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…
“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.