Dear Virgin Atlantic,
I am writing regarding the flight VS019 on the 11th July 2006. Yes, that one.
I understand the flight has already entered legend amongst your staff. This letter should come as little surprise.
Due to leave at 11.00, we were boarded promptly after 10.30, and I took my seat in the economy section. While your airline is by far the best in terms of in-flight entertainment, food and service for the economy flier, it is of course one of the least generous with regards to seat space, and as such we were all squeezed into our narrow gaps and awaited the rather daunting prospect of an 11 hour flight to San Francisco.
The captain came on the tannoy to announce that there would be a “three minute delay” as we waited for a space in which to take off.
Half an hour later the captain decided he might as well say something else. There was a problem with the plane. They would get back to us with more information very soon.
Half an hour later we were once more considered worthy of being spoken to. We’d been on board for an hour and a half now, and had only taxied a few hundred yards. It didn’t feel well enough on our way to receive so little information. The engineers need to take us back to a gate to check the plane. We were soon being towed back to where we started.
Roughly another half hour passed, and we were then told that the engineers would be back with an estimate in “ten to fifteen minutes”.
Fourty-five minutes later the captain found time in his busy schedule to give an announcement. It was a problem with the hydraulics. It would take between three to four hours to fix. We would have to leave the plane. It was, by this point, 13.15. Buses were on their way.
The buses arrived to pick us up at 16.15.
At no point was an explanation given. In fact, at one point two hours went past without an announcement. The cabin crew said they knew nothing, which appeared true. That the door to the plane was open from 13.15 onward would suggest that at any point any member of the plane’s crew could have escaped to seek explanation. Oh, and the plane’s air conditioning broke at about 13.30.
By 15.00, having been on the plane for four hours, the personal air blowers began to blow only hot air. It was extremely hot on the plane. Fortunately at this point it occurred to the crew to offer us water. No food, of course, because it was needed for the flight, and where on earth would they find more aeroplane food at an airport?!
After a number of passengers suggested that they might want to turn on the in-flight entertainment if we weren’t going to be either flying or getting off the plane, it was announced that they would! Hooray! At least we could watch one of the 50 movies or many television programmes to pass the time… No, of course not. Only the Virgin promotional travel programme was put on. I believe SEVEN times in a row.
I think it might have been at around 15.00 that we were told we’d be receiving vouchers for when (if) we got back to the terminal with which we could get meals. We were told by the cabin crew at one point that the ground staff had told them the delay was due to their needing to print out the vouchers. They arrived, soon after 16.00, handed out one by one by a total of two people. They were hand written. And for an astonishing £10. Have you ever bought a meal in an airport? No, I didn’t think so.
Once we had received our scrap of paper with “£10″ scrawled on it, we were released onto the buses. They took us back to the departure terminal… No of course they didn’t! They took all 450 of us to a line for a baggage check in a corridor with no ventilation or air conditioning! That’s right – a baggage check! Because while on the plane, about a third of the passengers had been fashioning knives and bombs from toilet tissue and in-flight entertainment magazines, and a decent proportion of them could easily have finished. Well, that line only lasted about 45 minutes, and once our bags had been rechecked for all improvised WMDs, we were let loose to splash out on ten pounds of food. Two sandwiches and a cup of coffee later I laid back satiated… Sorry, I mean, wandered around aimlessly, hot and miserable and so frustrated at the appalling lack of information. After a couple of hours I thought to go to the Virgin information desk to see if anything was known.
“But there’s nothing on the board.”
“When will it take off?”
“When everyone gets on.”
“But it’s not on the board!”
I check the board, but it was not there. I told people I recognised from our earlier five and a half hours sat on the plane the news, and the rest of my party, and made my way to Gate 25 where I informed the staff that they had failed to TELL ANYONE THAT THE SODDING FLIGHT WAS READY. They put it on the boards. We filled the plane.
“We apologise for the delay, and any inconvenience this might have caused,” read the new captain off his piece of paper.
The entire plane joined in a chorus of disgusted laughter and booing.
Ten and a half hours later we arrived in San Francisco, nine hours late.