When it comes to domestic travel Virgin America has been a dream come true for me. I fly it often for business and from the check-in counter to that cool blue cabin, I am greeted by friendly helpful staff that create an experience that I feel would be drab by comparison on any other carrier. Yet it seems that high level of customer service I have grown accustomed to doesn’t apply to their call centers or policies.
It all started with a roundtrip ticket I bought for a friend’s wedding to fly from SFO to DFW for Oct.1 and returning Oct. 15. Twenty four hours before I was scheduled to fly, I received an email welcoming me to Virgin America’s Travel Bank stating I now had an airline credit. Alerted and confused, I called right away to identify the status of my flight. Was my flight cancelled? Is Virgin giving me credit because I fly often? Is Branson rewarding us because he has too much money? What?
Upon connecting to a live Virgin representative, I was told that I cancelled my ticket online and that this credit was for my ticket price minus a $100 cancellation fee. Calmly I expressed that this cancellation was not from me and had to be an error on their system. I stated all was good, they could take the credit back, I would show up to SFO and fly like planned. Oh how naive I am to think it would ever be that simple.
I was told by the rep that if I wanted to take my original flight, I would have to pay the current fare price that I could use my credit toward. WTF!? I went pale as a flood of emotions swept over me. I politely asked the young lady to transfer me to her supervisor in hope of solving the issue.
So after speaking to a few supervisors, this is what I learned about Virgin America I didn’t know before. First, all Virgin supervisors as I was told have the same power so don’t waste time asking to speak to someone higher than the first one you get. Second, all that is needed to cancel a flight is a name and confirmation number. Third, it is Virgin’s policy that a ticket cancelled through the web can not be reinstated ever it seems. Fourth, I was informed that it was possible that I accidentally hit the Cancel Flight button instead of Flight Status because those buttons are side by side (there is smart UI) and that sometimes this is what happens. It was when I heard this that I got really upset. Now I know I didn’t hit this button accidentally because I never went to the website, but the fact that the supervisor told me this happens made me think of all the people that Virgin has screwed over with this UI design choice and current policy regarding web cancellations. Have they never heard of software glitches or big thumbs and small screens?
So after 45 minutes the final supervisor I spoke with was still unable to put me on my original flight but did refund the cancellation fee. She also booked me a new ticket for Oct. 10 – Oct.16 that I used my credit towards. Yeah I lost some money and I wouldn’t be there the whole time I originally planned, but these flying complications hardly ever happen to me so why not chalk it up to ‘my turn now’. I really could tell they wanted to help me, but policy is policy. I let the supervisor know that although I was not happy with the outcome, that her empathetic attitude was what changed my mind from never flying Virgin again and our relationship could continue, until today.
So 24 hours before my rescheduled flight, I received an email stating I had a Virgin credit and when I called to inquire again I was told my ticket had been cancelled online. Now this has to be a problem with their system as I changed my passwords since our last encounter as a precaution and I definitely am not canceling my tickets to then call and beg to get put back on the flight. Another indicator to call the IT department is that I got the cancellation email less than one minute before getting a 24 hour checkin reminder.
When I called this time I had a very different experience. I shared again with a supervisor that this has now happened twice to me and offered to forward the emails I received from Virgin America’s automated system, but she really didn’t seem to care. She simply restated Virgin’s policies and told me that I must have cancelled online because she has never heard of this problem before with their website and she would not credit my cancellation fee. She stated that was a courtesy last time and that she would not approve that this time. I will spare the rest of the details as this has become quite the tirade, but no customer service here. I recorded the conversation with the second supervisor and plan to post that once I edit out the on hold time. This is not right to do to someone, especially twice.
As the techie airline one would think Virgin would be sensitive to the fact that automated systems can mess up. Thank you readers for letting me vent and be warned. Virgin has some policies in place that make it very challenging for both the customer and powerless supervisor to find the win/win. Heaven help you if you ever run into a problem that is labeled ‘web’ for the Virgin America customer service.
*UPDATE TO THIS POST
Seems that I just can’t stay mad at Virgin America for too long. Sure I had to book a ticket on Delta to get to my destination, but shortly after this post I was contacted by a Virgin representative asking me to explain the details of my problem. After further investigation on their part, I was informed that the web cancellations took place from a masked IP. WTF?! I greatly appreciate those at Virgin America that took time to look into this and hope they do forgive my rant about the quality of their online system. I didn’t realize I had someone out to get me via my airline travel. Thanks again Virgin America, see you soon!