Virgin Atlantic: Nightmare on VS18

Virgin Atlantic: A Nightmare on VS18

As my last posting refers to, I was on the VS18 on Virgin Atlantic from Newark (NYC) to London Heathrow on Thursday 15 February that was due to take off at 08.20 AM. After delays due to a “navigation computer” error we took off late but after 40 minutes we were told there was smoke and they dumped fuel and we landed at JFK as that was the closest airport.

Now, I have NO problems with airlines being safety driven. Who would??

BUT, the way that Virgin then handled and treated us was just appauling. The plane eventually got back to Heathrow at midnight on the Saturday. There is a blog started by the passengers that details the fiasco at:

I was extra annoyed by the treatment as I am a very regular traveller and also on this flight was in their “Upper Class”. When similar problems have happened on airlines like BA, while not only do they have a good and slick plan to deal with everyone they have an additional plan to deal with their Business or First who are probably on business and so while still have the same delays as everyone else they are probably travelling alone and without partners or family making a delay of 2 days or more even more unbearable.

I have emailed and posted Virgin a letter (and still no response) 2 days later.

I sent a series of questions that will show just how bad the way they handled us. I believe from people who know the Virgin set up in the USA is that they do not have permanent staff and only contractors who don’t have the same energy and passion (of course) to committ to the company or worry about it when things go wrong as the company has not committed to them by giving them permanent roles.

Here are the questions I sent to Virgin (especially note the one about the bus drivers..):

Staff at JFK: Why were the Virgin Staff at JFK not clearly visible and easy to find? Then why did each of them dotted around the terminal give different advice? (For example: some were saying stay in the baggage hall, the next to go up to the 4th floor to see ticketing, the next to ignore that and go to the busses, the people managing the long queues on 4th floor telling people different things?). Flight diversions are not unusual so surely there is a standard routine in place. It was clear the JFK staff wanted us off the site so we were no longer their problem.

Busses & Bussing back to Newark:
· Why did we sit on the busses for over 1 hour with no-one explaining what was going on? Why did all the busses, with I assume around 250 passengers in total, route via Canal Street in Manhattan to pick up the lead bus driver’s wife and shopping rather than the faster and more direct route transportation would normally take via the Verazano Bridge? A routing that meant it took from 2pm to 5pm to get to the hotel.

· Why did no-one from Virgin either come on the busses before we set off to explain what was happening to each bus and why, or even better did someone from Virgin not travel on each or at least one of the busses with passengers?

· Why the driver of the bus I was on, when he lost the other busses, have no idea which hotel he was taking us to and had to be instructed by UK passengers on how to get to Newark Airport to go to the Virgin Terminal to find someone from Virgin to tell us which hotel to go to?

· Why did the same driver then get us lost in Hillside as he had no idea where the Radisson was, and keep stopping to throw snow balls at his windscreen to be able to see out (i.e. the bus was not equipped properly and checked before we left on it)? A passenger had to call the police as it was getting dark and we were getting scared.

· Why did the Virgin person we spoke at the terminal after directing the driver there tell us to go to the Radisson when the hotel we should have been going to was the Ramada?

· Why did passengers, including children, not get ANY food or drink (unless you were in Upper Class and got a muffin on landing at JFK) from 8am until after 5pm when we arrived at the hotel?

Lack of Virgin Staff and clear information at hotel: · Why was there no one from Virgin at the Ramada when the busses arrived to greet passengers, explain what to do and next steps?

· Why did the hotel have to call Virgin and demand someone arrive to calm the passengers when still no one had arrived by dinner time?

· Why did someone from Virgin promise to come at 9pm (4 hours after the last bus arrive), but only came at 10.10 (5 hours after the last bus arrived) which was the 1st time we had seen or heard from Virgin since 2pm (8 hours previously)?

· Why did the senior management team not come to the hotel at this time (or ever for that matter!) but send a young and clearly junior staff member who had not been trained or have the skills to deal with a mob of angry passengers, who got angrier because 10 hours after the flight landing and being ignored by Virgin all she could say was that she had “no news”? The junior lady was let down by Virgin in my view and stayed up all night and well into the next day trying to deal with things but was alone and had no support.

· Why next morning when there were 2 other staff members when we were all told (after being called at 2.30 am to be downstairs ready) did each of them also tell people different things and advice?

Wrong information about flights available:
· Why were we told there were no flights on other Virgin or other airlines until Monday by the Virgin Staff at the hotel, but when we called ourselves told that there was space that evening (plenty of space) in Upper Class as it was not fully booked? Why did it the 2 of us who were Upper Class passengers to constantly hassle the staff members to make them call eventually to check on options, and get us on the VS4?

· Why were we then sent to JFK, this time by taxi at your expense, which was much appreciated, when there was no one available to help us until 2pm?

Compensation not related to Upper Class and treatment:· Why were we given letters offering only 50% off a future (!) Virgin Economy or Premium Economy flight or 25000 miles while on an Upper Class Ticket. Compensation? The level of compensation is not acceptable even if I had been an economy passenger based on the treatment received. If you had treated passengers better then this may have been realistic, which it would have just been to have both had someone more senior on hand and also had better flow of information. If this had been better handled by Virgin you would not have so many unhappy passengers and as an airline that tries to position itself based on service this was a real disappointment.

Gary Bembridge

I grew up in Zimbabwe, but I have been based in London since 1987. My travel life spans more than three decades and that includes more than 95 cruises. In 2005, I launched Tips for Travellers to make it easy and fun for people to discover, plan and enjoy incredible cruise vacations. And the rest, as they say, is history. I have the largest cruise vlogger channel currently on YouTube, with more than 3 million video views per month.

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