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Funmi Iyanda
Lagos, Nigeria
Funmi Iyanda is a multi award-winning producer and broadcast journalist. She is the CEO of Ignite Media and Executive Director of Creation Television
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Monday, August 27, 2007

The curious incident of the never-ending wait for Virgin Nigeria

I usually just write aje (witch) and the date and location of purchase on every book l buy. The above is what l wrote in the book Dayo Foresters’ Reading the ceiling l bought from exclusive books at the OR Thambo international airport in jbourg, a place l know now like the curve of my friend Bose's cheek. It's a very apt description and it all happened like this. Thursday, August 23rd l leave early to check in (avoid the 9ja flight luggage battle, what the heck do we always find to buy?) and to get a good seat with legroom. 7.30 am and there is a crowd already, l take my place quietly on the queue and l hear people whispering, it grew louder and l eventually heard that the 10am flight had been delayed till 10.30pm! There were many wild reasons given, l looked for a Virgin N staff and got a confirmation of the delay but was advised to check in. After an hour l checked in and was told to clear security and get a day food voucher worth 75 rands ($11) from News café, me a certified foodie!

Since my ancestors never sleep l went to the domestic wing (if you are ever stuck at that airport the food and restaurant choice is much better on the domestic wing) and had a nice warming (its spring in SA) breakfast then decided it doesn't make sense to wait at an airport eating greasy food for 13 hours so l caught a cab ($50) to sandton City to window shop, eat nice food and take a nap in the cinema. 6pm, Dele gets off work, picks me up and drives me back to the airport. There is no sign of an impending flight so we began a fruitless search for any Virgin N staff, we found their office on the 3rd floor and it was empty and firmly shut. Eventually an airport staff informs us that the airline had unloaded our bags at the arrival baggage claim and cancelled the flight! At the baggage claim there was confusion as passengers with tired kids milled around looking for their bags. I found mine and the lock had been broken. In all of this l did not hear a word of apology, in fact when an older distraught lady complained that she had no money and accommodation for the night, the Afrikaan (didn't catch his name) Virgin N ground staff snapped at her to use her credit card! They provided no accommodation or allowance for the passengers and were rude to booth, insolently handing out this truly insulting letter to all.

Dele drove me back and l only caught 4 hours of sleep before a quick shower and a return to my now grubby airport clothes. We arrive the airport at 6.30am to passenger info (no virgin N staff around) that the flight has been delayed till 7pm. I tried to get on another airline even if l had to buy a new ticket but all were fully booked. I was told to wait for a certain LUCY to endorse my flight to SAA if l prefer. Getting the endorsement off the surly LUCY (got her name) was like talking a Victorian maiden into taking off her damned chastity belt before a swim in the ocean! I was wait listed on SAA and spent $25 storing my bags. I walked over to domestic and had a good breakfast (never skip brekkie) during which time Dele and my office in Lagos had confirmed that the aircraft had finally left Lagos. I didn't want to risk a waitlist situation so l went back to the eyeball rolling LUCY who gave my ticket back to me. I checked in and passed passport control where l joined other passengers in this exhausting wait during which my priced 8g, life time music collection nano and powerful sennheiser ear phones where stolen. I did eat one meal at news café and it cost 150rands 86 rands more than the proffered voucher. I also ate two more meals and a few snacks in between. The plane did eventually take off at 9.30pm by which time I'd caught flu. I swallowed a sleeping pill and slept through the flight but l was alert for take off and landing and not once during these did the pilot or anyone else apologize to us. I had lost a job scheduled for Friday night, a visa appointment for tomorrow's trip to moderate a conference in Oslo, 6 months of work and my reputation at stake. My box was broken, my nano stolen and health broken but my story is nothing compared to those of some of the others on the plane.


Anonymous said...

What a mess! And here I was thinking that you were 'milikiing' in Jo'burg. So sorry about your traumatic travel experience at the hand of VN, the important thing is that you made it back safely.
Now that said, go SUE the ASS off those inconsiderate Mofos!

Anonymous said...

sorry, I really can't see what is insulting about that letter.

Anonymous said...

Welcome back, Funmi.I missed your posts. I wondered what had happened when your blog wasn't updated.
Pele ojare. What a horrible experience with Virgin Nigeria. They get worse with every passing month. Virtually every flight to and from London is delayed these days. In the past few months I have personal experience of: a five hour delay from Gatwick (£5 Macdonald's voucher being the only compensation); a 24 hour delay for Lagos-London the day after the Presidential elections (they did not notify passengers before they arrived at the airport); a night flight from London being cancelled earlier this month and passengers slotted onto the earlier flight that morning without consultation or compensation. The list goes on.
To think we started out with such high hopes for our new flag carrier. I think Nigerian passengers are seriously being taken for granted.

Anonymous said...

Hello Funmi,

I am beside myself in rage on reading that letter you got from Virgin Nigeria - first, I am glad you finally got back home.

They would not have gotten away with that kind of nonsense in Europe, when I pay for a service, I expect the service not some compensation or in their words a gesture of goodwill for not being able to deliver on the service I paid for.

In fact, in Europe, we have a compensatory scheme that automatically kicks in when we are delayed for over 4 hours and that should not require my submitting a letter, my information should be on their system.

More so, they should bear the cost of the inconvenience, usually, upfront for hotels and meals, for business class I should be walking on the backs of the most senior representatives of the company.

An excuse like staff sickness? Do they not have stand-bys? This would be unacceptable in Europe, it should not be acceptable in anywhere in Africa.

The brand of Virgin is completely struck off my shopping list from today onwards.

I really feel your pain on this one. E pele.

Anonymous said...

It is astonishing the disdain with which we're treated by what is supposed to be a Nigerian airline!! Why can't we get things right? Simple courtesy is not too much to ask. VN obviously isn't bother by the possibility of being sued.

Funmi Iyanda said...

@ all, it happens because we let it. l have sent details to my lawyers and l will sue. painful, because l had such high hopes for virgin Nigeria, l and my lawyer Jide had been their relentless advocates getting into fierce arguments in their defence and asking that they be given a long rope. If they had been courteous and responsible in their response and in taking care of the stranded passengers, l would have let it go but thy were not. I still nurse the hope that they will get it together, not allowing them get away with this is one way of helping them along those lines.
@jjc, how now my sister? l seem to attract plenty drama, abi ;-)? when you have experiences such as you did with Virgin Nigeria or any other Nigerian service or product you should either complain vehemently and follow it up or sue them.

soul said...

If I were you I would write a letter to corporate office in the UK and as a matter of fact I would try to get the personal ear of Richard Branson.
Invite him to your show.. ask him to explain himself and his company's behaviour.. in addition..report this appalingly incompetent nightmare to the aviation minister (wasn't he talking about treating Nigerian customers with respect)

That entire palavar was outrageous.

There is a code of conduct for airline/charter organisation, I'm not sure if it is an international code (it might be) check it out... if it is, then Virgin Nigeria has been in breach of it.
Get someone to go through the small print of your ticket agreement with them.
In the name of all things holy, do NOT let this pass.

Mimi said...

that letter is funny.

'this letter must be signed in red ink' LOL!

Funmi Iyanda said...

@soul, my favourite bible description of the creator is God of order and arrangement. I will seek redress not in a self agrandizing public way but in a way that will set a precedence and perhaps help institutionalize an effective system of doing so. l believe in freedom, knowledge, justice and order.

tokotaya said...


Anonymous said...

I hope you enjoy Reading the Ceiling. It is a wonderful coming of age story , love and loss, of anger and lonliness. it is a beautiful book.

Anonymous said...

crew ilnness-what nonsense....
so if u loose the letter no 50%..madness in this 21st century when they can look up ur details on the computer and see if you were really on d delayed flight!BULL SHIT..pele..pls sue so that they would not better than to mess with pple...this is d 2nd case of virgin misbehaving i am hearing off in two weeks

Anonymous said...

i also forgot to add that the last time i flew virgin last year the crew memebers were so RUDE!!!RUDE!!!it was unbelievable...

soul said...

I suggested writing to the corporate office because sometimes..
the left doesn't know what the right is doing. until the right hand gets in trouble.

Over here, we have long learned that corporations have placed every conceavable resource into avoidance of fixing an issue and also in keeping their incompetency away from the ear of their MD or CEO.

So, instead of going through a bureaucratic nightmare, what tends to happen is, if a company messes up especially on this scale, we go straight to their oga's.
It is not uncommon for the MD of a cellphone company to receive a personal letter based on an act of incompetency by his company.
This is why I said... if this happened to me, this is what I will do.

Over here at least we have a programme called watchdog, which monitors the company.
Why did I say, you should invite Richard on your show?... well, because Richard Branson, would more than likely accept. He takes great pride in his enterprises and it would be a fabulous opportunity to get him to make a public pledge on behalf of his company.
This will also serve to inform the masses of what they should expect and not expect when flying with Virgin.

I understand if this is not your method. But I really don't see where anything I suggested is out of order or is more likely to yield to self agrandizing.

It was moe of a 'cut the middle man out' and go straight to the root.
Whatever method, as long as this doesn't get buried and they get away scott free with treating Nigerians like crap... would bbe a good thing.

Good luck with it. :)

Anonymous said...

What an experience,VN is really going down the hill. Must the Naija factor always come to play & in such a short period.
I remember at the beginning when they were so efficient(u were not allowed on the flight if u arrive less than 45mins to take off time).
I hope these inefficiencies do not spread to other areas(like maintenance of the planes,quality of pilots etc)

Emz said...

Oh no! Sorry about your ipod/headphones. Why am I not surprised...Virgin Nigeria is a joke. There's always 'toree' when it comes to them. I remember the time my sis and I needed 2 economy seats to London. They told us all they had was 1st class, no economy, so we were forced to buy 1st class. We got to the airport now, and they said sorry, the 1st class was full, we had to fly economy. So we said ok, that's what we wanted in the first place, just refund us the excess and they started stammering and making excuses about how that was not possible. We got it sorted in the end, but they were VERY, VERY rude. With the way they've ruined their reputation I don't know how much longer they can enjoy good busines...

Manda said...

This is downrite crazi! Glad i found ur page! Interesting writeups u got here.