Monday, August 27, 2007

Branson's pickle

The preparations for my marriage to Beloved have been under way for a while. I bought Qatar Airways e-tickets to Washington Dulles Airport back in May, Beloved and I chose our rings in June, and by July the venue and guest list had been finalised. What could possibly go wrong?

Rather a lot, actually. Mostly where air travel was involved.

Having, owing to bad planning and mismanagement, missed our Qatar Airways flight out of Dubai, I had to find an alternative carrier that would deposit us in Washington DC at more or less the same time as the Qatar Airways flight. It was imperative to get a marriage licence from the County Court on Friday, or else there'd be no wedding. We did have to pay for, rather than exchange, our tickets. this was a rather alarming Extra Over on the budget. We would also have to change aircraft at Heathrow rather than at Doha.

Virgin Atlantic was very nice to us on both flights, even upgrading us to First Class for the transatlantic part of the trip. A flat bed was most welcome, the food was yummy, the cabin crew were exemplary in their friendly politeness and the flights as a whole were nothing short of excellent. Even the pre-flight safety video was amusingly entertaining. Full marks for Sir Richard Branson's airline so far.

Sadly, however, this happy experience was short-lived. We accepted that in the ninety minutes between our failure to board Qatar Airways out of Dubai and Virgin's takeoff it was impossible for anyone to find our luggage. But this would not be a problem: the luggage would, we were assured, be found and loaded on to a following flight.

At Heathrow there was no record of our delayed bags. We requested that a trace be put on them. It was important that the bags were located because they contained a lot of our wedding stuff!

Naturally, the bags weren't at the carousel at Dulles. Beloved cleared Customs and Immigration before her (foreign) Goat who was busy providing hoofprints and eye-scans, and went in search of Virgin Atlantic's ground staff. Having obtained the information that the bags would arrive on tomorrow's flight, plus a phone number to try tomorrow, we headed off for the hotel and collapsed in a jet-lagged heap.

The phone number yielded nothing more than 45 minutes of "We're a truly wonderful airline. Please hold on because your call is important to us." Not important enough to pick up the damn phone, though. Every day, in the absence of anyone to speak to on the phone, either Beloved or both of us travelled the 37 miles along the toll motorway from Alexandria to the airport, incurred between $8 and $12 in parking fees and then travelled the 37 miles back again having been told some variant of:-

  • "The bags are on this evening's flight."
  • "The bags are at Heathrow."
  • "We think the bags are at Heathrow, but we're not sure."
  • "It's not certain that the bags left Dubai."
  • "It's all British Airways' fault." Eh? Virgin employs BA staff to fail to answer their phones?
  • "There's nothing wrong with our helpdesk number." Patent nonsense: no-one ever picks up.
  • "Call me between 1pm and 3pm tomorrow." No answer.
  • "The boss will be here between 9am and 5pm." No-one from Virgin was at the airport at 10:30am.

    I detest being lied to.

    So the wedding went ahead without the luggage. No gifts for Beloved's relatives, whom she's not seen in over a year. No expensive make-up that she bought specially. No shoes ditto. No shirt studs, bow tie, cufflinks or dress shoes for the groom. I had to borrow shoes from one of the guests, and he's about 6ft 5in. Instead of chilling out with the guests on the morning of the wedding, Beloved spent all day rushing around buying replacements for all the stuff that was by some accounts sitting in a mouldering heap at Heathrow along with some fifteen thousand other suitcases. Beloved's father and the Goat entertained the guests from out of town: California, Michigan, Plymouth, Calgary...

    After the wedding, which went very well despite all the last-minute rushing around, thanks for asking, it was time to do a little sightseeing in and around Washington DC. Thanks to Jim for giving me his old size 12 sneakers so that I wouldn't get thrown out of the Capitol tour for looking too much like an oversized, hirsute hobbit. Then we headed off to Dulles (again) to send my family on their happy way back east to England. Beloved and I also checked with Virgin (again) only to be fobbed off (again). There should be an ombudsman who deals with customer service. OffFob, perhaps. I asked for our statutory $50 each 'buggering about' money following lost luggage, only to be told that this payment would only be made after 21 days, when the airline considered the bags to be 'irretrievably lost.' According to Virgin Atlantic in Dubai, this last bit is a piece of fiction invented by Virgin Atlantic staff in Washington, and should be added to their other infelicific attempts to win the Booker Prize.

    Eventually we did get our bags back. They arrived after Beloved and I had checked in for the return flight. We rescued our luggage from Virgin's clutches and gave it immediately to Qatar Airways, who transported it without fuss back to Dubai.

    Now, Sir Richard, what is the going rate for screwing up a wedding? Is there any form of compensation for being deceived, being lied to, and wasting several hours a day of one's entire holiday waiting for non-existent information delivered by Virgin Atlantic's egregious lost luggage staff?

    Edited on 5th November to add this: Following receipt of my letter of complaint, Virgin Atlantic at first emailed a standard put the punters off letter, offering to "consider payment of up to $50 compensation on production of the receipts." I regarded this as totally inadequate, and telephoned Virgin's Dubai office to say so. At length, I got through to someone senior; someone who actually seemed to realise the importance of customer satisfaction. We eventually agreed that two free return tickets to London would constitute adequate compensation.

    Now all Beloved Wife and I have to do is figure out when we're going to take the leave. And if possible, all our luggage will be carry-on!
  • 3 comments:

    J. Edward Tremlett said...

    you're quite welcome for the shoes. glad to hear the luggage was eventually found, too.

    They say the true mark of any company is what they do when things go wroGn. I'd say Virgin Atlantic's proven themselves poorly.

    Susan Z. said...

    Poor Goat -- after all those bribes to Sir Richard et al., you still were not allowed to get married barefoot. Best laid plans of mice and goats, they say... --

    El Casareño Ingles said...

    My colleagues tell me the same happens with Air France. But they're state owned of course, so no use complaining or highlighting their lack of service on the internet.

    Strangely I once managed to get all my back pay from a former employer by using that exact same method. One of their major investors spotted the blog entries I'd made. I got my money in 24 hours.

    You know, the more you blog Virgin Asslantic, they more likely that one of their major shareholders will spot your blog.

     

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