Saturday 25 April 2015

Is this what Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Trains call customer service?

Richard Branson has made a career out of being a bit different. When the major record labels shunned the Sex Pistols, he signed them up. He launched Virgin Atlantic Airways to offer a high quality, low cost option for transatlantic travel, succeeding where Freddie Laker had been torn to shreds. Virgin brand themselves as different, more customer focused and better.

So today my Daughter had an open day at Manchester University to attend. She left the house at 7am to get the 8am Virgin Trains service to Manchester. She had booked a cheap return ticket with a railcard. When she arrived at the station to board the train she found she'd forgotten the card, when asked. The ticket inspectors point blank refused to let her board the train and informed her she'd have to buy a brand new ticket. Being an art student on a limited budget, she only had enough cash on her for fares and lunch and a little spending money. As the ticket would be full price, this was simply not an option. She had to be at the Uni at 10.30.

Now of course by the letter of the law, Virgin Trains were within their rights to refuse to let her travel. But surely when someone makes a genuine mistake, one which is easy enough to verify, in this day and age a company such as Virgin should be able to accomodate it. Under the much maligned First Capital Connect, I once travelled to Blackfriars having fogotten my season ticket. At the Barriers, a helpful chap explained that I had to pay a £20 penalty fare. He asked if I wanted to pay now or later. He then said that season ticket holders will be let off if they could prove they actually had a season ticket. This simply involved scanning the ticket and photocard and sending it with an appeal form to the company. I duly did this and the fine was waived.

In my Daughters case, surely it would have been equally simple to take her details and get her to supply a photo of the card. In fact, we could have scanned it and sent it to her smartphone there and then (or to any other computer they wanted). But no. The Virgin Trains staff sent my daughter home in tears. She has missed the open day for the University and she is distraught.

So thank you Sir Richard and your company. I never thought I'd say this but I am starting to form the conclusion that for all their sins, First Capital Connect were not that bad. As far as I am concerned, if Labour really were serious about winning the election, they would make a pledge to nationalise all of these rail companies ASAP and stop these greedy fat cat companies ripping us off for every last penny. To deny a student the opportunity to attend a University Open day, when she has paid for a valid ticket, has a valid railcard and has simply made a silly mistake rushing for a train is scandalous and sickening. 

1 comment:

Dave-ros said...

Not just train companies, but London Overground as well. One branch doesn't have ticket barriers, and when I was coming back from an interview in Brondesbury Park, I scanned my card but realised I didn't have enough credit, and so put some on my card; I then forgot to scan it again, and there just happened to be a ticket inspector on the train. She said I had the right to appeal because it was a genuine mistake, but my appeal was turned down flat on the grounds that it was my responsibility to make sure I touched in and out.

Thus someone who makes a mistake is put in the same camp as a crook, and fined in exactly the same way. If that's the case, why should anyone bother even trying to obey the rules?