Monday, June 22, 2015

Why I hate Virgin Atlantic

I've never flown on Virgin Atlantic airline. And yet I hate them. Here's why:

Shopping for flights to Europe for my family's summer vacation, I came upon a round-trip from Los Angeles to London on Virgin Atlantic at a decent price. It looked good, but wasn't quite right: We also needed to get to Paris (our trip would be both in France and Britain), and Virgin Atlantic doesn't fly to Paris.

So I called Virgin Atlantic with a question: If we booked a flight on another airline to fly from London to Paris on the same day our Los Angeles flight arrives, could we get our luggage transferred between the two flights? This would save us the hassle and time involved in going through customs and immigration in order to pick up our luggage from the first flight and then re-check it.

The VA rep's answer was straightforward: "Yes, if the other flight is on British Airways."

Great, I thought, this should work.

So I booked the flight on Virgin Atlantic, parting with $5,500.  But before booking the British Airways flight, I wanted to double-check to make sure I was doing this the right way.

I called Virgin Atlantic again, told the representative what I was doing and asked if I had to buy the British Airway ticket through them, or in some other special way, to make sure the flights could be "linked."

No, he said. "Just go ahead and book it and then let us know the flight details." OK, simple enough.

So I booked the 2nd flight on British Airways. The first flight would land at London's Heathrow Airport, our luggage would be transferred, and we would board the 2nd flight a couple hours later.

Or so I thought.

I called Virgin Atlantic again, and told the rep that I wanted to link the 2nd flight info to the first one. "I don't think we do that," he said. I gulped, suddenly seeing $6,000 flash before my eyes, and explained that the two previous representatives had told me they could do this. He took down the information, but frankly I think he was just trying to get me off the phone.

The exchange got me worried. So I emailed VA to get a definitive answer. It was not good.

"Unfortunately we can't link bookings together if they are made by separate airlines," said Kareen Elliot, a members of the Virgin Atlantic's "Customer Service" team (official motto: "We put the 'resent' in 'customer service representative.'")

Kareen added, "As you have purchased separate tickets with the individual airlines I'm afraid we can't transfer your bags through to your final destination."  

I pointed out that purchasing "separate tickets with the individual airlines" was precisely what their representatives instructed me to do. Kareen was unmoved.

We were now in a perilous position -- if we had to collect our bags and recheck them in that would mean going through immigration and customs, and we could easily miss the second flight.

Since they wouldn't transfer our bags, I asked if Virgin Atlantic could book us seats -- waiving the normal $40 a seat charge -- as close to the exit of the plane as possible so our whole family could make a mad dash through the airport. 

Clearly moved by my appeal, "customer service" rep Matt Thompson said: Not a chance.  He added, "Have a fantastic evening." 

Thanks for the help, Virgin Atlantic.

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