For someone who once spent a decade land-bound out of fear of flying, my addiction to Air Miles comes as something of a surprise.
I blame Sir Richard Branson. Travelling between LA and the UK for the past five years on Virgin Upper Class, I have discovered a method to travel pretty much for free for half the year. At the risk of sounding like Sir Richard’s personal PR, I can recommend the Virgin Black Amex, which, if you buy Virgin products on it, clocks you up four points for every pound spent.
So (and skip this paragraph if the subject of Air Miles bores you), let’s say you buy a flight at £3000, that’s 12,000 points immediately. Then there is the 8174 miles x 2 (16,348) for each way LA/UK. As a Flying Club Gold member, I then get 100% each way on base miles flown – that’s another (honestly, feel free to glaze over . . . ) 5477 x 2 (10,954). So, we’re already up to 39,302 miles – and you need just 40,000 for an Upper Class ticket between New York and the UK. On top of that, there are booster miles that can be purchased at a relatively low cost . . . Anyway, you get the picture.
At the moment, I am able to fly First Class between LA and NYC for 75,000 points and a mere $5. I tell you, airport taxes in the US put the UK’s exorbitant fees to shame.
So, I am wishing Virgin a very happy 30th birthday because I love them. Economy passengers tell me that things are not so good these days, with only one or two drinks being allowed on some flights. One friend yesterday told me that things are so bad, he was thinking of returning to British Airways, so I know that things must be really, really horrendous.
But the fantastic Virgin lounge at Heathrow keeps me loyal to the company, and the staff onboard both Virgin Atlantic and Virgin America are the best in the world. Friendly without being over-familiar, and efficient without being officious, they make every flight a joy.
The same cannot be said for American Airlines where, on a recent night flight, the crew talked so loudly, I had to ask them to keep it down. They rudely told me that they had to talk to keep awake. My letters of complaint to Customer Service have been ignored.
Having had my suitcase raided on an AA flight, coupled with their unsympathetic response and general lack of help in relation to that matter, has not exactly fuelled my desire to travel with them ever again.
For the most part, I now love flying, though I still have a few niggles. Socks, for example. I just don’t like the new Virgin Atlantic socks. They are such an odd shape and very uncomfortable. I can only imagine that the designer used a horse’s hoof as a model. I also don’t like the new Virgin safety instructions – a kind of weird rap song that is largely incomprehensible and makes you wish that the plane would go down just to stop the damn thing playing.
But here’s my biggest complaint: window blinds. On Virgin Atlantic and Air New Zealand, the captain announces that window blinds must be up for take-off and landing, and the crew check that this is done every time. On internal flights in the US on Virgin America and American Airlines, most people keep their blinds down, and the plane takes off and lands in relative darkness.
This really bothers me. Having been told that take-off and landing are the most dangerous parts of any flight, it seems to me only logical that the interior of the aircraft should be visible to both crew and passengers, in the event of any problem. An ex-pilot confirmed this to me and said that his preference would always be for them being up because (1) if there is an emergency, passengers will be better orientated spatially and more likely to get out if they have a reference for what’s going on, and (2) in take-off and landing, there are more turns and manoeuvres, and having visual references to what is happening helps to keep people from getting airsick.
Last year, I had a panic attack on an American Airlines flight and was a hair’s breadth from having to disembark (“Are you on meds?” asked the captain. “Meds?” I said. “I don’t even know what that means.”). It did not help that they booked me into a different class from the one I had booked online (again, no response to my letters from Customer Service), but I realised this week, when coming back from New York on Virgin America, what the problem was when it happened again. Most of the blinds in the cabin were down ready for take-off. I started to sweat and felt mounting claustrophobic sickness. I know I stand little chance of changing aviation history, but it seems to me a really important issue.
So, Sir Richard, on this your very special birthday, please sort this out for me. This, and the socks.
Yes. The socks are very important.
And I have, by the way, Sir, bought the domain virginpointsmillionaire.com, should you wish to know how to make better use of your points.