Passengers missed flights and up to a dozen Air New Zealand services were delayed after crew were caught in gridlock around Auckland Airport this week.
Air New Zealand reported emotional scenes at its check-in counters, as stranded passengers broke down in tears after the Thursday traffic jam.
Traffic was again heavy in the area yesterday and the airline has warned of the risk of further problems over summer.
Ian Morrish, a Wellington-based IT consultant who travels to Auckland monthly, was one of many passengers who missed his flight on Thursday because of the traffic.
He was able to reschedule his flight for an extra $30.
"Luckily I rang while I was in the cab and booked a flight for an hour later."
It took 15 minutes to get through the last three roundabouts before the domestic terminal about 4.30pm, Morrish said.
"I'd hate to think what it was like at 5pm or 6pm."
Morrish believed the gridlock was caused by "non-airport" traffic detouring through the airport link to get on to the Southwestern Motorway.
The issue appeared to be ongoing, he said.
"Apparently it's like that all the time. It just seems to be the last six months it's got chronically bad."
Although not publicly commenting, Air New Zealand is understood to be increasingly frustrated at the impact on passengers of problems around and at the airport.
Air New Zealand told staff in an internal bulletin yesterday that it had been expecting significant congestion at the airport over the busy peak holiday period and "this became very apparent [on Thursday] with rain and heavy traffic congestion around the airport combining to cause travel chaos for both our customers and our people".
International and domestic services were held up for up to 50 minutes, said chief operations officer Bruce Parton.
"There were also emotional scenes in our check-in areas and customers in tears as many missed their flights due to the traffic chaos. "As we get nearer to Christmas we are likely to see more overcrowding at Auckland Airport and in the surrounding transport network as we did yesterday. If you work at the airport or need to travel there, please take this into account and allow yourself additional time to get there."
Air New Zealand is rostering more staff on to help passengers through terminals over Christmas and is communicating with those it can reach to advise them to expect congestion.
Jetstar said it wasn't hit by delays yesterday but is advising passengers using Auckland Airport to arrive 90 minutes before their flights are due to depart.
Airport users complained it was taking close to an hour to move a few hundred metres and buses to hotels around the airport that were meant to arrive every 30 minutes weren't turning up for more than an hour.
But the airport today said it is responsible for a "very small" number of roads located within the inner airport precinct and blamed congestion on its roads on work being done on highways managed by the New Zealand Transport Agency.
An airport spokesman said congestion being experienced was due to roadworks to the north of the airport, at Kirkbride Rd, and the capacity on NZTA's State Highway 20B - between the airport and Manukau.
He said the airport company was working closely with NZTA and Auckland Transport to improve traffic flows and transport to and from the airport, including how State Highway 20B can be improved to ease traffic congestion on airport roads, and on how to improve public transport services to and from Auckland Airport.
Brett Gliddon, NZTA's Auckland Highway manager, said he was aware of the issues yesterday
"We are committed to working with Auckland Transport and Auckland Airport to look at ways of optimising the network to improve the flow of traffic and improve public transport into and out of the airport."
An AT spokesman said bus services had been improved between the airport and Manukau at the end of October.
Besides traffic "chaos" on the highways, passengers have told the Herald of long waiting times to be bused to the terminal, delays in picking up bags and queues at border agencies.Some have described the airport as "Third World" and said its infrastructure was lagging badly behind the surge in passengers.
While the airport is spending tens of millions of dollars on upgrading its international departure area, new gates and stands for aircraft, it has warned this summer will be tight.
Last week it advised passengers to allow an extra 30 minutes than usual.
There will be up to 30,000 passengers a day using the international terminal on 10 peak days this summer, up 15 per cent on last year.
The busiest days to travel by air
Air New Zealand last week said it was "looking forward to Auckland Airport resolving its infrastructure challenges".
Record numbers of tourists are pouring into New Zealand and this has been matched by Kiwis travelling, lured by cheap fares and a growing number of airlines and destinations.
In the past financial year the number of passengers using the airport increased 9 per cent to 17.3 million.