Lights on... but chaos rules

The scene at Auckland International Airport yesterday as delayed passengers queue to check in. Photo / Natalie Slade
The scene at Auckland International Airport yesterday as delayed passengers queue to check in. Photo / Natalie Slade

William James flew from Christchurch to Auckland to meet his wife as she arrived from the United Kingdom.

But her flight was diverted to Christchurch when the gateway to New Zealand was closed by faulty runway lights.

"We're emigrating here, and it's not off to a good start," Mr James said. "She's been up for 40 hours now, it's just unbelievable. I'm still not convinced I'll be able to find her."

Mr James stood with his gift of flowers beginning to wilt because he had waited six hours for his wife's rescheduled flight to arrive yesterday.

After receiving conflicting advice from airport officials, he made three trips between the international and domestic terminals.

Mr James was one of thousands still suffering yesterday as Auckland International Airport struggled to clear the backlog of passengers disrupted by the airport's closure.

Last night he expected to return to Christchurch after being reunited with his wife.

But more than 20 hours after the runway lights failed, at 8.10pm on Saturday, the arrivals hall was overflowing with angry and exhausted passengers.

Twenty-two flights in and out of Auckland were rescheduled or delayed, disrupting the travel plans of about 2000 people.

Temporary repairs were made to a 120 metre section of the cable to get the lights back on and at first light today work began on replacing the 30km network of cable which the Airways Corporation said could take several days.

Travellers told of ruined holidays, missed transfers, and uncomfortable nights bunking down on airport chairs in terminals in Auckland and Christchurch.

Wellington and Christchurch airports cleared their flight backlogs yesterday morning, but Auckland Airport took longer to clear.

Hundreds of people were still there yesterday afternoon, and the electronic display boards listing arrivals and departures showed a logjam of diverted, delayed and rescheduled flights.

Some passengers and their families called for compensation for the parking fees that stacked up as they waited for diverted flights to arrive in Auckland.

Last night, three delayed flights were still waiting to leave Auckland.

State Owned Enterprises Minister Simon Power yesterday demanded answers from the Airways Corporation, which is responsible for the runway lights.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown, whose council owns 22 per cent of the airport, said he was disappointed by the blackout.

Airport staff faced the anger of passengers who said arrival and departure boards were inaccurate or confusing.

Dot Davies, from Hamilton, broke into tears as she spoke of her ordeal.

She had meant to return to Auckland from Sydney on Friday night, but was diverted to Christchurch.

With only one airport counter to process her flight, she did not get into the room provided until 4am.

She flew back to Auckland yesterday, but had lost her rental car booking, and had to wait two hours for duty-free processing.

"I just want to get home. Last time I flew I got caught up in the Christchurch earthquake. And now this. I don't think I'll ever travel again."

Ms Davies and her family were given free accommodation by Air New Zealand.

But others were not so lucky - some travellers in Auckland and Christchurch were given blankets and told to sleep in the terminal.

Debbie Lange, from Laingholm, said she spent most of her weekend at the airport, waiting for her parents to arrive from South Africa.

"I've got parking fees coming out my ears. I am so angry. I hope the airport knows how frustrated we are, because this can never happen again."

Air NZ said the inconvenience to passengers was unfortunate but the delays were outside the airline's control. It was not required to offer compensation.

- NZ Herald

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