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Monday, June 13, 2011

Has Virgin Atlantic lost the plot by Frank Furness

As a professional speaker, I make around 40 international flights each year. Unfortunately they can’t all be with the same airline as I am at the whim of my clients. I have tried to stick to Virgin, Singapore, BA and Emirates if possible to maximise my mileage points.
I have been very loyal to Virgin over the years and even have a Virgin Amex card that I use for all my business expenses (about £30,000 a year).
I am currently on a flight with Virgin to Shanghai (this is my fourth international flight with Virgin this year) and experienced the worst customer service ever with any airline. With this flight, my client gave me the choice of a higher fee and economy class or a lower fee and business class, so I thought I would go for economy as the flying time was not that long and I could watch a couple of movies and do some work.
When checking in, I told them that I was 6ft 2in and asked if the aircraft was very full and if at all possible I could get a seat with an empty seat next to me. He told me that the flight was full and that every seat was taken. When I entered the aircraft, I noticed that there were a number of rows of empty seats in economy and asked if I could move to one of them. I was told that I could if I paid an extra £30 which I duly did thinking ‘what a con.....’
A number of other passengers also opted to pay the £30 for the flight which was collected in cash (I saw no receipts being given), so I insisted on paying for mine with my card and getting a receipt. Is this a new tactic to collect money stealthily by Virgin, I have never seen it before.
Three hours into the flight the entertainment system was still not working, but I expected that as it has happened to me on my last three flights with Virgin (do they ever get serviced)
The service was below par and twice when I went to the toilets they were in a filthy state with no toilet paper or tissues.
I am used to having a choice of snacks when flying, but was told that there are no snacks on Virgin.
When it came to breakfast time, I was told that I could only have one choice as they had run out of the others. I asked for a second cup of coffee and was told that I could go to the back of the plane and get myself a cup if there was any left.
By this time I felt like I was on a ‘Faulty Towers’ aircraft and asked to see the chief purser. This request was ignored twice and when I eventually got to see her I was told that a lot of crew were sick and instead of a full crew of 30, this aircraft only had 10 crew and it was not her fault that the service was bad because they were understaffed. I asked that if I was only getting 30% of the service, could I opt to only pay 30% of my ticket, you can guess the answer.
This has really soured my view of Virgin who I had a lot of respect for in the early days when Richard Branson still was actively involved.
The bad news is that I have another flight booked with Virgin in 2 months....the first thing I do when I arrive is to phone my agent and ask him to change it to another airline.
I have also decided to move my Virgin Amex card to British Airways Amex after discovering that BA gives a free partner ticket for every £10,000 spent. I have just lost out on 3 tickets with Virgin as they don’t do this.
I speak and present on sales and customer service and feel that virgin have really lost the plot. From my experiences this year, their service sucks (they have even outsourced their check in, how can you control customer service this way).
I personally feel that Virgin should go back to basics and take some lessons from Singapore airlines or even Air Asia.
Air Asia is a company that specialises in low cost flights around Asia, but combine that with great customer service. I always use them if I am flying short hops in Asia.
They are a company that I speak about in my presentations as an example of great value combined with great service. I was fortunate enough to meet their CEO, Tony Fernandez, at one of my talks in Malaysia recently and he is a super person with great stories about the company.
He decided to build his own airport a few miles from Kuala Lumpur International Airport and now has more than double the number of people going through his airport than KLIA.
How is it that some companies get it right when it comes to value and service and other lose the plot?
Virgin used to be a great airline and I was a loyal client.
From now on, not only am I going to avoid using Virgin Atlantic whenever I can, I will also be telling the story of my experiences to thousands of people around the world.
Please comment on your experience with Virgin Atlantic or any other good or bad experience you have had with an airline.