Virgin Flight 1716 Gladstone to Brisbane

Fri, Feb 8, 2013

A boring blog post about waiting

After some unfortunate events at work, and the cancelation of my flight on Saturday I had my flight to LCA moved to Sunday 13:40. I arrived fairly early to the airport and checked in fairly quickly. Upon checking in the nice lady stated the plane was looking at being 2 hours late. Previous flights to LCA have in the past resulted in airport security checking all the bits and pieces in my bag (camera gear, networking gear, Ardiuno gear). My bag usually lights up like a Christmas tree, but this time no questions asked.

I found a nice spot to settle in, and caught up on recent news articles about the Gladstone floods. After a few minutes I spotted a familiar face, Matt, who was also heading to LCA, but on the Qantas flight departing at the same time (13:40). His flight was delayed for a bit, but after a bit of waiting he departed.

Some time past, and eventually an announcement was made to say our flight had been pushed out to 15:55, and that refreshment vouchers of $8 were being handed out. The unfortunate part of this is the Virgin service desk is on the outside of the security area, and the food was on the inside. So I left the security area, picked up the vouchers, of which I got two of and proceeded through security again. I’m not sure why I got two, maybe a mistake or because I am a Velocity Gold member. This time security paused the conveyor for my bag for a fairly long time and pointed at things on the screen. Luckily for me they let it go through with no bag search or anything fancy.

Since I had two of these vouchers I decided to pool them together rather than spend them on beverages. The main deciding factor for this was that they weren’t to be used for alcoholic beverages.

After this I decided to find a nice spot in the airport. With not too much effort I found an area which there was only one other person, a nice viewing windows, a display to show flight status. It also had a table for laptops full of power points.

The expected flight time came and past, with no notice. It even fell off the notice board list which got me a little worried. Not wanting to go through security again I sent Virgin Australia a twitter, in which they replied with the flight status.

Some more waiting for the plane to arrive, and yet another announcement is made to say it’s delayed. It wasn’t long after that the Internet stopped working at the airport, along with 3G. Since I had no phone, or internet, I wasn’t sure how wide spread the issue was, for all I know work may have lost it’s WAN again, but no one on site would be able to contact anyone off site to get help. I did ask around the airport if they had any pay phones that worked so I could check with site to no avail.

Eventually an announcement / page was made for my name and a few others (which were connecting flights). This required going out of security cleared area and to the service desk again. We were asked if we wanted to still take the flight, of which we did and they apologized for the delays. They also said that they couldn’t print any more meal tickets due to the computer network being down. Virgin also informed us that the incoming flight was mid air and was expected in 45 minutes.

The plane rocked up about 45 minutes later (now 20:45) and we had to undergo the offline check-in which took a very long time. At 21:10 we were actually on the plane, which made a lot of people happy, but practically had to wait 50 or minutes for them to finish the manual system checks. One issue that arose was that the baggage wait was on the computer system, so they had to unload all the baggage and reweigh it to get the correct weight information to the pilots.

Upon a very rough landing, we had to wait for 50 minutes before BNE airport could find us a parking spot for us. The captain humorously asked ground control if we could park under the wing of an A380.

I have to say the ATR 72-500 is a very nice plane for being prop driven. Even in the windy and rainy weather it was very smooth.

I had obviously missed my connecting flight. Virgin treated me as a rock star and put me up in a fancy hotel in the city. A short taxi drive there with another flight 1716 member. Virgin was able to provide me with cab charge for both getting to the hotel and back.

I only stayed in the hotel (very nice place) for a couple of hours, long enough to find that there was a 5am flight to Canberra. I waited in the service desk line for about 45 minutes then just ended up booking a new ticket online and using the priority check in line. Passed through security and made it (finally) into the Virgin lounge. It’s a very nice place.

Flight to Canberra was delayed numerous times, and then eventually at 10ish they announced it as nearly ready to board, then cancelled the flight entirely about 15 minutes later. What was really disappointing was the ladies in the Virgin lounge were unable to get me another flight. They could see one available but not actually put me on it, and just told me to ring the service desk number (with wait times of over 30 minutes). With my phone now flat I tried to talk to real people but that failed with extremely long lines for the service desk. Also tried to pick up my baggage only to find it not there. They appear to have a huge backlog of luggage to distribute due to all the cancelled flights.

What Virgin Australia did well

  • Offering refreshment vouchers
  • Answering peoples questions
  • Dealing with angry customers (and there were a lot)
  • Keeping track of my luggage

What Virgin Australia could do better at

  • Controlling the weather
  • Having better processes for being offline. The system seemed very slow and crew seemed unsure what to do. Maybe their IT system can worked in a cached mode or something
  • Automatically book me on a connecting flight, or have some sort of self service / online system for me to do it myself
  • The high number of calls caused me to be on the phone for 2 hours with no result, something that is hard to control, but I think could have been better. All I wanted to do was change my connecting flight due to missing when the GLT->BNE flight ran over. A web interface could have been useful here to cut down on calls.
  • Lounge staff should be able to rebook flights
  • Check-in terminals should also allow booking a flight. I can book a flight with my phone, then check-in using the terminal, why not have the whole process done on the terminals
  • Why is it that my Brisbane to Canberra flight (first one in the morning) got delayed, the one a couple of hours later was free to go. When I asked about this they said I couldn’t be moved to that flight at all. I’m presuming this is so they only delay one group of people, rather than two, but still very annoying to watch another flight take off while yours is grounded.

Beyond Virgin

With Virgin Australia staff unable to change my BNE to CBR flight to another on the same day I had to buy a nice expensive economy ticket with Qantas (last minute flights aren’t cheap). While waiting for this flight, I made use of the Virgin lounge again (which I think is against their TOS, but meh). This flight was delayed for boarding three times from 18:45 to 19:45. I suspect I’m the unluckiest person when it comes to air travel to LCA this year.

The refund

I waited some time after the event before calling up and asking for a refund on my flights. The first lady was confused at what I was trying to explain (I suspect that she thought I wanted to cancel the flights), however she transferred me to another lady who was able to issue the refunds. I suspect they had some issues refunding one set due to me paying via direct deposit (via POLi - a very scary and insecure online billing system that I think Virgin should drop infavor of BPAY or something), but all in all they were happy to refund the flights that were botched (1716 and the connecting flight).