuzzy here, since I had been awake for almost 24 hours at this point). Well, that was the biggest lie I had ever heard, as absolutely no one from Virgin was at the airport, and thankfully the nice TSA people brought us water and food. A lot of the passengers were left without any luggage, and were supposedly brought to JFK by plane and landed around 9:30 am on Saturday July 22.

I didn’t wait for that plane to come, and neither did most of the passengers. I hauled ass over to the train station, at a cost of 11 dollars for a cab which I shared with 2 others, and paid 51 dollars for a one way Amtrak ticket to New Jersey.

Thirty hours after I had left my hostel in London, I finally arrived at my front door. But I couldn’t go to sleep until I wrote a complaint email to Virgin demanding compensation for my cab ride and train ticket, as well as a complete refund of the $767 I spent on my round trip ticket. Unfortunately, email is the only way to get in touch with their customer relations department, and after sending another email on July 23, I had yet to even receive a confirmation email. So I called their US customer service department and was told that email or fax was the only way to get in touch with them. I asked for a manager, as it sounded so stupid that the person who reads those emails and faxes doesn’t even have a phone number! I even went as far as calling their UK number, and actually spoke with someone in customer relations, though I stupidly did not get her name. She checked their email system and said that my 2 emails had not been received, and gave me another address to send them to. She also said that it may take up to 28 DAYS to get a response. After forwarding my first email, I received a confirmation within seconds, which was comforting, but it did say that I may have to wait as long as 28 days for a response.

I’m sorry, but the only thing I have 28 days worth of patience for is to see those zombies die of starvation in that Cillian Murphy movie. What I paid out of my own pocket to get home is equivalent to not even a tank of gas. I need that money. And getting a refund of what I paid for my ticket would be amazing. But waiting 28 days to hear that yes I will get it (or maybe not) is outrageous, as I will have to wait even longer to receive a check (if I get one at all).

Needless to say, I’m never flying Virgin Atlantic again. The way they take care of their customers is horrible, and maybe I was a little naive in thinking that someone would contact me before I contacted them just to make sure I had actually survived the 3 hours I waited at the train station at 4 in the morning. I’m not really sure where else to go with my complaints, as it seems there is no way to contact the elusive customer relations department besides email. I’m not asking for Richard Branson’s number, but if that’s what it takes, then so be it.

sincerely,

amy b.”

Comments

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  1. Lemurs says:

    Crew rest hours are very serious. The fact that you never heard of them doesn’t mean they aren’t there or are important. Most people don’t know a fraction of the flight safety regulations that are in place. That is one of the biggest ones, since the NTSB and other safety agencies have shown for years that the number one cause of flight accidents are crew error, and the number one factor in crew error is fatigue. Airlines and crew members must take these very seriously, and they do so for your own good.

    As for the stuff that happened on the ground in Philadelphia, that’s all very strange to say the least. Espcially the pay in cash for fuel part.

    Once you got into the airport though, your responsibilities were to make sure that Virgin finished the trip for you, if you want to make them accountable for anything. The second you left the airport to make your own way, you essentially forfeited your rights to any further travel claims on that ticket.

    I’ll just tell you now that the best you can hope for is some flight coupons. They’ll never in a million years issue a refund. You got to your destination, therefore they held up their end of the contract. They did it very poorly, but they did it, so they won’t give you squat in terms of real dollars back.

    All this from someone who has spent too much time in airplanes and dealing with airlines.

  2. Lemurs says:

    BTW, a bit of airline analysis: Diversions from JFK/Newark to Philly are *VERY* common, espcially in the summer months when fast moving severe weather can wreak havoc with the flight schedules at those airports. The idea that Virgin has no history there as a diversion airport is almost impossible to believe.

    My guess would be something like this: The ground operations people who are responsible for keeping contracts and accounts up to date in case of emergencies like this screwed up badly at some point in the past, and there was money outstanding at both the airport (landing fees and the like) and with the fuel company. Once that plane hit the ground, no one was in a hurry to help them out, since your deadbeat customers do not get preferential treatment in any business, as far as I know.

    Pure speculation on my part, but it’s the only reason I can muster as to why any of what the crew said might have happened.

  3. GenXCub says:

    Yes, but regardless of the reasons, aren’t big companies supposed to have contingencies in place to make sure their customers aren’t put through this? Or if they are, that it’s minimized as much as possible? Hopefully there will be a follow up when the response from customer service comes back.

  4. limiter says:

    Lemurs, if you actually think Amy is at fault then you are an idiot, or a Virgin employee. Virgin has all the responsibility not Amy.

    If Virgin employees can’t fly anymore they should promptly find a new crew to fly, or purchase tickets on competitor airlines.

    If Virgin doesn’t provide any further help once a customer ends up at the wrong airport then what are you supposed to do wait there until they do something otherwise forfeit “any further travel”? What if they don’t show up? Just keep waiting? Stupid.

    If Virgin is not even in good enough standing to get fuel on credit then maybe they shouldn’t be operating an airline.

    Virgin is 100% at fault here, I don’t think Amy did anything wrong.

  5. Falconfire says:

    Yeah what the hell is up with these Virgin Atlantic appologists? This is casebook study of screwing over the customers here. Even one of these events taking place SHOULD have been grounds for a refund in the past.

  6. Lemurs says:

    Having a flight crew sitting around waiting for a diversion isn’t something ANYONE does outside their home airports. You don’t just hire a bunch of people off the street to fly, and last time I checked, Virgin is an INTERNATIONAL airline, so it’s not like they could fly in a crew from London in 10 minutes. They’re also not going to rebook an entire flight like that. They do rebookings for missed connecting flights, not diversions to an alternate airport. What some airlines do is arrange for coach-style busses in this situation, but it sounds like Virgin has no or piss poor presence on the ground in Philly.

    I’m not apologizing for Virgin, I’m telling you about the realities of flying. You agree to the contract of carriage when you buy the tickets. They are responsible to hold up their end of the bargain which is getting you from point A to point B, and nowhere in that does it say that they’re required to get you there ontime or via an exact route. It sucks, I have been on the suck end of it a number of times, but that’s the reality of flying.

    She isn’t at fault for anything, but she also isn’t entitled to anything at this point either, other than an apology and a goodwill gesture. It’s terrible customer service, and a terrible flying experience, and if they value her business, they’ll do something to make it right…but no one has issued refunds for stuff like this since deregulation…and the only reason they could afford to do it then was because they were making money hand over fist at YOUR EXPENSE. Get a grip.

  7. Ben Popken says:

    Will writes:

    “Report it to the FAA… Done it before, cuts right through corporate airline crap.

    Watch how quickly they respond to her!!”

  8. LLH says:

    sorry, longish comment. i used to work for virgin retail in the UK and in the US (the US company is seperate from the UK on and they do suck, the UK one is great to work for though) and yes, i am biased because i really like the airline (company discount and never lost my luggage). virign don’t actually have a desk at the philly airport however they code share with continental. you may have been misinformed about who to look for on the ground. but saying that i’m sure they knew they were going to have a problem when they landed at an airport where they don’t have any gates. they should have had a customer service rep on the way to deal with everything from the second you stepped off the plane. virgin are most definitely in the wrong. they are a good company, they will make it right. i would call them at the UK office, getting names, don’t talk to the first person, get the most high up in the office. then after follow up with a letter, one to the customer service people and one to steve ridgway (ceo). don’t go to virgin america. they are a totally seperate company than virgin atlantic. (they are under the same umbrella though). hope that helps.

    Telephone Enquiries (USA) (001) 203750 2000

    Fax (USA) (001) 203750 6490

    Customer Relations (UK) 08704 646 747

    Customer Service (UK) customer.services@fly.virgin.com

    Main Switchboard (UK) 01293 562 345

    Office Address (UK) The Office,

    Crawley Business Quarter,

    Manor Royal, Crawley,

    West Sussex,

    RH10 9NU

    Office Address (USA) 747 Belden Avenue

    Norwalk CT 06850

    Connecticut, USA

    (from virgin’s site)

    How to Complain

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