Travellers queue to get information on flights at Heathrow Airport last month after a flight plan collapse saw dozens of planes delayed. Traditional travel agencies, rather than online ones, are better placed to assist clients should things go wrong, says our columnist.

Most flight delays are unavoidable and beyond the control of airlines. What they do have control over, though, is how they treat passengers.

On the evening of June 22, several airlines, including Virgin Atlantic, were thrown into chaos by a fault in a flight planning system.

The flight my parents and I booked from Johannesburg to Heathrow, London, scheduled to depart at 8.30pm, was initially delayed until midnight, and left only at 2am.

Virgin Atlantic staff appeared at the boarding gate only very late that evening, then said very little.

No refreshments were provided to the waiting passengers.

Having landed at Heathrow, we’d missed our Air Canada flight to Vancouver and were told by a Virgin rep waiting outside the plane to go to that airline’s transfer counter for help.

After we waited in that queue, Air Canada said it wasn’t its problem and dir-ected us to the monstrous Virgin queue.

We stood in that queue for four-and-a-half hours, during which time we weren’t offered any refreshments or approached by any Virgin official with help or advice.

Having finally made it to the desk, we were directed to a nearby hotel for Virgin-paid dinner, bed and breakfast, and issued with Air Canada tickets for a flight to Vancouver the next morning – 24 hours later than the one we’d been booked on.

I have since e-mailed Virgin Atlantic, questioning its handling of the delay, as well as its failure to provide refreshments on either end, which contradicts the airline’s website promises in the event of the kind of a delay that we experienced.

Responding, a Virgin spokesperson apologised and said a “thorough internal investigation” was being conducted “to ascertain exactly what took place”.

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Twitter: @wendyknowler