A Year Later…

In late July 2015, I was headed to the Ayer’s Rock to run the Australian Outback Marathon. We were on Virgin Australia flight 1627 out of Sydney. Twenty minutes from landing, the pilot came on the PA and told us mechanical trouble with the aircraft meant we had to turn around and return to our origin… three hours away from our destination.

Almost 40 of us on the plane were scheduled to run the race and because of Virgin Australia, we didn’t make it in time. Traveling Fit, the race organizers, went out of their way to try and help us, going so far as to stage a second event later in the day when we arrived, but due to the fading light, the maximum distance on offer was a half marathon. Mom and I had a camel riding excursion planned so there wasn’t time for that… but at least there was something.


This was the email I sent to Virgin Australia complaining about the experience, composed and transmitted the night we were returned to Sydney.

This has been a Murphy’s Law of poor traveling experience. Twenty minutes or so out from Ayer’s Rock, the pilot came on the PA to tell us that due to an operational issue we had to return to Sydney, a 3 hour return trip. My mom already was worried about flying and few reassurances were offered by the pilot and crew – for three hours we were told little except we had to return to Sydney for safety sake. Why a three hour flight back was safer than landing in 20 minutes no one could really explain.
Upon landing, the information provided by the customer service area was little to no help. Due to other PA announcements going on, it was very difficult to hear anything but once we got to the front of the desk, we were told there were no more flights today and that we would have to call the 800 number after 6 PM to find out what flight we’d be on the following day. We were sent to collect our luggage and take a super shuttle to an area hotel.
At this stage, I would not be able to make the Outback Marathon I had booked ages ago at Ayer’s Rock. My mom, who came with me for a trip of a lifetime, was in tears for me… I’m okay with missing the race ultimately but wanted her trip to still be enjoyable so we needed to get to Uluru for our various pre-booked tours and whatnot. I do not like seeing my Mom cry — missing the race was a disappointment; seeing my Mom cry was heartbreaking… and it only got worse.
The shuttle driver was rude and unhelpful. As it was almost a plane full of people, there were too many of us trying to get on the shuttle and the driver told those of us who didn’t shove our way along. The driver said the next shuttle would be in 10 minutes, 15, an hour, he didn’t know. Really unhelpful and stressful, adding to the headaches and suffering insults of the day.
When we finally got to the hotel, a place awash in construction and renovation, the restaurant for our food voucher was pretty awful — I think they were overwhelmed and ill-prepared for the influx of stranded passengers but it took us almost 2 hours from the time we sat down and ordered to the time we left.
I phoned the 800 number a few times to try and get updates. The agents were apologetic about the inconvenience but it came off as phony and insincere to be honest. More like a robotic script than anything approaching humanity and genuine concern. We apparently were re-booked on a 1 PM flight that arrives at Ayer’s Rock at 4:15 pm 25 July. The marathon race director had made arrangements to keep the course open longer but this timetable makes that unworkable. Adding to the pain, the arrival time means we will miss our 4:50 PM tour so this whole trip has turned into a giant financial and experiential loss. My mother, a woman I love dearly and who deserves to be happy after putting up with so much unhappiness, is crying again and I’m gutted by that You and your airline have taken what should have been a dream holiday and turned it into a nightmare.
As a last ditch effort, I’m dragging my Mom to the airport early as we don’t really have anything better to do here. I’m going to try and get us on a standby for the 10:05 AM flight that would at least get us into Ayer’s Rock by 1:15 PM and we could make our Camel Ride at 4:50. It’s a long shot, and given the poor experiences we’ve had with Virgin thus far, no doubt a foolish one setting us up for added disappointment and insult. But for my Mom’s happiness, I’m willing to try just about anything.
I am very, very upset and disappointed in Virgin Australia. I’ve flown a lot of miles in my life, on my airlines. Problems arise but this has just been one thing after another with little to no compassion or help from your airline.

In looking over the message, the anniversary of that flight of the damned was July 24, 2015.

There’s a lot of Facebook posts right now from TravelingFit celebrating the arrival and pre-race festivities for runners at this year’s event, scheduled to be run on July 30th. The images and messages have reminded me of all that I missed last year. These people have no idea how lucky they are… and yet I am lucky to have gotten to share even this crappy experience with my Mom who was understanding and supportive.  Here’s us at my 6K finish:

IMG_0719It still sucks though.

By the way, Virgin Australia’s response to my complaint included this choice pull quote:

“As with any airline we are unable to guarantee our flight times or destinations…”

So basically we pay money to airlines and it’s a crapshoot — maybe you’ll go and maybe you won’t.  It’s apparently our fault for thinking we were buying a ticket for travel from Point A to Point B.

No Virgin Australia Flight 1627

To this day I think Virgin Australia is the worst airline I’ve ever dealt with… and I’ve flown Aeroflot.