It’s 7.30am at Abu Dhabi International Airport. I’m so exhausted and livid I could shed a tear. The only thing stopping me is the pint of Guinness I’m sipping while I write this.
I’ve just spent 45mins in an Etihad Guest Services line to try and change my middle seat on my connecting flight to Berlin. It took the fellow all of two mins to say he couldn’t before sending me on my way – the third time I’d be dismissed by Etihad staff since disembarking my A380 flight from Sydney.
I despise this airport. It has provided me with nothing but horrid travel memories and bitter, unrelenting disappointment, appropriately magnified by Joy Division’s ‘Atmosphere’ playing through my Sennheiser headphones.
Some of you may recall a piece I wrote earlier this year about the Singapore Kris Flyer Gold Lounge at Changi, where I questioned the quality of the lounge at the carrier’s hub. My position on that lounge hasn’t changed: if Hell had a lounge, it would be that one. This time I didn’t even get into a lounge to have an opinion.
This morning, as a Virgin Velocity Platinum Frequent Flyer, I was hoping to be writing a review of Etihad’s new First Class Lounge. I was hoping to be freshly showered, well fed, slightly boozed and most importantly, happy. Instead, I was told upon presentation of my boarding pass that because my connecting flight was on Air Berlin, despite being sold as an EY flight, I wasn’t entitled to enter. Not only was I not allowed to enter the First Class Lounge, I couldn’t access the Business Lounge or any lounge for that matter. Not even the grim Al Reem Lounge I was forced to use last time I flew through Abu Dhabi holding Virgin Velocity Gold Status.
As you could imagine my outrage was impossible to maintain.
The choice to fly Economy today wasn’t mine, and that shouldn’t matter anyway. If you are loyal to a carrier, alliance, partner, and you only fly Economy, you should be rewarded with status, status that allows you to use the facilities that belong to that partnership, but this just isn’t the case for Virgin Velocity members. You don’t get any special treatment; not on seat selection and not on priority baggage, despite the tag going onto your bag. You don’t even get a hello from the cabin staff once on board.
Which forces me to ask the question, what is the point? Why do I go out of my way to fly with Etihad and Singapore just to maintain my Virgin Velocity Platinum status, when it repeatedly offers me woeful experiences with partner carriers. Especially when I’d be sitting in the Emirates First Class Lounge right now had I pledged allegiance to Qantas and flown to Europe through Dubai.
The only conclusion I can draw from this is that the Virgin Frequent Flyer program is a complete waste of time. Despite being partially owned by both Etihad and Singapore, top tier Virgin Velocity members flying in Economy, passing through Abu Dhabi and Singapore, are treated like peasants.
With Virgin offering no service of their own to Europe, surely their priority is to reward those who choose to fly their partners and educate partner staff about the relationship.
Instead, it’s a constant stitch up. And today’s was a codeshare technicality that meant I wasn’t entitled to visit any lounge at all, made even harder to swallow with the Etihad Lounge attendant confirming it was entirely the fault of Virgin Australia who doesn’t pay for Platinum members to access the lounge on codeshare flights. Don’t even talk to me about the return leg on Air Berlin; you’re a nobody. Codeshare airline staff don’t even know what Virgin is.
I don’t know how many codeshare flights fly out of Abu Dhabi each day, but I’m sure it’s a few, with Air Berlin and Air Italia servicing a vast majority of European cities from the hub. This poses a serious issue for Virgin Velocity members, even of Virgin Velocity Platinum status, because you aren’t entitled to access the lounge if your connecting flight isn’t on Etihad steel.
I’m frustrated because I wasn’t aware this was the case. I’m frustrated because I didn’t have a choice. There wasn’t a single flight to Berlin on Etihad or Singapore that wasn’t partly operated by a Codeshare partner.
Which means if I want to earn status credits, to maintain Virgin Velocity Platinum, just so I can use lounges when I travel, I don’t get to use a lounge when I travel! Just take a moment to reread that sentence. And once more if you need to. The irony of the issue is almost too ridiculous to comprehend.
What it ultimately boils down to is one simple fact. Virgin Australia isn’t part of an alliance, they just have partners, and wielding your membership card doesn’t mean dick when you’re boarding a codeshare flight because you’re not part of the codeshare’s alliance; thus you aren’t entitled to enter their lounge.
What is Virgin going to do about it? Probably nothing. What am I going to do about it? Well, I’m just about locked into another year of Virgin Velocity Platinum, ready for 12 more months of disappointment. What I will say, and I’m certain of it now, is that Virgin’s frequent flyer program is inferior to Qantas’. Choose wisely my friends.
Feel free to join the discussion over at Virgin’s Facebook page via my comment below. Or if you’ve got a story to share email it to me at james (at) theversatilegent (dot) com.
I did visit the Etihad First Class Lounge on my return from Berlin because my connecting flight was on an Etihad A380. It was nice but made me even more frustrated that I was so easily dismissed on the way over. Additionally, I don’t need a shower after a 6-hour flight from the continent, I need it after a 13-hour flight from Australia.