Trying to inform and get a bunch of furries on the same page isn’t an easy task. Given how far in advance everyone needed to pay, and how often events happen with frequent chatter on social media, this makes it challenging to make sure everyone involved got the right information and was prepared enough for the flight. What I wanted to avoid were people randomly roaming around lost on their own instincts, and causing something like a grander-in-scale version of this:
So yeah, for safety and enjoyment of all (as cliche as it seems, I see why it’s said so often), it was imperative to get all the words out there.
Boy was I in for a treat. Being that Furflight was more/less a one man band, I was the main point of contact for all information. Every email, pinned message, and tweet came from a single source – me. I didn’t wish to outsource at the time as I didn’t want a game of Telephone to begin, and with a lot of items still up in the air (no pun intended) until weeks before the trip,
See the thorough information about the flight listed so clearly on the front page? That wasn’t the case for months. Information was for the longest time placed as an on and off pinned message, or on the top of the regular email with the expectation being you’d mark that down and remember. However, if you actually have a life and not on the phone/email with the airline on a nearly daily basis, it is understandable why you’d forget until weeks before. Nevertheless, the most common questions I’ve received between July and November 2017 were (in no order):
All of which were answered in the flight information post/box/section.
I also made alerts for when things are due (like the final flight payment) and important notices (like a much needed reminder of the code of conduct). While this worked, the limitations of the group chat, plus emails lead to what was more/less an information overload.
You may have noticed that I may have overlooked the idea of blog posts as well as two major social media outlets – Facebook and Twitter. As this was the first run, I was hesitant on posting any essential info publicly (like flight number, airport terminals, and airline) due to security concerns – anyone, any stranger who sees a retweeted post could either contact the airline to force a cancellation, or start an attack on the day of while we’re still collecting our tickets pre-security. It was a tough balance, but pretty much I wanted only those who had already paid to have access to trip information. Whether or not this was effective or just paranoia is up to you.
With all that said, a comprehensive guide was set up on the site with information on the flight, policies for the trip, and what to expect onboard as well as at the airport. Whether or not it was effective varies as, again, it was a lot of information, and I feel many overlooked and went on instincts beyond day-before reminders.
And honestly, who’d blame them? It’s a lot of information, and who wants to read a manual for what’s more/less a vacation?
Granted, some of the information did prove essential to some and made me change my approach to something more “hand holding” late in the process. A significant amount of the passengers on the trip haven’t flown in years, and with me having flown every other week in 2017, I had forgotten how big a mystery baggage and security policies are to most people.
I had to look up official baggage policies for Virgin America, and found myself surprised with how generous they are – 50 cubic inches for carry-on and checked bags are $25 up to 10 bags (most begin exponentially charging extra from second bag on).
Security required a link to the official TSA site with their search engine on items that could be allowed. I also posted cute cartoon guides on the info page to keep things simple. If anything, future information will probably be in infographic form.
The above was a series of messages I had received from an anonymous source. This became a red flag that prompted a mass email explaining the consequences that could happen to everyone should anyone misbehave (this is posted on the top of the policies page). There was a common misconception that this was a chartered flight and thus we could do what we wanted. It wasn’t. Chartered flights are those that rent an entire plane out from a private terminal to a destination of choice. These are oftentimes more expensive as the plane and crew would have to be taken out of regular service and positioned to the airports. What was done for FurFlight and will be done for future flights is a group reservation on an existing flight. Pretty much every single airline does this. While we got a majority of the plane by pure luck, there were still others onboard, thus any lewd or rude behavior had to be out of the question. We did have a few people on patrol in flight (one in suit as, fitting enough, a German Shepherd). Thankfully, nothing happened.
While making sure people behaved on the flight was a perceived challenge, it was a tough quagmire preventing questionable people onboard. No, I’m not talking about leaving out the dirty plebs. There are people in the local furry community who have become infamous for a variety of reasons (eg harassment and pay delinquency), that wanted to take part in the flight. Given how I wanted to make this flight enjoyable for the majority, I had to do something to mitigate any issues or harm. For some it was easy to turn down with pure honesty (and the fare buckets becoming high enough to discourage them from buying their own ticket), for others it became a tricky balancing act of explaining why they were refunded or denied accepting pay.
Some I found out in hindsight and I tried to find a spot in the cabin to politely rebook to but far enough not to cause issues. Ultimately this didn’t work out and a refund had to be set out under the guise of an upgrade failing to clear and coach space being taken. This person didn’t take it well (and understandably so), still holding a grudge to this day. To be honest, I do wonder if I made the best decision after consulting others, and this does make me think for future runs.
Conventions do not deny people based on rumors alone unless there’s an actual threat or if they have done substantial harm/abuse, physically, verbally or mentally to property or others. You can avoid someone frowned upon otherwise by sticking to your friends or making an excuse to walk elsewhere, but you don’t have that option when stuck on a metal tube for hours. Again, I was thinking about the safety and enjoyment of the majority onboard, so it was case of numbers vs playing favorites. However, to someone outside, it may look like prejudice as reputations are in the eye of the beholder. As I look to expand for next year and to automate the signup process, this will be something I will definitely want to look into addressing after getting more thought and input.
There’s just as much a big grey area that there is no true winning case beyond thinking for the majority and trusting their word.
One month before the main flight, I took an actual flight on Virgin to make note of all the entertainment and food offerings onboard.
The in-flight coach cabin is like a media center inside a night club. You get a touchscreen the size of a tablet with the usual rounds of free on-demand films, live TV, and games, but also the ability to order food (consistently regarded as the healthiest in the air, tied with Delta) to your seat, send to a friend, or even chat with a friend. It makes the flight feel much more like a party and less like, well, a flight (well, when it works… said system didn’t work on the flight back and it made a huge difference).
Nevertheless, I documented all the entertainment and food offerings onto the site itself, as well as WiFi options.
The section heading was a notable comment in the feedback from the flight. These were the results regarding both food and entertainment:
There’s the common (and for most part, true) perception that airlines don’t offer anything of worth paying extra for, so bring your own Netflix full of shows and a sandwich from the overpriced cafe outside because good luck to you. Most furries travel Southwest, which only offers peanuts and nothing else, so it’s understandable why they wouldn’t bother. But I’m surprised that even with the information given, it didn’t change much of the norm. It’s like bringing a horse to water but them not drinking.
From a personal level, wanting to go out of my way for a specific carrier for an extra experience and seeing a more/less lukewarm reception to what’s offered is kinda disheartening, and I wonder if it’s worth bothering to continue given that all of the extra bells and whistles will be removed over the course of 2018 with Virgin planes being more like Alaska (and thus like every other domestic carrier), what’s left to differentiate, or justify paying extra for a trip full of furries if the experience isn’t much different from a basic Greyhound plane? The response about “Snacks and Wifi” was in response what could’ve improved the flight, but both were offered as shown above, just never bought. The response implies that furries want free snacks and wifi. Only one airline offers both: JetBlue, and that is not an option outside of New England and New York.
I am thinking of ways to make 2018’s FurFlight more fun and extra with this in mind, as well as talking to Alaska about this around March. We shall see what this holds… but will furries embrace it or shrug it off?
Though, I guess given that we did manage to eat up all the food and bev inventory on the flight out and the IFE being down (but food free as a result, to knowledge of almost nobody) on the return, perhaps those that brought their own stuff had a smart hunch.
The above was posted the night before the flight, the only detailed plan about what to do at the airport (outside of, well, the site itself). For the most part, this worked. I waited outside of check-in around 9am, marked passengers off, and confirmed their seats. As I didn’t know what to expect from the security team, I recommended everyone in coach (and those in Main Cabin Select and First who planned to suit) to stay behind landside until SFPD reps came over. Many complied, with some grabbing breakfast at the international food court. There are those, however, that went again past security. I was worried that might hamper us if all 56 coach passengers weren’t accounted for. Combined with late stragglers (due to BART breakdowns), and people becoming impatient, this made the limits of being a one-man-band very apparent.
Thankfully, this proved to be no issue, and we went through a dedicated line.
I was equally worried about dealing with the return given O’Hare’s Virgin ticket counters and the airport’s security zones being of smaller, more hap-hazard size, but given how this was both a mid-day departure and the lack of an exclusive shuttle causing furries to trickle instead of pour in made this the quietest and most casual check-in process.
I am still grateful for the cooperation of San Francisco Police Department and SFO in allowing us to suit up post security and go through the effort of giving us our own security line. The response was so positive from all parties that they want us back next year. I can only hope we can do the same for future expansion.
This was a huge learning lesson for me, being so worried of what could go wrong on something so unprecedented. Getting anyone on the same page and through a place as intense and stressful as an airport is no cakewalk. It was amazing that this even got off the ground for how many times this could’ve been shot down.
There is a lot to take into account though. Make information easy to understand at first glance, remind often, and most definitely have assistants, or a team, to communicate directly to the passengers as opposed to just solo.
While at times this was nerve wracking dealing as a customer service agent and middle man, it was kinda fun in hindsight. I look forward to improving for the next run!