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A Love Song to Matt at Virgin Atlantic

I am a nervous flyer.  Let’s just get that out there first and foremost.  When I say “nervous flyer,” what I really mean is that I am bat shit insane when it comes to placing myself on an airplane.  I am the person you don’t want to sit next to, the one who will involuntarily grab your shirt sleeve for dear life at the slightest motion of turbulence and is drooling continuously as my head rolls about due to the massive amount of drugs in my system to calm my anxiety.  I am physically tiny, so people think they want to sit next to me when they choose their seat on a Southwest flight, but they shouldn’t.  Choosing the seat next to me simply because it appears as if I won’t invade your space is a bad idea.

My fear of flying runs so deep that I get dizzy watching that commercial for Denzel Washington’s new movie, Flight.

My fear of flying runs counter to my love of traveling, and I remain just a shade on this side of the I’ll-do-it-if-I-have-to line, flying in order to get somewhere cool.  But I must — and this is an important part of the story — MUST must sit on the wing.  I cannot sit in front of the wing (I once rejected a free upgrade to first class because it was in front of the wing) and I CANNOT sit behind the wing.  Believe me, I once tried.  I walked onto the plane and tried to sit down in my seat assignment at the back of the plane, promptly had a panic attack where I felt (and behaved) like a rabid animal, foaming at the mouth and moaning that I had to be removed from the plane.  Please remoooooooooooooooooooove me.

Why is it that they kick people off of flights for silently wearing saggy pants and then won’t kick me off a flight when I am screaming and thrashing and shrieking, “let me off the plane!”

So we’ve set the scene.

Josh purchased four tickets for the Ford family to go to London.  He did this from his office, without me hovering next to him, reminding him like Rasputin about the wing, wing, wing. (I also like to whisper it and knead my hands together like a villainous hypnotist when we make flight arrangements.)  He picked some seats that were close-enough (in his opinion) to the wing and hit buy on these non-refundable tickets.  And then he told me about them.

It took a day or two until we could access the reservation, and when we did, I told him that these seats were not okay.  So he made the first of what would be many calls to try to get us on the wing.

At first we were told that they didn’t release those seats on the wing until 24 hours before the flight, and that made me cry like Dumbo’s mother, one of those head-tilted-back-insane-with-fear cries.  I literally didn’t know how I was going to get through the four weeks until I knew where I was sitting.  Another call or two where Josh told them that I was a “nervous flyer” got us seats right behind the wing.  I wasn’t happy, but I could breathe again.  He asked for a confirmation email to be sent with our seat assignment, but the email never showed.

He called back several times to ask for the email to be sent, each time receiving a promise it would arrive in 24-hours (it didn’t), and on one of those calls, he was cheerfully informed that (1) no seat is guaranteed and we could be bumped from our seat at any point and (2) the only way to guarantee a seat on the wing was to purchase extra leg room seats for an additional $300.  Which is a considerable sum of money.  But Josh decided that we would spend nearly that much in therapy before and after said flight if he didn’t do something about this, so he put his foot down and paid the extra cost and asked — for the love — to have an email confirmation sent to quell my fears.

It didn’t come.

At this point, I decided to call myself because I was literally crawling out of my skin with anxiety.  I called Virgin Atlantic and got Matt.

Matt cheerfully informed me that it was already noted in my file that I was a “nervous flyer” but I still painted a much more accurate description of my neuroses for him until he agreed that nervous really didn’t do justice to my insanity.  For the next 41 minutes, he talked me through my fears, checked my flights and our seats, and then moved heaven and earth for me.

Our extra leg room seats on our outbound flight were indeed on the wing.  They had to be — that is where all extra leg room seats were on that plane’s formation.  All was well in the outbound world, though Matt did warn me that we would likely experience turbulence due to the time of day we were flying.  He rocked for giving me a heads up.  All was NOT well on the inbound flight home.  Very much NOT well.  The extra leg room seats were in the back of the plane, starting many rows behind the wing.  In fact, our old seats, the ones we had before we upgraded were on the wing — you know, that non-refundable upgrade that we were told by another person would guarantee us seats on the wing.  I immediately felt like a rabid animal again now holding that information in hand.

And Matt, sensing that I was ten seconds away from a nervous breakdown, put me on hold to talk to a manager who agreed to refund me on two of the extra leg room seats and move me and the ChickieNob back to our original seats on the wing.  Josh and the Wolvog would remain in the extra leg room seats which gave us a backup plan because on the insanely-bad–luck chance that someone had defecated moments earlier in our assigned seats rendering them unusable for the flight (I believe he used the term “broken” in his example), the farthest back we could be would be the extra leg room seats behind the wing.  He also refunded the non-refundable leg room seats for the two of us since it wasn’t really fair that we had been given wrong information.

I also asked him to note in the file just how insane I am about flying, and please move anyone’s seats but mine so I don’t have a nervous breakdown.  And he promised that I’d get an email confirmation within a few days and if I didn’t, he gave me his full name and extension so I could reach him again.  41 minutes later, after talking me through the best places to sit on a plane and how not to pass along my flying anxiety to the kids, we hung up.

And the email confirmation came.  And our flights there and back were perfectly situated on the wing.  And he saved our trip by removing most of the stress from the travel portion of it.

So this is a love song to Matt at Virgin Atlantic.  I sent a separate, more sane letter to the company thanking you profusely for saving my sanity with this trip.  But I also wanted to address what you did for me publicly.  Because you could have laughed hysterically in my face (and perhaps you did after we got off the phone, and that’s okay.  I would laugh at me too, to be fair), but you didn’t.  You used up a considerable amount of time making sure that all would be okay, and when I hung up the phone, I finally felt a modicum of calm.  I mean, yes, I still had to actually fly, but I would cross that bridge when the time came.  But before that point, I could finally stop crying like Dumbo’s mother.

Thank you, Virgin Atlantic.  You are currently my favourite airline in the world.

And to the rest of you, I have one last post of Alice photos and information I’m putting together.  Stay tuned.


1 N { 11.04.12 at 8:37 am }

J and I are of a very similar breed to you, so I understand COMPLETELY. (Though it’s easy to say that and say we don’t fly when we don’t have the money to fly. heh. anyway.) God bless Matt. Seriously.

2 Tiara { 11.04.12 at 9:05 am }

I seem to be the antithesis of you…not only do I love to fly, I have taken flying lessons, gone hang gliding & skydiving! I love to read about excellent customer service tho! Virgin Atlantic rocks!

3 BigP's Heather { 11.04.12 at 9:13 am }

I understand. If I HAVE to fly, I HAVE HAVE HAVE to have a window seat in the middle of the plane or forwards. No backsies of the planes or aisle seats – EVER.

Later this month I am driving halfway across country. It would take considerably less time/money to fly but I can’t.

Well done, Matt!

4 Bionic { 11.04.12 at 9:57 am }

Oh, man. Me too. Me too, only more so. Why do you think I’m always blogging these epic train trips? I mean, I DO really like trains, but that is emphatically not the whole story.

So three cheers for Matt but even more cheers for you! I am so impressed. I need you and Matt to give lessons, because I, too, am very worried about teaching this to the Bean (who perhaps already notices how my voice tightens when we are naming all the things in a picture book and one of them is a plane) and regretful that we never go anywhere.

5 It Is What It Is { 11.04.12 at 10:40 am }

I applaud your tenacity in getting the situation squared away in a manner compatible with the continuation of your life.

You already know that I am SUCH a freak of fearful flying nature that I simply do.not.fly. We are supposed to go to a wedding in NJ in June, 2013 (my son will be a ring bearer so he and my husband will go regardless), but, given my neurosis (and that we will have an infant) I can’t let them go without me (because they will die) and I’m not sure I can go (because we all will die). So, it will be an interesting endeavor to eventually plan this trip, or not.

Bravo for Matt and maybe we should fly Virgin (if it flies from LAX to Newark, which it might not, but probably does fly into the world’s worst airport, JFK).

6 Amy { 11.04.12 at 2:55 pm }

I’m a terrible flyer too. You would have hated our last flight. We got out of newark right before they closed the airport on sunday night before Sandy hit. We flew as far west as we could but it was still incredibly bumpy. the pilot told us it would be bumpy, but that it wasn’t dangerous….before we even left the ground.
I warned my seat-mate, and she allowed me to squeeze her hand for a good 2/3 of the flight. Bless her soul.
Flying by myself with the children (without David) made me even more nervous.

7 Kate { 11.04.12 at 4:44 pm }

Curious how you approach/attempt not passing on your fear off flying to the twins?

Kuddos to awesome customer service Virgin Atlantic!

8 {sue} { 11.04.12 at 5:29 pm }

I double plus love this post. I’m even more neurotic about car rides than plane rides, but you are my people. Also? Bless you, Matt.

9 a { 11.04.12 at 8:49 pm }

I don’t worry about flying, but I do love a good customer service story! Of course, those previous people that didn’t send your emails or follow through…well, that’s not great. But Matt – stellar service! Excellent job!

10 Queenie { 11.04.12 at 9:16 pm }

I hear you. I accidentally booked myself on a really small plane last summer (great original fare, but also nonrefundable), and ended up spending about $1000 to get myself on a normal sized jet, because there was no way I was flying a small plane to Europe.

11 Jendeis { 11.05.12 at 10:34 am }

I’d like to second a post from you on what Matt’s advice was re: not passing the flying fear onto kids. Actually, that could be expanded – how do you not pass on irrational dislikes (ex: JD has a whole world of food he will not eat) and/or fears (ex: I’m deathly afraid of electrocution – thanks Pet Semetary 2) to your kids?

12 Mud Hut Mama { 11.05.12 at 2:42 pm }

I can’t believe you turned down a first-class upgrade to sit on the wing! So glad Matt came to your rescue. With all the customer service complaints (especially with the airlines) – it is a pleasure to read this post.

13 loribeth { 11.05.12 at 2:57 pm }

I hope you sent a copy of this post to Virgin Airlines. Good customer service is so rare these days; it deserves to be rewarded! Kudos to Matt!!

14 Lori Lavender Luz { 11.05.12 at 4:28 pm }

I like to sit anywhere OTHER than over the wing.

What is the Jewish equivalent for sainthood? Because Josh would totally qualify.

I hope Matt and his peeps at Virgin Atlantic see this post 🙂

15 Heather { 11.05.12 at 4:36 pm }

I’m having such an utterly craptastic day…and then you show up.

Really? I need you to live next door. Or maybe you and the fam could just have bunk beds in my house. Because, I am Dumbo’s mom too, and I totally was breathing in a bag when I saw the Denzel trailer.

And Matt, for the record, you rock. You should be promoted immediately and given a big, fat raise.

Love you girlfriend (I’ve been missing you!)

16 Magpie { 11.06.12 at 12:37 am }

I love that you spelled it ‘favourite’.

17 missohkay { 11.17.12 at 5:22 pm }

I’m behind on reading your posts, but I have to comment on this one because I am batshit crazy about flying despite my love of travel too. Like, so bad that I start justifying to myself that it’s a good idea — nay, best idea I’ve ever had — to take meds AND drink. Then I still think we’re on the verge of going down every minute of the ride. So I appreciate knowing that other well-spoken professional adults are terrified too.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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