Whilst up in Sydney last week for our Platinum mastermind meeting, it got quite stormy, especially on the Wednesday night. There was plenty of lightning and thunder outside our hotel window at Homebush!
That caused a change in planes on Thursday morning for our trip home to Melbourne (thankfully no cancelled flight) and I noticed a few extra Virgin Blue crew with us as passengers. The staff mentioned it was due to a few cancelled flights because of the storms.
Only one week before, Jetstar cancelled a number of domestic flights out of Sydney due to weather problems and, much to the ire of passengers, simply off-loaded any responsibility to assist affected travellers. Jetstar blamed Sydney Airport, and the airport fired back at Jetstar, in a stoush that became quite public. Whether or not they were responsible, both parties should be ashamed of forgetting the affect their decisions had on passengers, some of whom spent several hours of the night in a bus shelter outside the terminal.
Enter Virgin Blue and the Sir Richard Branson style attitude.
When last Wednesday night’s flights were cancelled because of the storms, Virgin Blue kept open the lines of communication, brought food back off the plane into the terminal and distributed it to passengers, arranged hotel credits up to $200 so passengers could have accommodation, kept back staff to assist in handing out food and even kept open the Sydney domestic terminal (probably easier after the debacle with Jetstar the week before).
As reported in the Daily Tele, Virgin gave Jetstar a lesson in customer service.
On one hand, as the article reports, “Jetstar faces an investigation by Victoria’s consumer affairs lobby, with hundreds of passengers vowing to never fly the airline again.” On top of that, the article quotes:
The Jetstar fiasco, which left politicians and consumer groups outraged, was the biggest publicity nightmare for the low-cost airline since it took to the skies four years ago.
On the other hand, Virgin Blue, recognising a perfect opportunity for some positive PR and to stand out in the low-cost flight market, did the right thing (whether or not responsible) and showed true customer excellence in response to a similar situation.
Despite a change in plane (which affected our already completed web check-in), a rather busy check-in for our bag drop off and a need to get to the airport a bit earlier, all went as well as could be expected on Thursday — it really didn’t affect our travel. The cabin crew kept us rather amused with their quirky announcements (as they are often wont to do) and it reinforced for us why we choose to fly Virgin Blue. We got an early call on the mobile a couple of hours before departure to inform us of a change in the plane and we were advised to get to the airport a bit early, which we did.
I’ve had an overnight cancellation before (with Qantas/Air Pacific to Fiji) and was given cab charge vouchers and offered an accommodation credit, so I know that other airlines do make an effort to look after passengers when they cancel a service.
In Jetstar’s case, it really is lost opportunity — forgetting the lifetime value of their customers and taking the self-focused, profit-centric view that left passengers — and the public — with a very bitter aftertaste. It risks losing bookings both from affected passengers and other travellers who have seen the fiasco play out in public. That will probably have a much bigger impact on their bottom line than doing the right thing by the passengers on the night.