My Intolerance at Incompetence Continues On A Terrible Trip to Paradise
5 October 2013
Loren W –
One of the worst things that happens sometimes to a company is their streamlining when they are being sold. It is not rocket science, they ‘lean-up’, reduce costs so they look that much better to their perspective buyers, regardless of the impact on their customers or staff. This is what happened to me recently on a holiday of a lifetime to the Cook Islands.
Hearing Air New Zealand is buying a larger stake in Virgin does explain the repeated appalling service we received, or just bad service. Firstly, having some sort of stupid loyalty to an airline with the name Australia in it, versus the alternative one with the name New Zealand proved my undoing and that of my better half.
On a simple flight going from Melbourne, to the Cook Islands on Holiday via, Auckland, to my paradise, we lost 10% of our holiday stuck in Auckland a beautiful city in New Zealand. Though there was a bit of weather in Auckland, it was already the 2nd challenge I had before my holiday had begun.
On the flight over, a mere 4 hours, I was not served any food and none was available on the plane to purchase. I queried the flight staff, and told I had the wrong class ticket, was not on their sheet, and would have to sort it out when I got to Auckland. I doubted myself thinking I had made a mistake, I also had to pay for in average in-flight entertainment something I again had thought I had addressed, but again it went with the same class ticket as the food.
I found to my surprise there was no virgin support desk in Auckland Airport. By bad luck my mobile phone was not working in New Zealand either after being told from my carrier Telstra, it was all set-up.
So trying to call Virgin on the phone in Auckland resulted in spending much of my initial layover on hold and subsequently being cut off. I then tweeted Virgin that said they wanted to know more, but again was not contactable in a hub airport Virgin had no presence in.
Then the fun began, after a few hours initial delay at the airport, we were all told that bad news you hate to hear, our flight was being delayed due to bad weather at Auckland airport. Now speaking to the recently appearing staff, I queried, what the impact was, staff levels in case of delays, and my food query. I was not able to be helped on the food issue, and told there were back up staff available if the delay continued. Later I was told by the same staff our flight was going to be cancelled.
A few surprises happened then, multiple air new Zealand flights left in the same window of time, we were told air New Zealand had a lower safety requirement for cross winds than virgin had, something that seemed odd, but we were then all summoned to go to the plane though I had been told minutes earlier our flight was going to be canceled due to the weather. Almost an hour later after being bordered were told indeed the flight was not going to take off, and had to get back off the plane, whilst they changed crews, due to the delays.
Again being told there were no staff issues, but the flight was being cancelled, then boarding the plane to only be told there WERE staffing issues seemed suspect. So after all being rounded up were told the bad news. Due to bad weather, our flight was being canceled for almost 24 hours, and we would try again tomorrow. We were told as it was an act of god sort of thing, there would be no accommodation except those with children if at all. When queried if it was a weather issue or a staffing issue we were assured it was a weather only issue. Later I was told it was a staffing issue only as it was after 8pm, and back-up staff were just not available. Calls to Auckland airport confirmed this, as did the weather reports that though it was gusty, flights were not delayed due to weather in our time slot.
Abandoned in Auckland
Now being in a strange (but nice) city, when I asked how best to source our own accommodation we were given letters, saying the flight was canceled, that was it, I said NO, how do we sort our own accommodation as we did not know the city. They mentioned there were help desks by the exits, and a company that would help us get rooms, great.
Ongoing to collect our luggage in our stranded city, we were confronted with a sad sight of dozens of bags from our and other flights all, thrown together leaving the passengers fumbling through rows and stacks of suit cases. It seemed in our case bags were taken off very early, as we were one of the first to visit this suitcase cemetery after learning we were stranded, this added to abandonment issue.
After collecting our bags, unfortunately a recently canceled Chinese flight due to technical issues meant the hotel seeking company, could not cope with them or us, now again with no service desk, no ground staff, the help desk folk gave us an Auckland guide that had some hotels in it. While my better half started there, I called directory enquiries, who were of no use.
We found a hotel 45 minutes away, turned out to be connected to the YMCA was a dump, but staff was nice, the linen clean, no phone to call the airline but all was good.
Again staff on the leg to the Cook Islands again were not able to address the on board food, drink or entertainment issue. We were however prior to boarding given $64 in food vouchers, to use at the airport, which would have been better the day before. Silly whilst many had to spend the night at the airport now folks were not able to spend $32 per person 2 hours before flying out. I saw quite a few folks buying $5 in soft drinks with $64 in food vouchers, a good day for the airport economy at least, as there of course is no change given.
NOTE: FYI, later I found all of that was not true, and my flexi ticket was all the proof I actually needed, adding to my disappointment in all the process issues we were impacted by, but resolved for my return journey, after a few emails over a few days, something I should not have had to deal with on my holiday.
We eventually made it to the Cook Islands, had an amazing holiday, however, at Auckland, after the 24 hour delays.
ET Cannot Go Home
Just prior to leaving for the airport in the Cook Islands for our return leg to Auckland then home to Melbourne, we were told our flight had been cancelled by our hotel staff due to a technical issue. They double checked and they said no our flight should be ok but there were some issues with other virgin flights??
After a great holiday on boarding to return to Melbourne, we were asked by check in staff, if we enjoyed our stay, and would like to stay longer if we could. Thinking this was a social question said the obligatory yes, with a smile and were then asked if we wanted to stay a few days as the flight was over booked.
We were a bit disappointed in this as we thought this was just a social conversation, we politely refused and continued on our way.
As time ticked by we noted our plane had not arrived, and when it did, it was obvious there was an issue, as it did not totally disembark until 15 minutes before, we were due to leave again.
Then the announcement came that due to bad weather in Auckland, we were going to be delayed exactly 2 hours??
I note, in the mean- time an Air New Zealand, plane landed re-fueled and left again within minutes of the same time window and left for Auckland. As we only had a 2 hour layover in Auckland, (hopefully), this meant we would miss our connecting flight barring some action to address this. We were told the pilot would make up some time in the air and we would be fine. I queried the plentiful, Air New Zealand flight staff and they said there was a fog issue earlier but none impacting their flights. Huh?
We eventually made it to Auckland, and were hustled to the international transfer gates, and were the last groups to get on the plane, after being told we were not on the list for the entertainment, drink food, etc. I had them double check and we were there, what happened I am not sure but the flight went well for at least the last leg.
Airlines have to run lean in this tight economic climate, but they always have to. Of course an airline can have a bad day. However, having been lucky enough to travel to 23 or so different countries, either for work, pleasure or both, with many different airlines, I have never seen anything the level of incompetence poor communication and appears to be out and out lies, at what seemed to be general disregard for customers as we experienced MULTIPLE times on this otherwise trip of a lifetime.
I heard one Virgin staffer tell someone they tell’ limited truths’ to customers as many do not have high enough education to understand and appreciate the full story. Geez, great so lie to customers to appease them not something I thought I was paying for, and not what customer service should EVER be about.
There was some serious damage limitation offered for the return flight, that was appreciated, but if I learned one thing is if you are traveling to ANY city with ANY layover, you should NEVER use an airline without a service desk at that airport. Will I ever fly Virgin again, jury is out on that one