Auckland Airport has revealed measures it hopes will ease a summer crunch and improve conditions critics have described as "Third World."
In a warning issued today, it told passengers to allow extra time during the summer peak when there will be up to 30,000 passengers a day using the international terminal, up 15 per cent on last year.
Passengers should get there 30 minutes earlier than usual, the airport says.
It has also publicly listed the busiest 10 days during summer.
The airport will handle 150 flights a day as inbound tourism and travel by Kiwis booms. Three new airlines are due to begin services during the next two months and current carriers are boosting capacity to meet surging demand.
A shortage of gates means the rate of busing passengers from the tarmac to terminals has more than doubled.
Passengers have complained of long waiting times getting through the airport, one saying bio-security lines stretched 100 metres recently. Along with workers in the area, passengers are increasingly being caught in road traffic gridlock at peak times.
One experienced aviation industry worker said there was increasingly a "shambollic lolly scramble" for gates among airlines.
"The present improvements to the international terminal are going to prove to be too little, too late."
Passengers are having to negotiate their way around a major upgrade of the international departure area with new passport control, security screening and processing area, and some new space for two duty-free stores.
The insider said workers in the airport area dreaded the travelling between 6.30am and 9.30am and during the evening peak.
The busiest days to travel by air
Traffic was "diabolical" and it is not uncommon to take 30-40 minutes to travel two or three kilometres.
"However, if the public think the 'land-side' is third world, they have no idea about the frustrations and anger from the airlines and ground handling companies on the 'air-side'," he said.
Air New Zealand is the airport's biggest airline customer and is diplomatic.
It has rostered more staff to communicate directly with customers about the "infrastructure challenges" facing the airport and where possible advise them in advance they may be taken by bus to planes.
"Naturally, we would like to offer all our customers a consistent boarding and disembarkation experience and we look forward to Auckland airport resolving its infrastructure challenges," a spokeswoman said.
In October the airport company, which made a profit of $262 million last year, was told by a shareholder at its annual meeting that using buses to get passengers to the terminal was "Mickey Mouse"and "Third World" for tourists.
Infrastructure takes a lot longer to turn up than the planes that are arriving here.
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But the company's chief executive Adrian Littlewood said the percentage of passengers put on buses was low by international standards. Overseas airports used buses for up to half their passengers, while at Auckland they were now used in about 5 per cent of the cases. Previously this has been around 2 per cent.
During the past financial year total passenger numbers were up 9 per cent to 17.3 million. Eight new airlines announced services during the year and since June 30 two more had said they are coming here.
"Infrastructure takes a lot longer to turn up than the planes that are arriving here," Littlewood told the Herald.
One recently returned passenger said he saw "shambollic" 100m queues at biosecurity.
Geoff Levick of Kumeu said in a letter to the Herald there were lines of "downcast and confused" tourists and he felt ashamed.
But Judy Nicholl, Auckland Airport's general manager - aeronautical operations, said the company was taking steps to deal with the summer peak.
It had installed 45 mobile international self-service check-in kiosks; re-configured its international check-in area to provide 13 more service counters and upgraded its international baggage handling system.
On the airfield it had built a new taxiway and a new fully-serviced airfield stand, and two improved remote airfield stands to accommodate larger international aircraft.
The airport has hired more than 60 "passenger experience assistants" to help passengers. The Aviation Security Service had increased processing capacity by around 16 per cent.
The NZ Transport Agency said it was "aware of the traffic congestion in and around Auckland International Airport and appreciates the frustrations of people who are affected by delays."
The growth in vehicle traffic is partly driven by an increase in travellers using the airport and employment growth and there were now 56,000 trips a day to and from the airport on State Highway 20A and 30,000 to and from the airport on State Highway 20B.
We build infrastructure to meet demand, not exceed it.
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There is a significant amount of work taking place on the Auckland road network around the airport which includes an underpass at SH20A around Kirkbride Road and the addition of extra lanes on SH20, Neilson Street in Onehunga but that won't be finished until after the summer peak.
The work is in preparation of the opening of the Waterview Tunnel next year to provide extra capacity for traffic leaving the tunnel.
The airport's general manager of airport development and delivery, Graham Matthews, said the worst problem was road traffic congestion which would be eased next year.
He did not believe the airport had been caught out with its infrastructure programme although forecasting was notoriously difficult.
"The thing about forecasting anything is the degree to which you get it wrong," he said.
Airlines occasionally started services the airport wasn't expecting but Matthews said his company had got it generally right.
"We build infrastructure to meet demand, not exceed it."
The company has previously discussed building the "airport of the future," a multi-billion dollar project that will incorporate development work already underway, including an expanded departure and security screening area.
A new domestic terminal to replace the existing one that is in a 50-year-old building is also part of the plan.
Matthews said design work could be made public within the next six to 12 months.
Beating the squeeze
Auckland Airport's advice to passengers to ease stress this summer:
• Book a car park online, well ahead of the day of travel to maximise choice of location.
• Allow 30 minutes extra for journeys through the international terminal building;
• Ensure hand luggage meets airline requirements;
• Completing the international departure card before reaching Customs;
• Ensuring any liquid, aerosol and gel containers in hand luggage are not larger than 100ml, and are all placed in one re-sealable, transparent plastic bag (20cm x 20cm or smaller) and put in an easily accessible location;
• Ask the person who is picking them up to park in The Wait Zone, until they receive a text or phone call saying you are ready for collection; and
• Check the Auckland Airport website and app for the latest flight and travel information.