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The Oxymoron that is Virgin America Customer Service

Virgin America Customer Service, Richard Branson, David Cush

See these two smiling rich guys? Richard Branson (yes, that Richard Branson) and David Cush, the CEO of Branson’s Virgin Group subsidiary Virgin America Airline have a lot to smile about. The least of which, though, is that “Virgin America Customer Service” a phrase that meant something when Virgin America launched a few years ago, has become an oxymoron. “Virgin America Customer Service” is no more. “Virgin America Customer Service” has become code for “at Virgin America, we have a customer service department whose job it is to not provide customer service to Virgin America customers”.

There, I said it.

I tried hard not to have to tell this story. I spent a lot of time giving Virgin America the opportunity to avoid what’s about to happen. Virgin America’s customer service department didn’t help me. Both Mr. Cush’s office and Mr. Branson’s office ignored me. Jill Fletcher, Virgin America’s Director of Social Media, ignored me, too, twice; I reached out to Ms. Fletcher via both LinkedIn and Facebook.

Virgin America, welcome to The Answer Guy’s Verizon Wireless Customer Service Wall of Shame.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in Los Angeles for the West Coast Memorial Service for my sister, Dr. Barbara Yablon Maida. My fiancée and I flew to Los Angeles on Virgin America. We’d flown Virgin America before, as well as flying Virgin Atlantic to London as recently as a few months ago. I’ve always had great things to say about the Virgin family of airlines.

The airline business is a tough one. Most airlines are losing money, and I certainly forgive the fact that amenities on Virgin America today, unlike a few years ago, are entirely à la carte; I won’t make that a customer service issue.

But listen to this:

On the day before we were scheduled to return to New York—and just hours before the memorial service, so you can imagine my frame of mind when this happened—we got a call from Cathy’s mom. Her father was hospitalized, and we were told by Cathy’s aunt, a Registered Nurse, that we should get back East as soon as possible if we wanted to see him.

I called Virgin America. I explained the situation in detail. And the Virgin America Customer Service agent told me that while they could move us from the Friday afternoon flight we were scheduled for to a Thursday night red-eye , Virgin America would be charging me almost $1,100 in change fees and fare differences for the privilege.

It wasn’t an upgrade. It was the same class of seat, on the same route, 16 hours earlier, under duress, with that duress explained to the Virgin America representative. Flabbergasted, and as I said, already in a tenuous frame of mind, I thanked the customer service person and told him I’d get back to them.

On the way out of our hotel for the memorial service we informed the concierge that we were going to be changing our plans because of a family emergency.  Apparently, customer service matters at The Peninsula Beverly Hills. it matters so much, in fact, that without us asking and without so much as speaking with a manager the concierge told us that we could check out as late as we wanted that evening and of course we wouldn’t be charged for the final night of our planned stay at The Peninsula. (footnote: and we didn’t check out until after 9 PM, meaning The Peninsula lost the opportunity to book our room, at all)

She even asked if we’d like her to try and speak with Virgin America Customer Service on our behalf. We gratefully accepted. She contacted Virgin, got exactly the same story we had, was clearly amazed, and then handled the rebooking for us.

I’m happy to say that Dad turned out to be in a less precarious position than it had first seemed, so that part of the story ends happily. But Virgin America’s Customer Service just got worse from there.

Last Monday morning I picked up the phone to try and talk some sense into Virgin America. I started in customer service, re-told the story, convinced the person I was speaking with that we weren’t people just looking for a way around airline rules, and her offer—I’m not kidding—was to refund the change fees of $100 per ticket “without the doctor’s note we usually require”. She refused to refund the $900 that represented “fare differences”, however.

by the way, I’ve received back only $100, not the $200 I was promised, so Virgin America Customer Service screwed up even that part of things.

We do customer service consulting here at Answer Guy Central; it’s a topic I know a bit about. We help our clients with business process, too. Keep that in mind as you read on . . .

I attempted to escalate to executive/presidential customer service and was informed that Virgin America has no such department. I was offered a chance to speak with the customer service representative’s supervisor, however. I accepted, and began again.

After retelling the story, the business process consultant in me moved forward, clearly; I understand that Virgin America and all airlines are run on tremendously complex computer algorithms. I understand that front-line customer service representatives are often not able to make customer service decisions. I even understand that the opportunity to grab an extra thousand dollars in revenue is one to be taken advantage of. But I also understand that the reason for having a customer service department is to provide customer service and create goodwill, not to make money. And that’s where I left my request; please refund those fees because it’s the right thing to do. Refund the fees because that’s what customer service is.

The Virgin America Customer Service Supervisor than explained to me that the reason she couldn’t do that was because the seats we had were of a different “class” than the seats we had originally been booked to sit in. This is called “a distinction without a difference”. And the distinction wasn’t that the seats were better or the service was better; it was that Virgin America has the seats coded differently. I pointed out that the only reason they were in the system differently was because they were “purchased” on short notice rather than a couple of weeks ahead of time.

She told me that I was correct, and that because of that the seats were more valuable. I explained that I understood that, in theory. But I also pointed out that the seats I was giving back to her for the flight sixteen hours later were also more valuable now than they had been when I bought them, and that Virgin America would be reselling my seats for more than I had paid—making it a wash.

And then, because she had nothing left in her arsenal, she liedIn a last-ditch effort to justify the manner in which Virgin America practices customer service, the customer service supervisor told me that my original seats would be put back in available inventory for the next afternoon’s flight at the price I had paid for them originally.

OK, maybe she didn’t lie. Maybe Virgin America simply misinforms or fails to train its employees. Maybe, just maybe, Virgin America actually re-sells tickets on a day’s notice or on the same day as a flight at the price they were originally sold at, just as a matter of principal. But while I accept that “Virgin America Customer Service Agents Are Poorly Trained” possibility, I’m skeptical about the other one.

And now, this gets really ugly.

What follows is an unedited transcript of the emails that went back and forth between myself, Frances Fiorillo, the person in charge of customer service at Virgin America, David Cush, Virgin America’s CEO, and ultimately Richard Branson. There’s a Virgin America Customer Service representative thrown into the middle of this, as well, who told me the same story that the customer service representative and supervisor had told me on the phone. And yes, I referred to my fiancée as my wife; I’ve found it’s easier than explaining relationships and fighting legalities.

The trail ends a week ago. Virgin America hasn’t replied. Not Richard Branson’s office, not David Cush’s office, not Frances Fiorillo or any of her people, not even Virgin’s Director of Social Media, Jill Fletcher.

Customer Service matters. I’ve mentioned before that the bigger you get the more likely it is that you’ll see your customer service department as a profit center rather than as an expense geared toward long-term payoff, and I’m truly sorry to see that not just Virgin America but it would seem the entire Virgin Group of companies has turned away from customer service.

Welcome to The Answer Guy’s Customer Service Wall of Shame.

Virgin America, are you listening now?

And, oh, yeah: Virgin America Customer Service is about to become a Search Engine Optimization play. Get ready . . .

Update, April 2013: Remarkably, if this story is true (and I can’t find any more references to it … oh wait, check the date), Virgin America is about to become Alitalia America. That would be funny; Alitalia is known for their <ahem> interesting approach to customer service by almost anyone who’s ever set foot on one of their planes. Nice one, Cranky Flyer!

38 Comments

  1. Good for you Jeff, This should teach these big Ass companys not to mess around with the Yablons or any other loyal customers who helped to make them millionaries. They need to learn to care and respect their customers- Dont give up the fight! You have an important issue that many others just give up, surrender and let them win. Keep Going public and reveiling how these companys dont respect their customer issues. This can be a David and Golith fight but needs to be addressed and fought – Im tired of being disrespected, screwed and not appreciated by monopolies such as Airline companys, time warner, cell phone companys and the lot! Its time to stand up for fairness and justice. im surprised you actually got a real person to deny you!

    • YEAH !!!!!

      Actually, I wasn’t JUST making noise; it suited my business purposes to write that article; it’s been only three hours since I posted it and it’s already the #20 result in Google for the phrase “Virgin America Customer Service”.

      Because, you know . . . SEO Are Us.

      • glad you’re so excited about a girl who can’t even spell “companies” correctly agreeing with you….

        • C’mon, really? and after I just took you so seriously on your previous comment?

      • that comment was not yet posted. but yes, i do get snarky when people can’t spell a simple word like “companies” correctly, multiple times, when surely the red squiggly line was underneath it repeatedly in their comment.

  2. Firstly, My condolences to your family on your loss. I cannot imagine how difficult things must have been for all of you. May you find peace.

    Now, onto your complaint.

    Virgin America has a business to run. Imagine if 1 out of every 10 passengers had an exception like yours, perhaps valid, but an exception nevertheless. The company would lose more money than it already does, causing multitudes of downstream impacts.

    However, I see nothing wrong in your request for refund. What I find objectionable is your tone – the tone of your post here and the tone of your emails. You could have been kind and courteous. Instead, you chose to be confrontational seemingly stemming from arrogance. Arrogance based on what YOU think customer service should be.

    I think Karma just turned on you. See, I’m a firm believer that the customer is always right and I’ll do my level best to serve them. However, a customer who is not right as in your case, but has a humane point as in your case, chooses to exhibit anger, entitlement and threats instead of drawing empathy, is a customer no company wants. What’s more, the company’s other customers would also not want to find themselves next to this person who has an unaided feeling of entitlement.

    What would I have done differently?

    – In my first call to the airline, I would have them register my request for a refund, which is exactly what it is – a request, not a demand.

    – I would have rushed (without thinking twice) with my fiancé to her father’s side. I would also obtain a doctor’s letter citing the medical emergency.

    – Upon returning home, I would have called the airline to seek the disposition of my request, and articulate

    – If the request was denied, I would ask why, and if unsatisfied, write emails to the airline’s management referencing the above request, and making a courteous plea for empathy. I would also attach the doctor’s letter.

    I would do all of the above by affording the same courtesy and respect to the airline employee(s) as I expect for myself. That would have cost me nothing, and even if my request were rejected, I’d come out on higher ground.

    Instead, you confronted them unnecessarily, and also threw in a comedic thread of using SEO to get your message across. I’m sure David Cush immediately called his mummy because he was so scared. I’m sire Virgin America’s social media team is working around the clock figuring out strategies to counter your SEO attack. Get real – if and when someone who is unprejudiced, clicks on your link and happens upon your post, they will likely see the folly of your approach and argument and laugh at you instead of empathizing with you. BTW – I was searching for Virgin America and happened upon your post.

    Again, I truly believe your request was legitimate from a humane perspective and it is highly likely that I would have helped you if I were on the other end of the phone/email, IF you had been respectful and courteous, AND produced the doctor’s letter.

    I’m not sure what kind of customer service training/strategy you offer to companies, but if it is anything tuned to catering to customers with your approach and sense of entitlement, I will not be surprised if you call someone’s customer service department and they treat you poorly.

    Remember, the person on the other end of the phone/email is a human being. Treat them as such, and jettison your sense of entitlement.

    Why did I write such a long note? Because, it is disconcerting that you train companies in customer service, without seemingly understanding the first thing about customer and provider interaction.

    Why do I think I know more than you? Because I am an executive in a 5000+ employee service organization, and every now and then, albeit rarely, a customer not dissimilar to you, makes a similar case. Our response: thanks you for your business, please read the terms and conditions, and please do not come back. We don’t need your custom.

    You may still get a refund – try being nice.

    • I appreciate your insight, and the time you took writing all of that. And I’ll happily acknowledge that your tone sounds softer and less confrontational than mine, just . . . naturally. It’s true; I sound like I have an edge. In fact, I can hear it in me right now, as I reply to you. I assure you it isn’t my intent.

      That said, ignoring the tone what I did was pretty much what you suggested in your bullet points. I called and asked for help, I spent the money and flew home. After I got home and a few days passed I re-approached Virgin America. I tried logic, and failed. I specifically asked for the phrase “customer service” to be what won out. I felt as though the representatives—all of whom were lovely enough as human beings—and I got on just fine.

      By the way: of course David Cush couldn’t care less, which is the real sad point of the story, customer-service-wise. And had that not been the case this story would never have been written. THAT said: he should care; he should care a lot; as of this moment, the story I wrote about Virgin America Customer Service ranks #7 on Google, #3 on Yahoo, and #1 on Bing for the phrase Virgin America Customer Service, which means it’s getting read. Which means every now and then it’s going to matter, to Virgin America.

      I apologize again about my tone, or how you perceive it. For real.

      • Ok, cool.

        May I suggest that you still obtain the letter from the doctor? Then approach Virgin America again with a different tone? 900 bucks is nothing to laugh off, not counting lost opportunity cost in dealing with customer service, and actually discussing it here :)

        If they are the classy outfit they claim to be, they will listen, and do the right empathetic thing.

        • Thanks, and for sure if anyone at Virgin America was interested in documentation I’d provide it; it’s certainly possible that them saying they “believe me” was a smokescreen to cover them not.

          OTOH, well, as I said, Virgin America has gone radio silent. Even in the face of what I described before, rankings-wise, and me knowing for a fact by looking at our traffic logs that Virgin America has seen the story and revisited it several times, I’ve heard not one word from anyone at Virgin since October 10.

          And please, I hope you’ll believe me when I say that their unclassy behavior is the reason this saw the light of day. Yes, I’d like the $900 back. Yes, I am who I am, sound how I sound, and make a living as I do. But underneath it all I’m just a very sad customer who was previously a very happy one, and they’ve thrown that away over . . . nothing.

    • i 100% agree with you. i happened upon this link from another blog, and i was appalled at his tone. and yes, this was a REQUEST… and the Company was well within its rights to require you to honor the contract you made with them. i’m sorry you don’t agree with the fees. you clearly don’t understand airline inventory (and different fare classes with the same “coach class… also called fare buckets). but Virgin America is not a Customer Service non-profit organization, it is a for-profit business designed to bring in revenue for its shareholders. if you do not like how they generate that revenue — including change fees and fare bucket differences that result from deviating from your scheduled ticket, even in the event of a family emergency — then you are more than welcome to take your business elsewhere. you are not entitled to a refund nor to skirt the rules of your itinerary, which apparently dictated that you received that price for that flight at that time only.

      while i have sympathy for the loss you suffered and the fear you must’ve felt in quickly getting home to your fiancee’s father, i do not feel sorry for you that you had to pay the same fare differences and change fees that everyone else does just because you had this situation. you are not a special snowflake; people deal with this every day. and by your threatening tone and trying to throw your “weight” around, you did yourself much more harm than good. if anything, i’d point to this example as how NOT to approach Customer Service departments when you want a rule waived for you.

      FOR THE RECORD: i do NOT work for Virgin America. i have flown them several times and i think they are fine. i do enjoy airline blogs and have many friends in the industry — but, in fact, none of whom work for VA!

      • Thanks, and I appreciate both your position, and you stating it so clearly (and the “don’t work for Virgin America” disclaimer; I wouldn’t have gone there, personally, but I’m happy you ‘cut that off at the pass’ to eliminate the possibility that I or anyone else reading this would have).

        You’re right, of course, that this WAS a request and that Virgin America was under no obligation to comply. And while I disagree with the assessment that my tone or position were off-base, I’m all kinds of aware that I do speak and write in a manner that can be off-putting. THAT SAID: I honestly believe Virgin America Customer Service handled this the wrong way and I believe that pushing me back DOWN the customer service food chain at Virgin America when I specifically asked to go up was also wrong.

        Further, regardless of what one thinks about my tone or the status of who deserves what from whom and when, I was very careful to enumerate the details of my encounter with Virgin America Customer Service, specifically the fact that unless they actually re-sold the seats I gave back to them at the same price I bought them for (and c’mon; no one believes that happened), then Virgin America profited off my misery. Other than from a purely capitalist perspective (yay for us, just because!), that’s . . . just . . . wrong.

        Like I said, I appreciate you chiming in; for real. But we simply disagree.

      • but why is your reason for travel & changing your itinerary any better than the next person’s? why do YOU deserve this preferential/presidential/out-of-the-box treatment over someone else? this entitlement mentality has gotten out of hand these days. yes, this is CAPITALISM. embrace it. get over it. i know you’ll never agree with me, and that’s what’s so insanely frustrating. just because you want them to do what is YOUR version of “the right thing” does not mean that it’s THEIR version of “the right thing”. again, i’m sorry your family was going through this, but it does not mean you “deserve” special treatment and a bending of the rules.

        • Also a fair position, and yes, anytime anyone says “I deserve better” there’s a question or three to be asked.

          On the other hand:

          The reason big companies have “Presidential Customer Service” lines (or whatever they get get called at Company X) is because even in capitalism we acknowledge that everyone is not “the same”, In fact, specifically in capitalism we acknowledge that. Pretending that everyone is the same is actually the opposite of capitalism, isn’t it?

          Even that might not prove my point to your satisfaction, and that’s OK. But remember that airlines have a long, proud history of serving ‘the community’, or whomever, when they believe it appropriate; again, capitalism makes room for such use of the grey matter. And you know when that comes about? When people ask. And of course, in the case of bereavement, which not only airlines but I suspect most businesses would agree is CERTAINLY the time to think outside the box.

          You’re right; Virgin America was under no obligation to help me out just because I thought they should, or asked. But it could certainly have been viewed as ‘the right time’ to practice customer service in a way other than like robots. And while I understand (again, as I pointed out in the post) that the front-line, phone answering people probably didn’t have that power, someone did. And in my opinion, under the circumstances, Virgin America blew it on the customer service front.

  3. Wow, you’re a pompous jerk. I suggest emailing the President, Secretary General of the UN, the Pope, and God while you’re at it, along with throwing your little Googlebombing tantrum.

    • Wow. As comments go, that was about as good as they come, so . . . how to reply . . . Wait, I’ve Got It!

      I know you are, but what am I?

      By the way: How are things going up there in Seattle, on your Macintosh computer using Chrome as your browser? And coward@coward.com? Sure is appropriate, says me.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. OMG! please forgive me for spelling companies wrong!!!! What an atrocity, now they probably won’t allow me to be buried in a Jewish cemetery !!!! Just kidding- they probably still will, as the plot is paid for and I have no tattoos yet!!!!

    • Belle, if you look through the rest of the comments here you’ll see that this gentleman came in angry, and just kept getting angrier. You, I’m afraid, were a victim of collateral damage.

      • i’m not male, and i’m not angry. i have valid arguments and felt that yours were not.

        • OK to all three points. Apologizing for thinking that a person with your handle was a dude ;-)

  5. sorry, but i do not think Virgin America did any wrong, there are too many passengers with death or sickness in the family excuses , which most are legitimate, i really think you are ranting too much.
    The think i disliked is specifying you are a blogger with a large readership, every one and his brother these days is a blogger, does this give you the right to use this as a scare tactic to Virgin?

    • Lucy, I appreciate your position(s), and we can agree to disagree about Virgin America’s customer service policies and methodology.

      As for my pointing out the size of my readership or using it as I did, please understand a couple of things:

      First: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Interpret that as you like.
      Second: I don’t actually believe Virgin America cares about the audience that reads me, or anyone’s, and in a way I actually appreciate that. By all means, do what you think is right and move on.
      Third: If one reads my entire post and tries to take it all in objectively (and gets past what I’m told is my confrontational tone—one that I don’t intend), I believe that the story being told comes back mostly to the facts that Virgin America has a customer service department, but at the end of the day their customer service department’s actual purpose is to tell customers “this is how we do things here, tough luck”. I find THAT offensive.
      Finally: The line about reselling my original seats at the price I had paid for them is so ridiculous, it’s laughable. I used the words “lied to me”. But I also acknowledged that maybe the customer service rep hadn’t actually lied.

      Listen, this stuff is complicated. I can easily go simple and say “they can do what they like” . . . and they can.

      But how interesting, or useful, would that be?

  6. This sounds like a case for Judge Judy! (Break a smile) Anyway, on a serious note, I do sympathise with your situation. From a neutral perspective, it’s fair to say that it’s always easier not to be emotionally involved when you’re not dealing with the issue first hand. Much have been saif about your ‘tone’ you’re clearly a frustrated man. So it’s nobody’s fault.

    I don’t live in the US so I’m not entirely sure if you can bring this matter to some kind of consumer protection court. Nonetheless, it’s unlikely to become a legal issue based on what Virgin has done so far. If your argument is based solely on the ground of “good” customer service, then it’s pretty much down to what the people at Virgin are willing to do on a goodwill basis. Ultimately, if Virgin sticks to their story and refuse to budge, there’s nothing much that you can do.

    It’s an unfortunate and expensive experience but perhaps, by sharing your story, you’ve given other customers a valueable insight into how similar cases might be dealt with in the future. Your lost could be someone else’s gain.

    • Hi, Jay.

      You’re right; my tone is a lightning rod. I’m not kidding one bit when I say that it’s something that frustrates me endlessly; somehow I’ve never cracked the code on sounding sympathetic. I go for “well-informed and thorough” instead; it’s a poor substitute.

      I consult on customer service and marketing, and because that’s true I got to make some hay out of this. I also have—I’m all but certain—caused Virgin to take a larger financial hit than they would have by just taking care of me in the manner that I as both a consumer and a consultant think they should have. Our Search Engine Optimization for the phrase “Virgin America Customer Service” is now so solid that anyone looking for that is given the opportunity to read the story. Bad choice on Virgin America’s part, and one that didn’t have to happen.

      All of that said:

      I’m not planning to pursue Virgin America about this matter any further, and certainly not legally. My comments about the manner in which Virgin America performs customer service were of course written out of frustration, and yes, I would have been happier just being well treated and made whole financially, but I’m not remotely angry.

      Amazed. Disappointed. No longer using Virgin America or recommending them as I have for years. But … all good.

      Thanks, sir …

  7. This is a case for Judge Judy! :) On a serious note, I do sympathise with your situation. Much has been said about your “tone” when dealing with Virgin but you’re clearly a frustrated man. It’s always easier to be emotionally detached when someone doesn’t have to deal with the issue first hand. So it’s nobody’s fault.

    Since I don’t live in the US, I’m not sure if there’s some kind of consumer protection bureau that you can go to for help. Nonetheless, it’s unlikely that Virgin has done anything legally wrong thus far. If your argument is based solely on providing “good” customer service, it’s totally up to the people at Virgin to respond on a goodwill basis. Ultimately, if they stick to their story and refuse to budge, there’s nothing much that you can do.

    It’s an unfortunate and exorbitant experience but by sharing your story, you’ve provided other Virgin customers a valuable insight into how similar cases might be dealt with in the future. Your loss could be someone else’s gain. Thank you for that!

  8. We had almost the identical thing happen a few years ago with VA (only it didn’t end in a healthful recovery, sadly). My wife and I were in LA visiting relatives, returning on different days. We learn grandma is in the hospital, wife decides to come back early with me, the next day. Jaw-dropping conversation with VA and in the end we agree to a partial refund I think of hte change fee in exchange for a doc’s note when we return simply out of exhaustion (which as always is bad customer service strategy number one). We send it, despite the disgusting nature of being asked to prove a death, and check in weeks later after no credit to our account and they say it was lost, we send again and the same thing. Eventually we gave up and lost several hundred bucks, insult to painful injury.

    I’ve flown VA on 3 or 4 round-trip flights, and while the veneer of awesome is there–the planes are pretty, the services available, concept is slick–underneath they really are kind of hacky and every flight has had one major pitfall. The web site never works correctly so we’ve lost reservations or have flights change mid-booking time after time; or we’re unable to use the site to adjust flights. We’ve never been able to have miles post correctly to frequent flyer, there’s always something wrong. I got yelled at by a desk steward who mistook me for someone else, which was insane. There’s other stuff I can’t even remember anymore. I consider them an option when searching for flights just because at the very least the planes are new and clean and the pricey food is available (that is, if you buy early!), but unlike Jet Blue I won’t ever search out VA on purpose. This I suspect is not a unique opinion.

    • JC, I especially love this statement, which could have come out of my mouth, too:

      unlike Jet Blue I won’t ever search out Virgin America on purpose

      Exactly right. And thanks for taking the time to share!

  9. I normally don’t comment on anything but this post is simply outrageous.

    You have two main reasons why VX should refund your $900.

    1. Switching you to an earlier flight is revenue-neutral for VX.
    2. The situation surrounding your flight change is of great personal tragedy and duress.

    Let’s start with the first one.

    Price discrimination is a well-known and widely used business practice for a good reason—it allows for transactions to occur at an individual “market” price, rather than a one-price-fits-all approach. In this case, VX (and every other airline, hotel, etc.) price discriminates between scheduled-well-in-advance passengers and last minute passengers on the basis that those booking last minute probably really need to get to wherever they are going and are willing to pay a premium for it.

    This model is the a keystone in the airline revenue model. It rewards those who schedule in advance and taxes those who don’t or don’t have the luxury of doing so. Imagine if a hoard of passengers were to show up at VX’s ticket counter hours before the flight, with each passenger demanding to fly—it simply wouldn’t work.

    Some people need to be able to make last minute adjustments to their schedule. That’s why VX offers a refundable/changeable option at the time of booking. It’s no surprise that there is quite a premium on this option (often 100% or greater).

    Your argument is that despite this, the change VX made for you is revenue neutral to them. Thus, they shouldn’t charge you anything extra.

    No it isn’t.

    The average commercial passenger jet serving domestic U.S. routes flies 80-85% full. Unless your previously scheduled flight were 100% full (which occasionally happens), VX most certainly did not sell your seat for extra revenue.

    Even if it did in your particular circumstance, it would be ridiculous to selectively reimburse customers fare surcharges based on whether or not the seat they had originally occupied was later resold. Because most flights have at least a few empty seats even after the last minute passengers have been added, airlines obviously don’t sell 100% of the seats designated as “last minute.” Thus, the revenue for these last minute seats are limited based on the number of passengers demanding last minute seats, not the number of seats available.

    Did it cost VX anything to change your flight? Nope, nothing besides a ticket agent’s time and two boarding passes.

    Then again, an airlines doesn’t have any real costs associated with selling last minute seats at a premium. The fact that your ordering a last minute seat came at a premium is not only non-extraordinary, it’s expected.

    Airlines depend on this additional revenue. If VX had refunded your fare surcharge because it was “revenue neutral” for them, they would be ripping off every other customer who had to make last minute changes and throwing away a revenue source that they depend on (and arguably a service that they provided to the benefit of the customer).

    Second, you make the argument that your case is “special.”

    I hope you have gained some mental capacity since the second grade.

    “Your fiancé’s father is in the hospital? Oh no! Quick, everyone, drop everything help Jeff anyway you can (which is what VX did)! We’re a for-profit company; BUT WAIT, Jeff is having a hard time so let’s just not charge him any money.

    While we’re at it, let’s make funerals and caskets free too! Surely they were done out of duress and tragedy!”

    Give me a break. There are fathers and mothers, sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters passing away every moment. I, myself, have experienced this situation twice over the last few years. Expensive airfare? You bet. Should the airline pick up the tab because its a family emergency? What a joke. Should VX show some sympathy and just do it anyway? Considering how cheap your flight probably was, no (VX isn’t even profitable yet and no, its not because they treated you “poorly”).

    “OH NO, Jeff is a big, bad wolf with some SEO knowledge. Oh nooooooo! Let’s make sure we treat him nicely so he doesn’t post his stupid thoughts on a website with dozens of 25-34 male reader with some college education. Surely when they book flights in the future, they’ll forget that VX often has the lowest fare, best domestic onboard product, and the endorsement as the best domestic airline for the fifth year in a row. They’ll remember that moment when we charged him extra for making a last minute change on his flight. What are we going to do? The world is over!”

    For the record, I am not an employee of VX or otherwise affiliated with them, save for a few flights with them in the past years, which I have found to be superb.

    I see that you check your logs to glean information off of commenters and post them publicly. Ridiculous beyond belief.

    • Peter, I’ll start with your last comment: yes, of course I check my logs. I do so primarily to be engaged with my commenters–even those who sound like you do. So: Hi, and thanks for sharing your opinion.

      Let’s work backward.

      Jeff is the big bad wolf? Nah. Jeff is a small insignificant wolflet. Which is funny given how many readers I have here and who they tend to be, but nevertheless I harbor no illusions about my importance. In signing off with the “c’mon, Virgin America, do you really want me to SEO you in this way?” comment I was stating fact; because I told this story it would be read. And it has been. A lot. And at the moment this is Google’s #4 result for the phrase “Virgin America Customer Service”. I spoke the truth.

      Does Virgin America owe me or anyone anything just because I’ve had a bad day? Of course not. I had hoped that readers would be smart enough to realize my comment was about the value of doing customer service as a service, and most of them have been.

      While I didn’t address this point in the original post what you say about the value of a telephone agent’s time is correct, and as such, and I’ve said this elsewhere, I would have been happy to pay the change fee ($100) to cover that. Bu the fare difference was huge. It’s not attached to this particular point.

      Yes, it’s possible that the seats I traded in went unsold, but that’s a wash somewhere. I won’t even try to engage you on this because neither of us is “right”. Except for this: 80-85% seat use? You flown anywhere lately? Puh-leeze.

      As for the big point, the one about business being business and Virgin America being right to grab an extra $1,000 in revenue when given the chance: I covered that. You’re right. Until you’re wrong. And in the face of my big point”Virgin America, don’t pretend you have a customer service function or customer service department when you really don’t” … well, I guess that speaks for itself.

      Again, thanks for chiming in.

  10. I don’t even know how I happened upon this site, but this is one the most outrageous things I have ever read. Virgin America is under absolutely no obligation to bend their rules to accommodate everyone that has some unexpected crisis. And don’t get me wrong – my father, who lives in another state, just passed away in September. I know all too well the emotional distress of dealing with a loss and also having to fly back and forth. But a business is a business. It’s not a charity that is obligated to create some grand gestures of goodwill. In regards to the hotel not charging you a fee for departing early – that is typical of most hotels (eventhough they say there will be an early check-out fee). I am actually a hotel manager, and can’t tell you the last time we charged a guest for departing early. But hotel room inventory is not nearly as precious as airline seats – rooms are almost always able to be sold, airline inventory is not. Airlines need to do everything they can do to recoup their revenue.

    Your superior attitude is not going to get you very far, and you should be embarrassed to come on here ranting and raving like a crazy person. Bad things happen in life, unfortunately. Expecting everyone to bend over backwards to accommodate you is unrealistic. It sounds like Virgin America did more than they had to by offering to waive the change fee. And trying to act like you’re some important blogger is not going to win you any fans. It doesn’t sound like you’re the premium-paying, regular traveler that Virgin America would be too concerned about keeping happy.

    There’s a reason that Virgin America consistently seems to win Conde Nast and other traveler awards for best airline. If they were as awful as you are intent on making them sound, they wouldn’t be held in such high regard.

    • Michael, thanks for taking the time. I think you missed my point, though:

      I never said Virgin America was obligated to do anything. In fact, I’m guessing you didn’t actually read the whole piece; I went out of my way to say that neither Virgin America nor anyone has to do customer service. I even acknowledged Virgin America’s business acumen vis a vis lying to justify grabbing that extra thousand dollars of revenue.

      My issue, personal injury aside, is that Virgin America, in failing to actually provide “service” in their customer service program, is asking to drop off the rankings they get at places like Conde Nast. Because frankly, if the “reason” they get highly ranked is their purple mood lighting, Virgin America is on the way to being one more also-ran airline.

      As for my superior attitude: sure, whatever. But it’s ironic that in the same passage as calling my attitude “superior” you lecture me, don’t you think?

      Again, thanks for the time …

  11. OK, I’m going to be the baddie – they didn’t fail to understand your point, they didn’t agree with it. Learn the difference. It will help you make your point more effectively.

    • FASCINATING observation. Maybe spot-on, too.From where I sit, though, I’m not sure if that’s better, or worse.

  12. This is why I remember leaving Virgin America call center. Dealing with retards like you! ITS BUSINESS DUMMY! They were nice enough to refund the change fee! Do you understand what you are requesting??? YOUR FLIGHT HAS RULES THAT YOU AGREED TO! IT SAYS NO WHERE IN THERE THAT YOU CAN MAKE EXCEPTIONS TO CHANGES YOU THINK CAN BYPASS FARE DIFFERENCES! You think just because you are flying the same route the next day its no different. I have dealt with people that think its no different they are flying the same route a week later/or earlier. You may not agree with that however Its honestly how you people perceive how important your really change is because its your own personal problem! What you are requesting is no different than me buying a ticket to see the Lakers play game 6 out of a best of 7 series and then trying to exchange it for a game 7 ticket. OBVIOUSLY THE GAME 7 IS GOING TO COST MORE BECAUSE IT HAS A DIFFERENT VALUE. The same applies to your flight. Honestly I would have SOME sympathy if your flight was at the exact same time the next day but its a totally different flight time. Still I would side with the airline because you agreed to the rules of your ticket. They did not force you to buy the ticket and agree.

    Also its important to point out that who cares the hotel refudned you. This is an airline. A brand new one at that who is trying to create a niche and cannot afford to be waiving everything over everyone’s sob story. Its black and white and it is what it is. Virgin America would be long gone by now had they taken your approach to how to treat customers. It would turn into them having to review everyones story….playing favorites…having customers start problems saying this was waived before and how come his/her problem is more important to you guys than mine? and how about just the fact that alot of people are just pathalogical liars? People would try to take advantage of this if they could. Time and money spent on this nonsense that could certainly be spent elsewhere. That’s why it is all black and white and I bet you every other airline would do the same thing Virgin America did. Just because they are the best airline in the sky doesn’t mean they wont follow protocol. If you want to change for free fly Southwest! But even they charge a fare difference!

    • Appreciate your time. Disagree. In private I’d probably call you a few names, too, but … well, let’s just leave it at “disagree”.

      And, of course, that since Google currently sees this page as the #3 most important search result for “Virgin America Customer Service”, that “it’s business” is all that matters.

      Huh. Guess you were right, at least on that point. Virgin America kept a thousand dollars, and we told many thousands of people a story. It’s business.

  13. Based on my first experience with Virgin America this past weekend to attend my daughter’s college graduation, I agree that Virgin America’s “Guest Relations Experts” know precious little about Customer Service. Without explanation or notice, my 2 seats from SFO to BOS were changed from 2 aisle seats to window/middle on both legs of the trip! When it happened on the first leg which I realized only upon boarding, I simply thought I had made a mistake in choosing my seats. When it happened again upon the return flight, I knew I had not made an error.

    Once home, I accessed my original receipt, dated 7 MONTHS before travel, I confirmed that I had booked 2 aisle seats on both legs of the trip. Those booked seats were changed by Virgin America sometime in the 7 months since my purchase without notice, explanation, or apology.

    When I called VA’s customer service number, the first person was appropriately apologetic, but incorrect in claiming that VA makes disclosure of its right to change booked seats. The customer service offered to transfer me to a “Guest Relations Expert” who might have discretion to address customer grievances.

    “Michael”, the Guest Relations Expert appeared not to know the definition of customer service. He proceeded literally to add insult to injury by:

    1. also incorrectly referring to VA’s contract to defend VA’s right to change seat selections on BOOKED flights without explanation: VA’s Contract of Carriage only states that VA reserves the right to reassign passengers booked on 2 specific seats in the event another passenger has medical reasons why they must sit in those particular seats. This is from p. 17 of that contract:

    “Pre-Assigned Seats
    Advanced seat assignments may be made at time of reservations. Advanced
    seats are assigned as a courtesy, and may not be available at time of booking
    and are not guaranteed…

    If a Main Cabin Select guest chooses either seat 3C or 3D there is a rare
    possibility that Virgin America may need to reaccommodate that guest into
    another Main Cabin Select seat or other available seat on the aircraft. The
    unlikely event that would require such a move is if a Guest with either a service
    animal or a fused/immobile leg is in need of the seat.”

    2. VA’s “Guest Relations Expert” was inappropriately condescending, argumentative, and insulting in response to my concerns:
    • When I stated in almost 40 years of air travel, I have never had an airline reassign my seats, much less without notice, this “Expert” told me (incorrectly) that all airlines have this policy and it is “fortunate” that this has never happened to me before.
    • When I objected that I did not believe it was good customer service to tell an aggrieved passenger she is “lucky” not to have pre-purchased aisle seats switched without notice to a middle and window by an airline in 40 years of travel, the “Expert” responded indignantly that he did not say “lucky”, but “fortunate” and that we would not be able to resolve the matter if I continued to misstate what he said.

    I will have to wait for a call back in order to speak to a supervisor since she was not available in the 10 minutes before 5 pm.

    Needless to say, I will not be booking future air travel for my family on Virgin Airways.

    • Sad story :-( , and the worst part isn’t the set of facts you present (the contracts do say (whatever) they say), but the way the message is delivered. Not a hint of remorse, right? “we have the right to … “.

      Which just isn’t what customer service is supposed to be about.

  14. Brett, I appreciate knowing that I’ve struck a chord in you, even if it was one so out of tune with my own feelings and opinions.

    I’m on the way to Cranky Flyer now to continue the conversation.

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