When things go wrong…. Virgin inaugural return flight from Accra

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This topic contains 2 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by  continentalclub 26 May 2010
at 15:36

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  • Anonymous

    Tom Otley

    With cabin crew in the spotlight, I thought it might be worth telling a positive story.

    Our return flight from Accra, Ghana, VS658 yesterday was due to depart at 1445. We were late onto the aircraft and informed that there was a delay because of paperwork detailing the number of passengers on board and weight distribution, but we would soon be on our way. We had boarded by two sets of steps, but by this stage only the front set of steps was in place, and there were frequent visits from ground staff with clipboards and pieces of paper. We waited. And waited.

    After a couple of hours, the paperwork was completed. Unfortunately by then someone had noticed that one of the tyres was not fully inflated. The decision was taken to change the wheel.

    Eventually this was done (after about four hours), but some passengers had had enough. There was shouting in the cabin, and next thing passengers started to demand to be left off the aircraft. After much discussion (and more shouting) seven passengers left. We were then told we would have to offload their bags. Meanwhile, the tyre pressure had reach 140psi but the air canister filling it had run out and a new one had to be fetched from the other side of the airfield.

    The delay was now up to five hours, and more passengers were threatening to leave. Virgin staff were trying to persuade them not to, since if they did, their bags would have to be off loaded and we would never be able to set off. It was touch and go. The tyre had now been inflated, but outside the aircraft and at the door heated discussions were taking place (heated in every sense – although the air conditioning was on in the plane, it was still very warm and humid as evening came, and the front door was open).

    As we’d already reported on Businesstraveller.com, this was the return flight for the inaugural to Accra

    (Fifth African Service for Virgin)


    Sir Richard Branson had flown out with us from London Heathrow T3 on the Monday morning, but was not on this Tuesday return flight. Nevertheless, we had Virgin senior management including the Chief Commercial and Financial Officer, the GM International and Distribution, the Director Commercial and Revenue Planning and current head of communications as well as the future Director of Communications. All of them, along with the crew, were using every effort to calm down the situation, but it was touch and go whether we would be able to stop more passengers from leaving.

    It went down to the wire. Upper Class was full of those who had walked forward to see what was going on, talk / shout at the crew, demand to leave or who just fancied sitting in a more comfortable seat. More persuasion and apologies from management/crew. Just as it looked like we might leave, some other passengers tried to leave. Eventually, around 2200 (I think) the doors were closed and we were off. Once airborne, a full apology was made over the tannoy and the offer of a free return flight on any Virgin service in the cabin the passenger was booked in was made. Also the offer of hotel accommodation when we eventually arrived at London Heathrow. The crew then worked through the night serving food, making drinks and performing their normal duties, having already done nine hours on the ground. They were absolutely superb, the best I have ever encountered in some very very difficult and stressful circumstances. I am not saying this to contrast them to the staff of other airlines, or to say they are better, but every one of them performed with total professionalism and deserve huge congratulations. The paying passengers have been offered compensation in return for the experience, but the crew were “just” doing their job, and many of them had long journeys once we did land, at 0405, breaking the Heathrow curfew and being the first passengers of the day at LHR (no queue at immigration).

    It was a memorable flight for lots of reasons – but it will be the staff and the way that Virgin handled the situation that remain.


    Different circumstances but similar experiences, it would seem, to that which I observed back in January during the worst of the Winter weather:


    When crews, of any airline, rise to the occasion it really is quite inspiring. That they display their very best in the face of far too many passengers displaying the very worst of their characters is a huge tribute to the quality of crew training and the professionalism of the crews themselves.

    So, quite apart from the absolutely appropriate service-recovery that’s coming to passengers, some of whom will have been less than reasonable by the sound of it, I do hope that Virgin give their crew a cuddle too.

    It’s the least that they deserve.

    And perhaps the above post is a perfect candidate for:



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