Friday, May 31, 2013

Virgin Atlantic Fails to Wow


Author's note: The advertising campaign referenced in this post is that of Virgin America. 

My God, it’s Miss Brahms.

There’s a young blonde speaking into the public address handset with a high, thick, twang-y cockney accent. Her uniform is neat, hair coiffed and makeup just so. OK, it isn’t Miss Brahms, the sales assistant on the old British sitcom “Are You Being served?” but it might as well be. Except this isn’t Grace Brothers department store, it’s an Airbus A340 and Miss Brahms is a flight attendant.

In fact all the flight attendants onboard sound like they’re from south of the Thames. These are not the posh English accents of British Airways. This is my first time flying the much-hyped Virgin Atlantic, and my expectations are suitably high. In the States, Virgin has launched an enormously costly advertising campaign to promote its image as an urbane, chic, highly stylized experience—if you will—for its customers.

This experience as projected in the outdoor billboards in Los Angeles seem to tout air travel for the sake of air travel, forget wherever you’re trying to go. Fly VA and you’ll have your own touch-screen television, electrical outlets at your seat so you are never, ever unplugged, your teeth will be whiter, your hair glossier, clothes hipper, hips narrower, and you’ll be at least three inches taller.

After the impossibly mod Miss Brahms gives us the standard spiel, I realize that I have not grown three inches, nor are my teeth whiter. But then I’m in economy class with the rest of the poor schlubs. The beautiful people must be in Upper Class. Yes, I mean Upper Class. Not first class, that’s too pedestrian. Any middle-class cad can now and then afford first class, after all. VA calls its premium seating cabin Upper Class. Actually, according to their website, it’s the Upper Class Suite. The word cabin is apparently too blasé as well.

That’s also where all of the electrical outlets are it seems. No one back here in steerage has one. We also don’t have a walk-up bar, either. No matter, I like having an excuse to turn my phone completely off, I tell myself. Actually, I really do, so it’s not that big a deal. I guess I just didn’t read the ads closely enough.

I console my gadget-less self by taking the entertainment system for a spin. I poke the screen. Nothing happens. I poke again. Still nothing. I glare at the screen. That doesn’t bend it to my will like I had hoped, but it does make the lovely young lady sitting next to me point to the remote latched into my armrest. Fine.

Remote? Seriously? I mean, I remember flying JetBlue when they came on the scene and they had touch screens. And that was when Jesus was a boy. Even the airlines I love to loathe have touch screens on the planes that offer individual TVs. Come on.

But at least I’m not the guy behind me. Dinnertime rolls around and the special-ordered meals are passed around first, as with most airlines. The kosher, the low-sodium, the vegan—vegetarian is a standard issue option as with a majority of carriers now. I overhear the man directly behind me quietly call Miss Brahms after the regular meals have been delivered. Everyone on the aircraft is horking down the no-better-or-worse-than-any-other-airline food except this guy. He tells her he requested his vegan meal when he purchased his ticket. She goes and checks. Nothing. She says she’s so sorry and tells him though the chicken option is gone now, there’s beef stew and the vegetarian—pasta with cheese—option left, what can he eat? He answers, “No beef and no dairy.” The attendants manage to find him a couple of pieces of fruit from somewhere and that’s all he eats during the ten-hour flight. I bet he’s pissed about the touch screen, too.

For all the hype, I’m underwhelmed. Like most other airlines, VA charges extra for more legroom, extra bags, exit row seats and whatever else they care to. Here in economy class, I can tell no difference between vaunted Virgin Atlantic and any other carrier I’ve flown in the past ten years. The days of getting to splurge (reasonably) on an upgrade to an open first class seat are gone too. It would take a further $1,500 today to mosey on up to the fully-extended, flat beds, real bar with real bar stools, power outlets and—I bet—touch screens in Upper Class.

The company may try to separate itself from the herd with glossy advertising and all kinds of high-end perks for high-end clientele, but when you’re just one of the herd back in economy, the cute accents don’t help.






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