Virgin gets freeped

Virgin poll

Anyone who's anyone at Virgin Atlantic has spent the day huddled around a camera, waffling on about how flying one aeroplane with 20% biofuels makes up for the emissions from their thousands of trans-Atlantic services. But behind the scenes, Virgin is just as carbon-addicted as the other airlines. Virgin's website proudly declares their support for the third runway, and asks faithful passengers whether they agree.

So far, so normal; but as Virgin found out, people really don't want this lump of tarmac. According to Virgin's poll, over 90% of people oppose Heathrow expansion. We know the runway's unpopular, but this isn't just an outpouring of opposition. Virgin got freeped.

Freeping has been around for as long as there have been online or telephone polls. It's a simple concept - a pressure group discovers the poll, and passes the link around. Soon a large number of people are all voting one way, distorting the results in their favour. Online polls have very low participation, so five people can swing a vote from 'for' to 'against' pretty easily.

What's funny is that Virgin couldn't even bring itself to ask whether passengers want a third runway or not. It's asking two questions in one: do you agree with Virgin's support for the third runway, and do you agree with Virgin that the third runway would improve Heathrow for passengers. They're not mutually exclusive - I'm sure that a new runway would make things better, but I don't care about people using Heathrow.

Virgin's poll comes with a disclaimer of sorts: "we may send the results of this survey to the Department for Transport as part of its consultation". I'm sure that they'll still be sending the results to the DfT even though they show widespread opposition to expansion...