Aussie flight diverted to Bay

By Genevieve Helliwell, and John Weekes

Passengers were cooped up on a grounded plane for hours after a Virgin Australia flight from Melbourne to Auckland was diverted to Tauranga on Saturday due to dangerously high winds.

What should have been a 3h 36m flight for the 138 passengers aboard Flight DJ164 became a prolonged wait after the flight twice had to abort landings in Auckland as wind gusts reached more than 100km/h.

A Virgin Australia spokesperson said high cross-winds in Auckland prevented the plane from landing so the aircraft's captain decided to divert the plane to Tauranga, where conditions were less intense.

After landing at Tauranga's domestic airstrip, passengers were kept waiting on the tarmac for two hours.

Aucklander Brendon Dixon told how passengers were put on to buses for the three-hour trip back to Auckland Airport, without being offered any food or drink.

Mr Dixon posted on Facebook: "No food or drinks or any sign of when we might get home! Lots of angry people!!! Thanks Virgin! Never flying with you again!"

The airline spokesperson said a possible reason food was not given out during the ordeal was because there might not have been enough to give out.

The flight touched down in Tauranga about 3.20pm.

Customs officials from the Port of Tauranga were called to process the passengers.

Until the customs officials arrived at Tauranga Airport, passengers had to remain on board for "biosecurity reasons", the spokesperson said.

When they arrived, passengers got off the aircraft and were taken into a holding area and processed, the spokesperson said.

"It was very lucky there were Customs officers at the port who were able to check their passports," she said.

After the passengers were checked by customs, they were put on to three buses and driven to Auckland Airport.

Mr Dixon said he arrived in Auckland around midnight, eight hours late, and was offered a $20 voucher for an in-flight meal.

The airline spokesperson said: "Obviously we apologise for the inconvenience but as it was a weather-related one, a diversion was the best action to take. The captain made the decision to divert the aircraft and we acted as quickly as possible to deliver a solution that would take [passengers] up to the original destination."

It was the first time a Virgin Australia flight had landed in Tauranga.

"Even though it was a Pacific Blue flight, it's Virgin Australia now. We're going through the process of rebranding ... so it was a Virgin Australia flight," the spokesperson said.

Air New Zealand was forced to cancel 24 services on Saturday because of the high winds.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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