When James Dean (yes, really) got an upgrade to the Upper Class Cabin for his Virgin Atlantic flight to New York, he thought his luck was in. Sadly for James, whilst he lost himself in the luxury, his suitcase got lost in the baggage handling area…
Some would say that James has a vivid imagination, others might say that he’s as mad as a box of frogs. Either way, you won’t see another letter remotely like this one….
Dear Customer Relations,
I recently flew Upper Class from Heathrow to JFK and whilst some bits were great, one bit in particular was really really bad.
I flew with my cat* and you froze** it and it died*** which made me sad****.
* I use the word ‘cat’ in the sense of ‘suitcase’.
** I use the word ‘froze’ in the sense of ‘lost’.
*** I use the word ‘died’ in the sense of ‘didn’t turn up for 2 days’.
**** I use the word ‘sad’ correctly.
We all lose things.
I once went for a pint with the late Keith Floyd1 and he lost an entire week. Another time I worked out an equation for cold fusion and gave it to my cat on a memory stick, which she lost. Keith Floyd, me, my cat, and you are all only human, so these things happen. What separates humans from super humans is the way they deal with these hiccups.
Here’s how it went down:
My case didn’t arrive when I landed on Saturday morning. A nice man took details of the case, my phone number, the address of the hotel where I was staying. We had a good laugh about my name. I’m fine with that. It is, after all, quite a funny name.
I went to the hotel, had a shower, re-applied my travelling clothes and went out. I met a girl in a bar. She was an astronaut and a part-time model2 who does a lot of humanitarian work with cats. We hit it off and she really liked my idea to fund the NHS by taxing the phrase ‘you know’.
She lent in to kiss me. She stopped abruptly when she saw the big yellow stain on my shirt. “What’s that?” she purred (her cat work had affected her deeply). “It’s probably the Upper Class vegetarian option. I’m not actually a vegetarian, but I just feel that the on-board galleys don’t really have the facilities to do anything but reheat food. Unless you do it incredibly slowly you denature the proteins in meat, inevitably rendering them dry which is why…”
She silenced me with a single finger to my lips. “I’ve got to go” she meowed, pointing up to the waiting helicopter. “If you get a clean shirt, call me. Here’s my number…”
She passed me a slip of paper torn from that day’s copy of Socialist Worker. Using a Fischer Space Pen she had written the single digit ‘1’. I knew it was a 1 and not a lower case ‘L’ because she put the pointy angle bit on the top. Her astronaut training shone through. In a whirl of rotor blades and cocktail napkins she was gone leaving only her parting words hanging in the air: “James Dean… like the actor!”.
I went back to the hotel and cried for a bit. I checked my mobile for an update on my case. Then I checked the hotel messaging service for an update on my case. Then I fell asleep and had a dream where Jesus appeared in my minibar and reunited me with my case. “Is it aluminium?” he said. He said aluminium the way English people say it as opposed to a state-side ‘aluminum’, instantly destroying 200 years of American fundamentalism. “Yes”, I said, “It’s a Rimowa”.3 “Ahhh. My Dad uses the same brand” he whispered, before literally turning into a Whisper bar. “Sleep well, James Dean… like the actor” the chocolate sniggered. Then the snigger turned into a Snickers bar.
The next morning (Sunday) I called the Virgin Atlantic Baggage Helpline. I was on hold for a long time (approximately 2 months in cat years). Eventually a nice lady told me that everything would be OK. She had found my lovely case, she had put it on a lovely new flight and it was due to touch down in a couple of hours. It should clear customs in another hour and then be winging its way to me via a lovely courier.
I felt relieved and joined my friends for a day out, whereupon I met ‘The Twins’. They were identical in every way and were both called Simone. Simone was 19 and Simone was 21. They were studying Advanced Sexuality at the University of Hot. Their studies were supported by a grant because they both suffered from neck-down alopecia. In their spare time they had developed a fragrance called Sex which was successfully being marketed to sexy people. “So are you named after the actor?” asked Simone. Simone chimed in with “…or the porn star?”. I slipped my martini olive from its cocktail stick and flicked it in the air. “Does it matter?” I said, “Either way, you’re fucked if you get in my Porsche”.
I leant back and caught the olive in my mouth. The room fell silent for a single heartbeat and then erupted into a united standing ovation – realising, as one, that they had just witnessed the universe’s greatest moment of banter. Simone reached over and began to unbutton Simone’s blouse. Suddenly Simone stopped her sister; “Look at that on his shirt! It looks like some sort of vegetarian option stain! And those look like the salt stains from tears”. Simone cut across her “And it smells like he’s tried to clean it with one of those really small tubes of toothpaste you get on aeroplanes”. The bar echoed with laughter as if I wasn’t wearing any trousers.
I wasn’t wearing any trousers.
I trudged back to the hotel with the vicious icy Manhattan wind blasting through my boxer shorts. I sought the positive in the situation and decided to be glad that the yellow stain on my shirt hadn’t been caused by the Kosher option. I reached the hotel and approached the front desk.
“You should have received a case for James Dean”. The hipster clerk retrieved a pencil from his beard and used it to dial the despatch desk. Whilst we waited he made small talk: “Jimmy Dean… Like the sausage meat?”. He looked up awkwardly and informed me that no deliveries had been taken.
I called the Virgin Atlantic Baggage line again. After a considerably longer period on hold than last time (about 2 months in cat years – this is pretty much where their scale tops out) I was connected with a Man in Red…
ME: Hi, I’m chasing up reference #######. You have my cat. I was expecting it 9 hours ago…
MiR: My system shows that we have your case, not a cat…
MiR: My system also shows that you made a Jewish joke in the previous paragraph…
MiR: It looks like your case is stuck in customs. They need to know the code to your combination lock or else they’ll have to cut into the case.
ME: …But it has TSA master key locks. It’s a Rimowa…
MiR: God’s luggage? How strange…
ME: Why didn’t you call me?
MiR: Your mobile number is wrong in the system. Let me correct it for you… Done.
ME: So you do know the right number? And you know the hotel where I’m staying? You could have called them. Or even faxed them. It’s a hipster hotel – they’ve probable got a Telex machine. And you do e-mail me on what seems like an hourly basis with offers for flights to places I don’t need to go. Why do you do that? I ask YOU when I need to go somewhere. It’s like getting onto the mailing list of a surgeon who once removed your appendix and being given daily reminders about his special offers on hysterectomies. Why didn’t you e-mail me? I think you text me quite a lot. In fact, I seem to remember you tweeting at me once…
MiR: Shall I tell them to go ahead and cut the locks off?
ME: No! The code is 130.
MiR: Oh… Like the number on James Dean’s Porsche? Ironic!
I fell asleep and dreamt that I’m not an accountant. I woke up confused.
I’m not an accountant.
Monday. My case arrived. My solitary case. Like magic. Like magic that leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Like Paul Daniel’s magic.4 Like magic that doesn’t attach a note. Like magic that doesn’t say sorry. Like magic that only says “Yes, Paul”. Like magic that offers no explanation. Scratch that last one – magic isn’t supposed to offer an explanation (unless it’s Penn and Teller). Like magic that leaves a shit taste in your mouth, that isn’t Penn and Teller, that says “Yes, Paul” and looks like it has some seriously dark leverage that is making Debbie McGee5 stay with it.
So that’s pretty much how this situation went south. I won’t bore you with the details. The only question is how can we make it right? When my cat and Keith Floyd lost things they apologised by leaving dead birds in my kitchen (a starling and a swan, respectively).
How can you fix this? A week in Necker with The Twins? Letting me dial the number ‘1’ on-board a Virgin Galactic flight? By renaming one of your planes after me (don’t bother – the novelty wears off).
No. Nothing so grand. Just give me a single Tier point and I swear, on Keith Floyd’s life, that you will never, ever, have to read an e-mail like this again.
Full marks to Virgin Atlantic. The Lady in Red replied in kind:
Dear Mr James Dean (Like the Actor),
Thank you for your email detailing your unfortunate events following the delay of your luggage. Please accept my sincerest apologies for this, and for the unexpected inconveniences caused as a result. I do hope that despite this, you had a pleasant trip.
The handling of customer bags is a top priority, so your particular experience is an unusual one. We do our best to ensure your bags reach their final destination on time and with you. However; with both manual and automated processes in place, things can occasionally go wrong. I’m sorry that this was the case for you.
James, as much as I would like to arrange for you, Simone and Simone to take vacation on Necker Island, I am afraid I am unable to do this. Getting to Necker Island is hard, even in our dreams. Also James, the lady you met in the bar, the astronaut part-time model, humanitarian, I think she gave you the cold shoulder. Even on Virgin Galactic, you wouldn’t be able to get in touch with her with a single digit 1. Surely that number would get you to Richard Branson himself; as after all, he is number 1 with Virgin. Maybe the Upper Class meal stain on your shirt really did put her off. We’re sorry about that!
I was impressed to read that Jesus had visited you in your dreams, in such a suave manner, at the mini-bar. Although if it was my dream, he would probably have turned into a glass of Dom Perignon Champagne and Strawberries, rather than a chocolate bar. But seriously James, maybe Jesus was giving you a sign, as the following morning, it was me that you spoke to, and I advised you that your cat had been found and was on its way to you.
On a serious note though James, I’m happy to give you a Tier Point. I hope you cherish it. Like it’s Magic. I have also added the mileage and remaining tier points from your most recent flight with us, which means that you are now a Gold Member (not like the movie). You currently have ###### miles on your account. Your new Gold Flying Club number is #########. In order to maintain Gold status, you need to earn a further 40 Tier Points by the 31 October 2015.
James, please once again accept my sincerest apologies. It never occurred to us how much of an ongoing effect delayed luggage can have. This experience is not typical of Virgin Atlantic, and I hope it has not discouraged you from travelling with us again, as it would certainly be a pleasure to welcome you back on board.
And James, in future, please wear trousers when you venture out, to avoid such circumstances happening again and of course for your own comfort! And who puts pens in their beards these days anyway!
******* ***** (The Lady in Red)
Baggage Services Advisor
For American readers: Keith Floyd was a larger than life TV celebrity chef here in the UK and Keith liked a cigarette and glass of wine or two – or three or even twenty-six. He died in 2009 shortly after celebrating rather too hard his victory over bowel cancer ↩
You will have gathered by now that James has a very vivid imagination ↩
Rimowa suitcases are seriously cool and eye-wateringly expensive. They make Tumi look cheap ↩
For American readers: Paul Daniels is a British magician who used to wear a really bad wig. His catchphrase is “You’ll like this, not a lot, but you’ll like it”. He was awarded the prestigious “Magician of the Year’” Award by the Hollywood Academy of Magical Arts in 1983 and was the first British magician to be so honoured. No-one knows why. ↩
For American readers: Debbie McGee was Paul Daniels’ assistant (and later, his second wife). No-one knows why ↩