Virgin Atlantic breaks promise, hangs downgraded passenger out to dry

As a rule, Virgin Atlantic has an excellent reputation for customer service. But there are exceptions to every rule. James Simon is one of them.

The airline has broken a promise made to him — and me — to compensate him for an involuntary downgrade.

Here’s the note I received from Simon in early August.

I bought a ticket on Virgin Atlantic last March to fly from New York to London in premium economy. When I arrived at the airport, Virgin canceled my flight but rebooked me on the next flight out on British Airways.

When I was issued my new ticket, it was in economy class. I tried to explain I should’ve been booked in the same class, in this case World Traveller Plus, but BA wanted to charge me extra for it.

I’ve complained to Virgin that I should’ve been issued a partial refund at the very least and haven’t heard anything.

I contacted Virgin on Simon’s behalf. Here’s what it had to say.

We will contact Mr. Simon and offer him $250 in customer relations vouchers or 25,000 miles. We’ll also ask Flying Club to credit him with the miles he would have earned if he’d flown on the Virgin flight rather than BA.

That’s a reasonably good solution. I passed the message along to Simon, and he waited.

And waited. And waited.

A few weeks later, he wrote to me again.

I still have not received an official response from Virgin with the compensation they say they would offer in your last email. Did they say when I should expect this?

To which I replied:

I would give them a week or two, because of all the holidays. Please let me know if you don’t hear from anyone by mid-September. I apologize for the further delays.

It’s highly unusual for a travel company to promise compensation but to not deliver it. I really believed that Virgin had gotten sidetracked. I was wrong.

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Two weeks later, Simon contacted me again.

I’m sorry to disappoint you, Chris, but despite my patience, no one from Virgin has responded with the settlement you described. Please inform them that if I have not received the credit vouchers and miles in my Virgin account before the end of this week, I will file a small claims case against them in court.

I sent another note to Virgin, asking about the refund (but not mentioning the potential suit, since that often doesn’t have the intended effect).

As of today, there’s been no answer from Virgin.

At the very least, the airline ought to tell Simon if it’s had a change of heart. Perhaps it will have a chance to do that — in court.

Update (9/23): At almost literally the 11th hour, just as suit was about to be filed, and 24 hours after this post, Simon received the following letter from Virgin:

Dear Mr Simon,

Thank you for contacting Virgin Atlantic Airways.  I’m sorry that there’s been a delay in responding to you.

I understand that you had purchased a ticket to fly in Premium Economy on our airline last March, but that this flight was cancelled. You were placed instead on a British Airways flight travelling in their economy cabin and you have requested the difference in fare from our refund department.

I have followed this up for you with them,  and they advise that the type of ticket you had purchased,  was a discounted Premium Economy ticket, that although providing you Premium Economy services with Virgin Atlantic, was equivalent only to an economy fare on British Airways.  Therefore there is no refund value to the ticket.

We only cancel one of our flights if there is no other alternative, and this is a decision that is never taken lightly.  We understand how disruptive it is to our passengers, as well as to ourselves, and I sincerely apologise for the inconvenience you were caused.

I certainly recognise your disappointment however, and as a gesture of goodwill I’ve taken the liberty of adding 25,000 miles to your Flying Club account, which I do hope you’ll accept with my compliments.  I’ve also contacted our Flying Club department to ask them to credit your account with the miles for the Virgin flight as if you had flown on Virgin that morning, and this has also been done.

In closing, I would once again like to offer my sincere apologies for the inconvenience and disappointment you have experienced, and also for the tardiness of our response to you.

With kind regards,

Liz Vallez
Customer Relations – US

I love a (relatively) happy ending. Thanks, Virgin!

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at Read more of Christopher's articles here.

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