Virgin Australia – A brand damaging event

I fly a lot so that I can fulfill my client commitments. For the past year I have flown consistently with Virgin Australia and to be fair their overall service delivery has been very good. Most importantly my flights have been for the best part on time and I have felt safe on every flight.

Except for one of my flights late last week.

A return flight from Brisbane to Melbourne. The first 100 minutes of the flight had been effectively uneventful, which is what you actually want on a flight. I was sitting in a window seat in row 7, with another passenger in the aisle so we had a spare seat between us.

After the Captain had announced that we had commenced our decent and the Seatbelt sign had been switched on, a crew member approached the gentleman in the aisle seat in my row and asked him if he could move so that another passenger could be moved up toward the front of the plane from the rear of the plane. He stated that he didn’t want to move and would it be okay for the passenger to seat in the spare seat between the two of us. The crew member agreed and headed toward the back of the place.

Moments later she returned with a female passenger appearing to be in her early 30s. It became immediately clear that at the very minimum this women was extremely intoxicated and possibly under the influence of other substances as she literally fell into the seat bumping hard into my left side. She then proceeded to repeatedly swear at the top of her voice using swear words that start with the letters ‘f’ and ‘c’ in most sentences that she spoke. She was rude and obnoxious to both myself and the other gentleman and the other passengers in the rows around us.

She refused to put her seatbelt on and tried to make a phone call but was unable to punch out the number on her phone and gave up.

My peaceful trip had well and truly been interrupted.

It was quite an unusual experience as the woman’s behavior was unpredictable and dangerous from my perspective. It really felt as if she had been placed between the two of us by the crew and she had then effectively become our problem to deal with. Only once did a crew member check on her and he continued down the aisle after she gave him a ‘verbal spray’.

On more than one occasion when were were deep in our decent she attempted to stand up which is clearly dangerous behavior. Throughout this ordeal I kept telling myself to remain calm and not to do anything that could provoke further dangerous behavior. I also kept thinking that it would only be 25-30 minutes before we would be at the gate and she would be arrested and she would have to deal with the law for her unacceptable behavior.

After landing we had a long taxi back to the terminal. She got up out of her seat, climbed over the gentleman in the aisle seat and stood up. The crew called to her to sit back down, an instruction that she partially followed by choosing to sit in the lap of the gentleman in the aisle seat. He didn’t look as if he was happy about what was happening.

Again I thought to myself, “Well at least she will be arrested and have to explain her actions.”

Upon stopping at the gate and the seat belt sign went off she rushed toward the front of the plane. As we stood to collect our own bags from the overhead lockers the agreement from the passengers around me was that, “At least she will be arrested.”.

To our complete shock and disappointment this did not happen. Instead she was allowed to alight the plane just like the rest of us. We simply couldn’t believe our eyes!

I can only imagine what it must have been like for the passengers who had to sit next to her for 100 minutes.

From my perspective safety is the No.1 service issue for plane travel. This woman for whatever reason had chosen to put hers and the safety of other passengers, including myself at risk and there was no consequence for that behavior.

Frustrated by Virgin Australia’s inaction I called their frequent flyer program to register my concern. I was informed that if I wanted my feedback to be actioned then I needed to go online and type in my feedback. I asked the staff member handling my call if he could see all of my details on the screen in front of him. He informed that he could.

Despite having validated my membership number I was again told that my feedback would only be registered if I went online and typed it in. I was again frustrated, “Why would I go online to type in my feedback when I am already telling you and you have my details in front of you?”.

It seemed that Virgin Australia was making it hard for me to have my issue properly heard.

Due to the safety nature of this issue I did go online to report my experience. Have a guess how long the automatic reply informed me that it would take for someone to contact me regarding my issue?

I quote, “…we aim to contact all guests within 21 days where possible.” 21 days!

Surely Richard Branson would be shocked to hear such a period. I really was astonished. It seemed that Virgin Ausytalia really did fail us both at the gate and beyond.

The key service issues for me were that the Virgin Australia staff on board the plane did not provide any assistance to myself nor the genetleman in the aisle seat with regarding to managing this woman’s behaviour. Whether we liked it or not she had become ‘our problem’.

With regard to the lack of consequences for her behaviour I am concerned about Virgin Australia’s saftey procedures with regard to passenger behaviour. Was ‘turning the plane around’ more important than passenger saftey?

Thirdly, it is extremely frustrating when you verbally contact an organisation to provide feedback about their organisation, (feedback that could help it improve) and you are requested to ‘go online and type in your feedback’. Great service organisations make providing feedback easy. Why couldn’t the call centre staff member record my feedback and offer to have it followed up? Why couldn’t my call even be recorded (which is something that I requested).

Finally, a response time of 21 days simply provides the message that Virgin Australia really isn’t serious with regard to hearing feedback from it’s customers. In the year 2012 does anyone actually think a response time of 21 days is acceptable?

Service organisations are tested when things go wrong. How they recover is what really sets service organisations apart from each other.

I’ll keep you informed with regard to what eventually happens.

Learn about the OTM Service Strategy® here.

Gary Ryan enables individuals, teams and organisations to matter.
Visit Gary at http://garyryans.com

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