An open letter to Richard 'The Robber' Branson

An open letter to Richard 'The Robber' Branson


norman lebrecht

December 11, 2011

Dear Richard Branson

As a man who is quick with legal writs to protect his reputation, you’ll be interested in my reason for charging you with robbery.

On Friday, I boarded a Virgin Train from Liverpool to London. I had booked my ticket well in advance and carried both a seat reservation and an online proof of purchase. Unfortunately, I could not find the actual ticket for the journey.

Despite having paid for it once already and showed email proof of purchase, I was charged full fare for the journey. You know full well that I could not possibly have reserved a seat without having bought the ticket. Any airline (except perhaps Virgin) would have let me fly on the papers I presented. But you have trained your staff to extort money with menaces.

This, Branson, is highway robbery. Making someone pay twice for the same product or service when proof of ownership is presented may not be illegal under UK jurisdiction but it is unethical by any code you might pretend to follow from the Holy Bible to Harvard Business School.

Robbing people is wrong, Branson. Didn’t they teach you that at school? From the reactions of other passengers, I gather you do it all the time on Virgin Trains. Your ticket inspectors take great satisfaction in extracting double payment.

How a man who robs innocent travellers is allowed to own a bank is a matter only this Conservative Government can explain.

You’re a robber, Branson. Admit it. Then go bury your head in lawyers.

Yours faithfully


Norman Lebrecht



  • This happens all the time. I’ve witnessed it on all train carriers including Virgin and First Great Western. I think it’s disgusting. I had to cancel a journey to Liverpool in the summer because I was late getting to Euston station due to the Underground being delayed. The “helpful” Virgin staff wouldn’t not allow me to board the next train and use the ticket I had already bought well in advance but instead insisted I had to buy a brand new ticket. A single to Liverpool was the same as the return ticket that was booked well in advance. I refused and had to cancel my appointment. Luckily it wasn’t a concert or rehearsal but I find this treatment of passengers disgusting especially as the fees for tickets are getting higher every year.

    I hope Mr. Branson responds to your letter.

  • Michael P Scott says:


    I believe a case can be made that the Harvard Business School is EXACTLY where the 1-percenters (surely Mr. Branson is a member of that elite crowd) learn their tactics:

    Ripoffs – 101
    Intro to Ponzie schemes – taught via Skype by Bernie Madoff
    Mastering the painted on sincere faux smile when you’re purposefully using techniques learned in the pre-requisite class:
    Extortion of the lesser classes; 100 ways to get their goat without even breaking a sweat

  • Mark says:

    I’m sure the contractual small print will require you present valid ticket in order to travel and a proof of purchase is not that. Orders placed on-line (subsequently cancelled) will still have generated a proof-of-purchase document as a intermediary step.

    The crime of attempting to travel by train without a valid ticket are commonplace. What defence do the train companies have except the right to inspect a valid ticket?

    Get over yourself Norman. You’re not so important that the normal rules should not apply to you.

    • traveller says:

      Hello Mr Lebrecht,

      how should the staff recognize that you – hypothetically – did not give the ticket to someone else and then tried to claim to your reserved seat on the basis of the story as outlined above? Well, the staff had no way to make sure – this is what train tickets are for. On what ground of prejudice should the staff believe you or anyone else who tells this story.

      The scenario you describe is quite common place and you should learn to accept when you made a mistake and not blame others for it. Your situation might have been frustrating but the fault was yours.

      a fellow traveller.

      PS – by the way I doubt someone would be able to claim the seat in an opera house with just the proof of payment and no ticket in hand.

      • That’s incorrect. I had the online booking form and proof of identity. I could not have been any other passenger. And yes, most opera houses would have a record of the original booking and would deliver a substitute ticket against identification.

        • traveller says:

          Your response does not correlate with the case I brought to your attention: in fact you could have given or sold your acutal ticket (which is valid without seat reservation) to another passenger… you would still have the reservation and proof of purchase & identity. But there is no way for the staff to verify that you really just forgot your ticket.

          • Observer says:

            You’ve left out some key information Norman that’s very relevant to your point. There are different types of ticket that may or may not require and/or allow seat reservations and even self printing. The issue you describe is purely an anti-fraud measure that is neccesary as a result of those permutations.

            While some tickets may only be valid on certain services some are not, leading to scenarios as described by traveller & it’s your ticket that indicates what restrictions or flexibility you have purchased. Without knowing what ticket you were attempting to travel without it’s not possible to say exactly what particular fraud was being protected against, but it does at least explain the far simpler blanket policy of ‘no ticket, no travel’ that is as a rule enforced on railway services in the UK.

            Incidentally, I’m not certain your assertion that airlines would allow you to travel without the proper paperwork is true, if you look at Ryanair for example it’s fairly clear (I only pick Ryanair as I’ve witnessed passengers try to convince them otherwise at checkin).