WTF is going on at Virgin Australia? Lovely staff, erratic product. For mine, VA is the Forrest Gump of airlines – as in, life’s like a box of chocolates “because you never know what you’re gonna get”.
No wonder the carrier is a financial basket case unable to carve a profitable niche in a duopoly marketplace.
First thing to understand, despite its supposed move up the airline food chain, is that Virgin Australia is still a low cost carrier at heart.
That is despite the fact it also actually owns a low cost carrier, Tigerair Australia.
The industry collectively thought Virgin bought Tigerair a few years ago so it could run a clearly-defined dual carrier strategy like the Qantas Group does with Qantas (full service) and Jetstar (low cost, limited service).
But this hasn’t happened. Virgin still thinks and acts like a low cost carrier, sullying its core brand and confusing customers.
Case in point: I check in for my Bali flight and am charged $130 for a second piece of baggage despite my total weight for the two pieces (one of which is a surfboard) coming under the 23kg limit.
But how much my luggage weighs is irrelevant to Virgin pricing, which in this case could be termed gouging, despite the fact that, in aircraft load terms, weight is all that really matters.
I could have checked in a feather wrapped in a tissue as my second piece of luggage and it still would have cost $130. For the record the board and cover weighed about eight kilos.
At Qantas and many other airlines, on international flights you get 30kgs whether it’s one, two or three bags.
Next, the aircraft. It’s small, a Boeing 737-800. Centre aisle, three seats either side.
Seats are leather, pitch reasonable, but there’s no entertainment, not a screen to be seen.
A friendly flight attendant called James explains that if I’d downloaded the Virgin app prior to boarding I could access the carrier’s entertainment system through my phone but I hadn’t so I can’t.
The reason I hadn’t is because there was no pre-flight communique on what to expect.
James said I could purchase onboard wi-fi and then download the app but he didn’t know how much that cost because no-one buys it.
Meanwhile, I discover that dinner is complimentary and comes with one free alcoholic beverage but after that you’ll have to pay for everything.
Good thing is, I’m in a window seat and there’s no-one in the other two.
I look around and see most people are in a similar situation unless they’re travelling in a group.
All up I’d say the aircraft is 30 per cent full, maybe 40 or 50 passengers tops.
I was supposed to fly Qantas but the company booking my flight couldn’t get on. It was full. Six weeks ago. Why?
That’s a question Virgin’s new management needs to be asking.
I suspect the answer is that with rival airlines to Bali – Qantas, Jetstar and Garuda – you know what you’re going to get.
Sure you’ll get slugged with extra charges at Jetstar but that’s expected, it’s a low-cost carrier.
Qantas and Garuda both offer 30kg luggage allowance, food, free pour alcohol if you want, excellent inflight entertainment with increasingly good screens, and generally friendly service.
At Virgin Australia you get the friendly service but the inclusions (apart from the hard and fast one piece luggage rule) vary on factors such as aircraft type, distance flown and length of journey.
In other words, when customers buy a ticket with Virgin Australia they don’t know what they’re going to get apart from a smiling face, but that’s not enough.
Consumers demand consistency from the brands they trust, which is most definitely not the case here.
It’s a major problem and and one reason why Virgin Australia is a very deep hole.
They’re also letting their staff down, who are doing great work but can’t defend the indefensible.