Virgin Australia Airlines

F*ck you, Virgin Australia! You suck! #BaliDisey

Add Virgin to the list of airlines that I will never fly internationally with again. After having my flight out of Bali cancelled twice, I have to say that Virgin is now up there with Qantas in terms of a pretty awful customer experience and (from where I sit) it’s because they have no process for dealing with flying out hundreds (if not thousands) of stranded passengers. They are giving patronising, scripted responses to genuine pleas for help—their Facebook and Twitter feed consist of sending people to their website; telling them to call the Guest Contact Centre; advising them to contact their travel insurer; and spruiking a video about how the decision not to fly is made. Seriously, Virgin, no one cares about your damn video!

Look, I totally get that safety has to be the number one priority and that “Acts of God” e.g. erupting volcanoes cannot be controlled, but come on Virgin, how you respond to the “Act of God” e.g. erupting volcanoes can. The lack of customer support, good information and a decent process for dealing with this has been truly appalling.

The first time my Virgn flight was cancelled

Here’s a recount of my experience thus far which explains all.

I was due to fly out of Bali on the 13th at 1.10pm, direct to Adelaide. The outlook via travel alerts on Virgin’s website from the night before indicated that flying conditions were positive. So I was positive. I had packed up my luggage and thought at around 9.30am that I’d better check my email. Lo and behold, there was an email from Virgin saying my flight had been cancelled. And a SMS. And I had to contact my travel agent to reschedule my flights. Or I could call the number listed. Actually, there were a couple of numbers listed, both requiring me to make an international call (clocking in at about $1 per minute). There was an Indinesian number listed (I could make an Indonesian call cheaply because I have an Indonesian SIM), I needed to do this from a landline. You could not make this call on a mobile. Urgh. Seriously. Who thinks this shit up?! And who signs off on it?!

[bctt tweet=”Seriously, Virgin. No one cares about your damn how you make a decision not to fly video!”]

(FYI this is the first (and last) time I have flown internationally without using a travel agent because I thought this trip would be straightforward. Most of my friends don’t use travel agents and probably most of the world’s travelling population don’t either, given that it’s so easy to do everything yourself online. But back to my travel agent I now go.)

(As another aside, having to call a contact centre is extremely inefficient and expensive. The original booking was made online (isn’t everything these days?) so why Virgin doesn’t allow you to reschedule your flight online is beyond me. I can’t imagine it being too difficult to set up.)

Anyway, I managed to get through to the customer service centre after about 40 minutes (was transferred twice… urgh… and thinking about the cost), and had my flight rescheduled to the 15th. I wanted a direct flight through to Adelaide and was told this wasn’t available, so I was coming in through Sydney. I rang my travel insurer (Travel Insurance Direct) and was advised that I was covered. Thank God. I quickly let the guest house I was staying in know that I required an extra couple of days. Luckily, they weren’t fully booked, so it wasn’t a problem.

The second time my Virgin flight was cancelled

Fast forward to today (the 15th). I was keeping an eye on Virgin’s travel alerts and found out around 8.30 this morning that today’s flight was cancelled. I received my flight cancellation email (again) and quickly called the contact centre. I was on hold for an hour (cost $70) before being advised that no flights were being scheduled until the 18th of November, and that I’d have to call back then. What?! How is that even possible?! Or appropriate?! And I was advised that I couldn’t have a refund, but they’d be happy to give me a credit (and to be fair, they will be flying me from Perth to Adelaide without charging me—see below).

Knowing that Garuda and Air Asia were flying (and even Jetstar) when Virgin weren’t, I hopped onto Skyscanner and (after trying Sydney, then Melbourne) eventually managed to book a flight back to Australia, although this was difficult because of all the tricky approval processes around my credit cards. Urgh. My People’s Choice card transaction was declined. Thank God I had my Westpac Mastercard with me. I figured I’d get my flight to Adelaide sorted when I arrive in Perth, although I tried to do this with Virgin while they were still on the phone, because I didn’t want to be put on hold again when I had to book my domestic flight. It didn’t happen because of my Skyscanner credit card issues. Urgh.

[bctt tweet=”Virgin could’ve had customers rave about how things had been managed. It’s been appallingly handled.”]

So I checked with my accommodation to see if I could extend. No dice. They were fully booked. They did advise that their sister guest house (around the cornerish) might be free, so Made drove me to Putri Homestay on the off chance they had a vacancy, and thank God, they had two nights available (although they initially said they only had one… I don’t know what that was about). It’s lovely here. Quiet, small and with a pool in the courtyard. And only $50 per night. I’m prepared for the fact that I still might not get out with AirAsia on the 17th, and I may have to move again. Urgh. It’s all very unsettling. And inconvenient. And frustrating. And stressful.

What needs to be done

The thing about my experience with Virgin is this. It’s within their power to make this a positive experience for people and have their customers rave about how well the whole thing has been handled. Instead, it’s been an appalling customer experience. And it’s not like this situation hasn’t happened before. If I was Virgin’s COO or CMO, I’d be taking a long, hard look at the following:

  • Virgin are making the convenient assumption that people have booked through travel agents, and as such their travel agents will handle any rescheduling. Not so. Most people I know book their travel themselves.
  • The website states that guests will be advised of their rescheduled flights. Not so. You have to call. I was expecting to receive notification of my rescheduled flight, but got nothing except crickets and tumbleweeds, so ended up having to call.
  • The fact that you have to call the “Guest Contact Centre” (if you don’t have a travel agent) is both extremely inefficient and extremely expensive. They need to set up some sort of a toll free hotline OR (as I suggested above) allow people to reschedule their own flights via a special link on the website.
  • The “Guest Contact Centre” is not equipped to handle this crisis. At all. They are a booking centre, that’s it. Don’t even bother trying to get any information out of them—they can’t help you other than to reschedule your flights. And even then, that’s a big fat Maybe.
  • The fact that there is little empathy—or help—with accommodation (or even food) is a huge problem. As far as I can see, Virgin has abdicated their responsibility and handed accommodation issues etc. back to passengers (and their travel insurance companies) to sort out. Lucky, it’s low season, and there is plenty of choice. But being advised that your flight is cancelled around 8.30-9.00am is not cool when check-out is usually 12pm. Virgin needs to sort this accommodation shit out.
  • Virgin’s Facebook Page and Twitter account. Oh dear. People want real solutions to their issues, not scripted, patronising responses. If you want to see how to not respond to a crisis, hop onto Virgin’s Facebook page and check the comments under the “helpful” video they posted. The anger and frustration is palpable.
  • No refund in these circumstances is outrageous. People should be given the choice to reschedule or receive a refund (and hence choose another airline). From the Facebook page, I know many people are out of money and just want to get home.
  • Why doesn’t Virgin partner with other (Asian) airlines or seek alternative flight paths? I get the feeling that Virgin want people to find their own way out so they don’t have to deal with the issue.
  • Of course, people are assuming that there are actually planes available to fly them out. No planes in means no planes out. It’s super easy to cancel flights when there are an absence of planes in the first place.
  • I heard via Facebook that Virgin will cease flying to Bali from January 2016 so their care factor is zero. If this is the case, then it’s a short-sighted approach.

Overall, I have found this experience disappointing and frustrating and stressful. After flying with Singapore Airlines and experiencing their supreme efficiency, I would urge other travellers to think twice before they travel with Virgin. It’s amateur hour.

A class action waiting to happen

In case anyone is interested (and I’m seriously considering legal action), here’s info from Shine about compensation:

Under Article 19 of the Warsaw Convention, an airline is liable for damage occasioned by delay in the carriage by air of passengers, luggage or goods.

However, under Article 20 of the Warsaw Convention, an airline is not liable if it proves that the airline and its agents have taken all necessary measures to avoid the damage or that it was impossible for the airline to take such measures. This will be up to the airline to prove that it has taken all necessary measures to avoid the damage to passengers in terms of loss of airfares, hotel bookings etc or that it was impossible for the airline to take measures.

Maybe this is a class action waiting to happen?

3 Comments

  • Melsy November 16, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    I declare this experience with Virgin to be poop!

    Reply
    • Diane November 16, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      It’s poop on steroids, Melsy. And much more painful than it needed to be. Urgh.

      Reply
  • My 3 Christmas wishes - Diane Lee December 24, 2015 at 7:42 pm

    […] the opportunity to win customers over with how they handled the “crisis”, but failed miserably. They are still failing a month later, when I’ve been trying to get documentation from them […]

    Reply

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