I'm wondering if anybody has ever had an experience similar to mine.
Three weeks ago I flew from San Francisco (SFO) to Cape Town. The cheapest fare was with Virgin Atlantic, Flt. 20 to LHR then Flt. 620 to CPT with a 7 hour layover at Heathrow (which I didn't mind because of the great spotting opportunities).
I presented at the Virgin Atlantic check-in counter at SFO's new International Terminal 2 1/2 hours before departure. I approached the next available agent and handed over my passport and tickets. She pulled them out of the envelope and proceeded to stare at them blankly for about 5 minutes, flipping back and forth from ticket coupon to ticket coupon.
She then asked if I was going on to Cape Town with Virgin Atlantic, this when my onward ticket to CPT clearly indicated a VS flight number. I said "yes" and she then told me that she didn't even know that Virgin flew to Capr Town! She had to look up the airport code, even after I told her it was "CPT".
She then had to look up on the computer whether or not a visa was required for travel there. When she couldn't find the information in the computer she had to call over to another employee to find out. I assured her that one wasn't required, but she didn't want to believe me, and subsequently spent another 5 minutes moving from agent to agent trying to find out.
Once she had the airport code and visa requirements squared away she began checking me in, which for some reason took forever. The printed out two boarding passes, one for the SFO-LHR segment and then another for LHR-CPT, however, she told me that she was unsure whether or not I was really checked in all the way through to CPT, and to check-in anyway once I reached LHR. I told her that it appeared that I was checked all the way though, but she insisted that I make sure once a reached London. I thought this to be truly bizarre.
When I asked her what made her think that I wasn't through checked, she said that there was no gate assignment printed on the boarding pass. I told her that gate assignments aren't determined this far in advance at LHR, but she said I should check in again "just to be on the safe side". Needless to say I became quite concerned that my baggage wouldn't be checked through to CPT, but the agent told me that it was, and produced baggage tags that indicated that they were indeed going all the way to Cape Town.
Virgin Atlanic hires its own staff at SFO, and there is no handling agent. It seems that their training would include such items as the cities the airline serves, and how to check people in through to their final destination.
Once I got to LHR I exited customs and went straight to the VS customer service counter in Zone A departures. The agent there told me that I was checked through to Cape Town, and that I wouldn't have to wait in the monstrous line in front of the VS check-in counters. When I told her of my experience with her colleague at SFO, she told me that staff there are very used to only dealing with passengers who are flying point to point to LHR and no further, and that they just aren't used to checking passengers onto connectring flights.
Still, this didn't prevent me from emailing VS to complain.
Not all who wander are lost....