Virgin Atlantic responds, barely

Isn’t it hilarious that even its e-mail response was 22 hours late? A rep from Virgin Atlantic swore he sent an e-mail to me at lunchtime on Wednesday, but of course I didn’t receive one. He resent it after I provided a second e-mail, in case he had mis-typed the first one. Finally, it arrived. It says, essentially, “We had no idea it would get that bad, and we have sympathy for you.”

Because I invoked Virgin Atlantic so many times in my tweets and my interviews, I think it’s only fair that the airline has its chance to air its version of events without me as a filter. Here it is, as I received it, with the sender’s contact details removed:

Dear Jason

Thank you for supplying us with your email address via DM on Twitter.

I am sorry to read that you were one of the disrupted passengers onboard the delayed VS4 flight. I know that this flight did not leave as planned but I assure you that when we boarded our passengers onto the aircraft and we left the gate to taxi the runway, we did so with the best intentions.

The adverse weather conditions severely affected all flights in and out of the JFK, and so we worked hard to try and get our flying programme back on schedule, especially at such an important time of the year. Not only were there major disruptions at JFK over the last couple of days, there were even more cancellations and delays out of London Heathrow and Gatwick just before Christmas.

With the need of trying to return to a normal schedule, when JFK airport cleared us to depart your flight on the 26th December we gladly took this window and went ahead to take off as planned. Unfortunately, weather – especially snow – is an inexact science and, as such, the situation changed and we were unable to operate this flight as we (and JFK) had thought possible. Matters were then certainly not helped with amount of time it took the aircraft to get back to the terminal. On the rare occasions that it takes a much longer time than usual for one of our aircraft to return to a gate, our crew will normally provide a drinks service and, if possible, a snack or meal service as well to at least try and make things more comfortable for everyone. However, this is dependent upon supplies.

Had we known, that you would then return to an overcrowded and under stocked (in terms of refreshments and food) JFK airport, then, we most certainly would have cancelled the flight in the first place. However, I am sure that you understand that it would have been in both ours and our passengers interests, for the flight to depart as we were advised was possible. I can only sympathise with the situation that you found yourself in, once back inside the terminal.

During the time that you were waiting for the revised flight, I would like to think that our airport staff pulled out all of the stops to help our passengers wherever they could. With the weather constantly changing, it was difficult to provide precise details about our flights and in turn made their jobs far more difficult than usual. Runways were cleared then became blocked; aircraft were due to land and, subsequently, diverted; flights were advised to depart and later delayed or cancelled. Had we been able to provide more specific information, we certainly would have; however, I hope you can appreciate the difficulty that this weather created.

I am not, by any means, making excuses for any lapse in service or information provided. However, I hope the above goes some way to explain the logistics of such a major disruption, especially where all airlines and airports are caught up in the same scenario.

It goes without saying that we are extremely sorry for the frustration and discomfort that you, and all our other passengers who were scheduled to fly with us, no doubt encountered.

Finally I must stress that at no time were we prepared to risk anyone’s safety. The safety of our passengers and staff, is absolutely our number one priority at every single moment that you fly with us. I cannot emphasise that point enough.

I really am sorry for how things worked out Jason and I do hope that you have a far more smoother and Virgin Atlantic like experience, for your return flight.

Kind Regards

Howard Bowden

Social Relations

I won’t spend much time guessing why so many key issues of my complaints were left untouched, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact this was sent by the airline’s social media folk and not by anyone with real authority to affect policy or issue compensation. But here is the response I immediately shot back:

Mr Bowden,

Thank you for your response.  I understand your points about the unpredictability of the weather, but as you should know from reading my tweets about the events, my objections with how this episode was handled go far beyond that.  In fact, I have always defended Virgin Atlantic’s attention to the safe operation of its flights in this weather event. But other unaddressed issues persist.

In specific:

* We did not receive the hotel, transport, or phone calls that were mandated by EU regulation 261/2004? What compensation is in order for us?
* Is it true that Upper Class and/or Premium Economy passengers were taken to a hotel?
* We already know the crew was able to get to one, so any argument that it was impossible to bring Economy passengers to a hotel will not be realistic.
* Your employee Josie denied me a blanket, which she had in stock, as I tried to camp on the floor of a terminal as subfreezing winds rushed through open doors. On what grounds would that be acceptable?
* Many of us could not redeem our food vouchers because of low supplies or interminable lines. What compensation is to be expected there?
* At this hour, many of us have still not received our luggage despite the fact our was the only Virgin Atlantic flight to leave New York City for two days. What will be done for us about that?
* Why did Virgin Atlantic, unlike nearly every other carrier operating in the Northeast of the United States, refuse to waive the change fee so that I could get out of the way of the blizzard?
* Why did Virgin Atlantic, unlike nearly every other carrier operating in the Northeast of the United States, refuse to cancel VS004? That the airline thought it could make the flight, or that the airport initially cleared it to push back, are not satisfactory answers. VA canceled all its other flights to London that night, so what made your airline think that this one would not be subject to the same weather conditions? It was scheduled to depart eight hours after the snowfall began, and even before we pushed back from the gates, weather reports clearly warned that the blizzard was about to double in intensity; even I received those reports as a passenger.

These are just eight of my immediate concerns, most of them quite serious as customer relations go, but none of which were answered by your letter of sympathy.

Please feel free to escalate my queries to higher levels beyond Social Relations. Thank you.

Jason Cochran

virgin atlantic refugees

Refugees from Virgin Atlantic Flight 004 at JFK Terminal 4, at 3 a.m. (21 hours to go)

6 Responses to “Virgin Atlantic responds, barely”

  1. J

    What a lame email they sent you (but that was expected). Good on ya for sending one back with specific points. Do keep us posted on how many months it takes for them to cover all the points.

  2. Karen

    Of course you understood that weather is flaky, that all flying involves complex scheduling. Letters like that show that airlines believe passengers are idiots and won’t see that airlines don’t care when customers are uncomfortable or in need of assistance.

  3. Johnny Jet

    Keep up the good work. Virgin Atlantic made a HUGE mistake by not offering waivers to passengers. Now they should do the right thing by providing everyone with at least a free ticket across the pond or full refund.

  4. Carolyn Spencer Brown

    Curious, re food, if Virgin knew it was ultimately unable to take off and returned to gate, why didn’t it distribute the food that was onboard already for a transatlantic flight? I was on a Delta flight, same horrific scenario, but at least the airline allowed us to chow down before getting off into a dead, deserted terminal.