It will be interesting to see how Dickie Branson's Aussie offshot Virgin Blue responds to their current state of crisis. A crisis that they have made worse through their arrogant attitude towards their customers.
The whole thing started yesterday morning, at about 10am when a mystery leak caused the closure its Melbourne Airport terminal. Ambulance crews treated 57 people for vomiting, nausea and shortness of breath caused by the still unidentified leak (yes, still unidentified almost 48 hours later!). The terminal remained shut until 8pm, throwing the travel plans of 13,000 Virgin Blue commuters into chaos with 102 canceled flights.
So what did Virgin Blue do to try and look after its frustrated passengers? They shrugged their shoulders, passed the buck onto the Airport Authorities and served their passengers some water:
"It was out of our control what was happening, so we felt it was a bit unfair to offer food free of charge."
That was Guest Relations Manager Matt Dixon, who obviously has no idea how to look after "guest relationships." (when it hits the fan, he calls it "unfair"). He added that Virgin crews offered to sell sandwiches ($5.00) and drinks ($3.00) from the in-flight canteen. There is only one thing worse than an angry passenger, and that's an angry passenger is hungry...
Oh yeah, because they were stuck in Melbourne for the night, they were told they could organise and pay for their own accommodation in Melbourne – or spend the night in the international terminal. How good of them! And as for organising another flight, they were told to do that themselves as well, with many waiting on hold to Virgin Blue for more than half an hour on mobile phones.
Is that fair, Mr. Dixon?
This whole episode will come back to haunt Virgin Blue. Big Time. They reckon that the incident has already cost them $2million. But that will be small fry to the damage to their reputation and brand.
The answer was so simple Mr. Dixon, even if the closure was not Virgin Blues fault. You had a choice to either take the hit, re-read your "Guest Relations Handbook" and look after the passengers, or look the other way.
All it would have taken was for you to feed your passengers, help them to organise accommodation and to reschedule their flights. Easy. Just lend them a hand. Sure it wasn't your fault, but it sure as hell wasn't your passengers either. All it would have taken was some sort of demonstration of compassion and understanding.
Then the news would have been dominated by the "mystery leak" instead it is all about the shitful, couldn't care less attitude of you and your airline.
And the irony in all of this? Paul Stoddart announced the launch of his new Aussie airline OzJet today....
- Virgin Blue has caved to mounting pressure (almost 30 hours after the whole debacle started to unfold) and agreed to compensate travellers affected by the terminal closure. Anyone who was delayed for more than four hours will be offered a free flight of equal value. Why not just do this in the first place? Instead it entered into a public relations fire.
- We still don't know what it was that caused all the fuss, beyond the fact that it was a "leak" I find that amazing. The reality is that more than 50 people were taken to hospital after toxic fumes made them ill and they still don't know what it was they inhaled. Nor has it been discovered where the fumes came from and whether their presence was accidental or deliberate. So just how secure is Melbourne Airport? The relevent authorities should have a good hard look at themselves.