An open letter to Richard Branson



Sir. Richard Branson,

Founder of The Virgin Group.

I am writing this open letter to make you and everyone else aware of the service that I have received.  A service that was far beyond my own expectations and as such has enabled me to feel confident and less anxious about a journey I will soon be taking.

My name is Theresa, I have a severe sight impairment and as such travel with my partner in crime, my guide dog Vicky.  It is her (Vicky) that has enabled me to become a strong-willed, independent and adventurous young woman in the five years that she has been walking by my side.  We travel everywhere together, she is my sight, my strength and my beautiful girl.

At the beginning of November, I will be travelling to Manchester, with Vicky by my side.  I am looking forward to this exciting adventure.  It is a real break for me, I have spent my time exploring online what to do and where to go.  The hotel is booked, as is the train.

And this is the reason for my letter.

I booked my ticket online on the virgin website, I was impressed that when reserving my seat I could choose the direction I sat in, whether I sat at a table or in an airline style seat and even, probably the most important thing for a four and half hour journey, I could request to be seated with a power socket!  (the little things that make for a more enjoyable journey)

All the relevant boxes were ticked, times chosen and seats reserved.  The confirmation email came through and I was very happy.

A friend then asked in a joke “Will Vicky be able to find the correct carriage and seat?”  Good point, no she can’t!  It was something that hadn’t even crossed my mind.  Although I often book my tickets in advance, I have never reserved my seat when travelling alone.  I knew that there is assistance for disabled passengers, so back online I went.  On the virgin website was the details for passenger assist.  Which considering it was a Sunday lunchtime, I was surprised to find that the telephone number to discuss my needs was open.

I gave it a ring, and spoke with a very nice man, who talked me through the help he could offer.  I explained that I would be travelling with my guide dog, so needed no assistance around the station, but just a bit of help to find my reserved seat on the train.

It was then that he asked for my booking details, so that he could cancel my reserved seats.  I will admit for about 10 seconds (which felt much longer) I panicked.  He explained he was doing this, so that he would reserve a more appropriate seat, along with reserving a seat for my guide dog.  I told him that I couldn’t afford a seat for her, as she wold sit at my feet under my seat.

Thankfully he quickly confirmed that the seat reservation would not cost me anything, it was ‘standard proceedure’ for anyone travelling with an assistance dog, so that it would allow her  space on the floor to stretch out and enjoy her journey too.

So, the call handler changed my seats, he even explained to me where on the train I would be, where I could download a seating plan for carriages.

He explained to me where to go at the station for my assistance, he even put me on hold briefly while he confirmed this with Southampton Central Station as my train was departing at 05.48 which is before the ticket office opens.

He confirmed all the details with me verbally before sending me an email.  He spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with me, which is why I am unable to tell you his name.

The service I received from the Passenger Assist booking line and the additional thought of allocating floor space for my guide dog has gone a very long way to easing my anxiety about making such a big trip by myself.

So for this, I want to say Thank You.

Yours Sincerely

Theresa Osborne-Bell

(20th October 2014)

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