Travelling abroad can be a nerve-wracking experience. The logistics of taking a trip combined with the punishing nature of air travel make it physically and mentally challenging. Your priority is to arrive intact and minimise the stress involved. The optimal way to achieve this is to choose the right airline.
A number of carriers fall into this category. I’m signed up to alert sites advising of what cheap flights are available. That said I don’t jump on any airline. If the safety, comfort and service record isn’t up to standard, I don’t go. There are multiple articles regarding this online. You may have to sift through some data, as the equations used can be arbitrary. Airsafe offers a list of aviation incidents for each airline that while not always 100% accurate can give you an idea of what you’re dealing with.
You may be aware that travelling on a plane is statistically safer than travelling in a car, however if you have anxiety about flying travelling on a carrier with a good safety record will mitigate this. When I relocated to the states last month I chose Virgin Australia, which along with its main competitor Qantas is my preferred carrier. Both have perfect safety records and high standards of customer service.
Virgin is good to me, so when I’m scanning flight sites what I’m looking for is reasonably priced Virgin services that turn around in a sensible amount of time. Note that sometimes the cheaper flights are cheaper due to unnecessary stops and longer layovers that should be avoided. They cost you productivity in the long run, and the goal is to minimise your disorientation as much as possible by getting the journey over with.
When I checked in at Virgin I was greeted by an Asian Australian customer service woman named Ann. She was well groomed, candid and personable. In addition to this she was able to discuss the extent to which the plane was full and find me the best seat.
She told me that there was a new product available for purchase that delivered extra legroom but as my flight wasn’t at capacity she could allocate me one of these seats gratis. She then took a card with a map of LAX and drew the route I would need to take to make my transfer. This is an excellent example of effective customer service strategy. Ann anticipated the information I would need before I did.
As usual the in flight service was up to standard. The food on Virgin transpacific flights is excellent with vegetarian options mandated during all flights and vegan/gluten free meals available on request prior to the flight. The in flight entertainment offers a decent amount of TV shows, movies and albums to consume, however my signature gripe of no news channels is upheld here. I find it odd that they don’t provide one news program, even if it is slightly out of date content. Current affairs programming would also be welcome, although there are documentaries available and I did enjoy watching I Am Spock, the acclaimed documentary about Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy.
There was an issue with the headphone jack disengaging on a frequent basis and as a consequence I needed to jiggle it to find the sweet spot to permit the sound to flow through, but this was minor. All the flaperons, ailerons and wheel systems all worked and I was transported to LAX intact.
The Delta transfer was a different story. This was no shock considering airlines in the USA are consistently rated poorly. The Skytrax top 20 airlines of 2016 doesn’t feature one carrier from the United States, so anyone used to the finery of Virgin Australia, Qantas or Air New Zealand better brace themselves when they enter American domestic airspace.
The first thing you notice when you board a US flight is the grooming standards. Brushing your hair is optional for flight attendants in the US and uniforms are tweaked to the taste of the staff member. The food options are always limited to some crackers no matter what airline you fly, and in this instance they were supplemented by some slices of apple.
The Delta plane was in a dishevelled state, with wet toilet paper and paper towel on the floor and sink of the rest room. This mess extended half way down the aisle in the cabin. It’s a testament to other cabin crew who manage to keep the aircraft clean this we take for granted in Australia. Codeshares are complex deals and I’m sure both carriers benefit from this partnership, but from a service continuity perspective the alliance with Delta is detrimental to Virgin Australia. It’s the only major flaw in what is otherwise an outstanding product.
Finally I need to mention of the Virgin Australia twitter team who attend to all my enquiries within an hour of me tweeting. This makes life so much easier when you’re on the go and don’t have time to make a call or a formal online enquiry. Through twitter I was able to receive a copy of my updated itinerary and also submit my meal request. This friendly and attentive service is one of the main reasons I continue to fly with Virgin Australia. It’s a deft touch that removes stress and enables me to focus on all the other things I need to prepare for travel.
An abridged version of this article appeared on Skytrax.