Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Non-Journey from Hell with Virgin America

Contrary to speculation, I did not miss my flight from New York to Los Angeles because I was in the bar. 

Just to fill everyone in: I was six hours early for a Virgin America flight (I had an appointment at the airport), had lunch in the bar and, making sure I left it at least 90 minutes before take-off (I'd paid $50 - wasn't going to waste that!), sat patiently in the American Airlines lounge, working (Virgin America does not have a lounge at Newark International).
As I was also dealing with some issues relating to family illness in the UK and sending texts and e-mails, I didn’t notice the time (the American Airlines lounge boards list only their flights) and had to run for the gate, where I was informed it was closed. I was there with 23 minutes to spare, but it was very much a case of computer says no. My bag was on the plane and travelled without me.
The woman at the desk offered me absurdly expensive flights to places nowhere near LA; the alternative was returning in the morning and going on stand-by. She kept telling me that she had a family and just wanted to get home to her kids. I phoned my friend Chrissy to speak with her as I was finding it impossible to talk through my tears. She told Chrissy, too, that she wanted to get home to her kids.

Ah, right. So was that the reason the gate was closed early? Whatever happened to passenger care? A comforting word, a hint of understanding? I was told she had tried to call me. Yes, on a number I haven’t had for five years, and my Virgin America account very clearly states the one I have had since then. And, to cover all bases because the flight had been booked through a third party, I phoned them that very morning to give them all my information.
Apart from the appalling customer service, the security issue really worries me. I have sat on many a plane waiting for passengers and, if they do not turn up, we have to wait while their luggage is taken out of the hold. When I questioned why my bag had been allowed to fly without me, I was told that it and I had both cleared security. 

Yes - but now they were sending me out of the airport. 

Apart from the fact that not every bag in the hold is thoroughly checked, it raises the question of how easy it is to get your bag on without you - just check it in and turn up to the gate late. That’s a massive, gaping flaw in security, and deeply disturbing.
So, I had to to toddle off to the Marriott and spend $300 dollars I could ill afford to try for the morning flight (fabulous staff at Newark International, by the way; I love Marriotts). I rang Virgin America later and was informed that they could give me a seat on the morning flight, after all. They assigned me the number - 3D - and I was ecstatic. 

When I arrived in the morning, however, I was told that no seat had been assigned and I was on standby. Again, the like of comforting customer care was negligible. More tears. Finally, with only one available seat, I made it, the last person to board. I was stressed. Exhausted. Yes, I know I was late at the gate and I take responsibility for that. 

But closing the gate early and somebody being so damned unhelpful because she has a family waiting for their tea, is just shoddy and unprofessional. 
I fly with Virgin Atlantic all the time and had used the points I have accumulated there to fly with Virgin America - a Virgin Atlantic partner, but a different airline altogether. Virgin Atlantic had already messed up, for three days telling me that I would be able to upgrade with more points if a seat became available, and then informing me the day before that no, 72 hours’ notice was required. So why had they kept telling me to call back at regular intervals and also told me that I could ask at the airport and points could be added with one phone call to them? 
Virgin America were worse. Everyone I spoke to there didn’t even seem to know that Virgin Atlantic is a partner. 
I fly a lot and am a very trouble free passenger, but so much stress is caused by airline staff either not knowing basic information about their jobs, or simply not doing them. 

I could go on about Virgin America - and will. The absence of anyone to meet at greet because staff are chatting with the pilot; the non-checking of seat belts; the rubbish that is allowed to accumulate in the cabin over five hours (not even my kitchen trash bin ever has as debris as what I had to sit with at my feet); the demand that all blinds be closed (on a daytime flight, for goodness’ sake); the blinds being closed for take-off and landing (the most dangerous part of the flight, when light is needed); the seeming inability of any member of staff - ground or airborne - to smile. 

The airline is, quite simply, a shambles.
Reunited with my bag in LA, the same non-smiling faces and rude Virgin America staff were as nonchalant as those in New York. Next week, I have to do it all again (the journey, not the missing the plane bit) and am dreading it. 

The whole experience has cost me money, time, stress, and left a very sour taste in the mouth about a once terrific airline. 

East to West coast on a camel might well prove less traumatic. 

Anyone find me a ride from Camels R Us, by any chance?

P.S. I am now on my return journey and have encountered yet ANOTHER unsmiling, rude person at check-in at LAX. Same thing happened last time at LAX. This time, Monique was so busy slagging off the previous "guest" to her colleague, I had to ask for her attention three times. Then, after removing some weight from my luggage, she started to walk off saying she had finished (without having checked me in!). BIG sighs when I asked her to finish the check-in. Get your act together Virgin America!


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