One international flyer says the level of organisation that went into handling arriving Auckland Airport passengers from Bali this morning felt “Mickey Mouse” bad, while another person has told how they experienced long delays even at midnight.
This morning’s flyer said passengers were held on board a Bali flight for almost 30 minutes after the captain told them there was a staff shortage from sickness among ground crew operated by Air NZ.
Morning fog blanketing Auckland today also earlier led to 22 cancellations of domestic regional flights - 11 departures and 11 arrivals - and one delay. International flights and services to major cities, such as Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown, however, were not affected.
It comes as school holiday travellers have been urged to do their bit to try to avoid repeats of lengthy delays that frustrated passengers have been reporting in recent days.
Airline passengers have been flooding the Herald with complaints about long delays at Auckland Airport’s immigration and biosecurity throughout September, with some calling the scenes a “madhouse” and “totally disorganised”.
Airport officials earlier said passenger numbers are getting close to pre-Covid levels, with up to 15,000 expected to pass through the site on Saturday.
Auckland Airport’s chief customer officer Scott Tasker said the three busiest days for international departures at the airport during the upcoming holidays are expected to be this Friday and Saturday, while the busiest for international arrivals are likely to be Sunday, October 1, Saturday, October 7, and Sunday, October 8.
Domestically, the busiest departure days are expected to be Friday, September 29, Thursday, October 5, and Friday, October 6, while the busiest arrival days are tipped for the next three Fridays - September 22, 29 and October 6.
Tasker said average daily passenger numbers these September school holidays are expected to be 10 per cent higher than the July school holidays, with travel at about 90 per cent of the levels seen in the same school holiday period in 2019.
“These school holidays are going to be busy with lots of people heading away, and now even more so with the Warriors in the NRL preliminary final in Brisbane. We ask that travellers come prepared and allow plenty of time,” Tasker said.
Auckland Airport, Biosecurity New Zealand and other government departments earlier apologised for delays passengers have experienced throughout September and said they are working to improve the experience.
More queues this morning
Problems at the airport made headlines earlier this week when the Herald reported the experiences of James Ryan, who described Auckland Airport as a “madhouse” and “zoo” on Sunday night after it took him more than two hours to make it through immigration and biosecurity checks when flying in from Sydney.
The Herald then shared more stories from passengers yesterday and has continued receiving new complaints, including from an overnight flight.
One passenger arriving in Auckland from Bali this morning said the airport situation felt “Mickey Mouse”, with sick Air NZ ground staff adding to delays.
On arrival staff initially said the airport was busy and they were waiting for someone to get an airbridge to the plane.
Ten minutes later staff said there was “quite a bit of sickness” and they were still trying to find someone who could bring the bridge.
It took around 25 minutes to get off the plane, he said.
Passengers were then divided into two groups based on whether they had open-or-closed-toe shoes, for biosecurity reasons.
“In the closed-sole shoes, we walked out and had to stop because the door was closed that would let us into the main area.
“After about 10 minutes the Air New Zealand person came and said ‘I forgot to open this door, you have to go the other way’.”
He said the person who was meant to open the door could earlier be seen on his phone - and suggested he should have been paying more attention to his job.
The passenger said he would have expected a contingency plan for staff sicknesses.
Bryan Jenkins, meanwhile, is among the most recent to complain to the Herald, saying he faced long queues even at midnight.
He arrived at 12.15am after a red-eye flight from Brisbane and only managed to exit the airport building at 2am, he said.
“Expecting a shorter queue than normal was mistaken. Over 300 people waiting to be processed at that time of the morning,” he said, noting how there was nowhere for “older folk” like him or tired and “crying” children to sit .
He said he didn’t blame staff as they appeared tense, overworked and “equally as frustrated as us.
“I blame airport management for this debacle. Excuses don’t cut the mustard. Blaming it on staff shortages and too many planes arriving - isn’t that what an airport is - is inexcusable,” Jenkins said.
Tips to speed up travel through Auckland Airport
With international passengers complaining about long delays in recent days, Tasker also provided a list of travel tips from Auckland Airport insiders so passengers can get away “stress-free”.
These include arriving passengers having all their documents ready and using an eGate if possible, and declaring anything in their baggage that may be a biosecurity risk – such as food, plants, wooden products, soil, water, outdoor equipment and animal products - so Biosecurity New Zealand staff can assess them and prevent pests or diseases entering the country.
Passengers can also dispose of any “undeclared risk items” in amnesty bins to avoid being searched or fined and thus speed up the process for everyone.
“Anyone who brings biosecurity risk items may take longer to process,” the airport said in its tips.
Tips for departing passengers include putting wireless headphones in carry-on luggage as the wireless charger may be removed from checked baggage and being ready to remove boots above the ankle or steel-toecaps ahead of security.
Another good idea is to pack a bag within your carry-on bag for things that may need to be checked, such as laptops, batteries and liquids under 100ml. Remember no aerosols or liquids or gels over 100ml or 100g are permitted in carry-on bags, the airport said.
‘Worst experience of any airport’: Passengers ‘embarrassed’ by Auckland Airport’s biosecurity
Passengers arriving at Auckland Airport come into contact with a number of organisations, including ground and other staff managed by airlines, Customs staff overseeing immigration, Biosecurity New Zealand staff from the Ministry of Primary Industries handling biosecurity checks, and infrastructure and systems put in place by the airport management.
The bulk of complaints received by the Herald have been from international passengers arriving and being held up in queues managed by Biosecurity New Zealand.
Julia Russell, who is in her 70s, said she flew into Auckland from Honolulu on August 22, landing a little early at 5.30pm.
She said she had a domestic connection to Christchurch leaving at 8.40pm and that the biosecurity queues were already “horrendous” by 5.50pm when she joined - “luckily with the forethought to go to the loo first”.
One hour later, she had only progressed about one-quarter of the way through the queue with no staff members providing any information.
Worried she called to a passing official that she had a domestic connection but he ignored her and walked off, Russell said.
“A little later I called over another passing official, she said she would ask permission from Air NZ and disappeared, not to be seen again,” she said.
“The people around were sympathetic and said: ‘Just go for it’.
“So I did. I managed to push down one side of the queue, apologising all the way, and people were mostly sympathetic and let me queue jump.”
She said she made it out of the immigration hall by 7.15pm and managed to drop her bags off for the transfer, but would have “most definitely” missed her flight if she hadn’t taken “matters into my own hand”.
“There was no evidence of a fast-track queue for people with connecting flights. Or any help for families with small children, or elderly. There were crying small children. It was a horrendous experience. I have told all my friends it was worse than Los Angeles,” Russell said.
Dan O’Connor said he flew in from Fiji at 5.55am on September 7 and endured a two-hour wait at biosecurity, saying he saw elderly women fainting, passengers missing connecting flights and “kids almost wetting their pants”.
He said it’s the worst experience he’s had at any airport in the world and that they seemed to have “plenty of staff” but “no urgency.
“The world’s worst airport [Los Angeles’ LAX] is offering a better service,” he said.
Matthew Henwood said he was put into a family line after flying back from Dubai last Monday at 10.10am because he has a son aged under 12.
It was done to prioritise families and small children, but he said the family line took longer to process than the regular line.
That meant he ended up back in the now cleared regular line anyway, he said.
Debbie Holmes said she flew in from Melbourne last Sunday evening and the queues were “embarrassing” whereas Melbourne airport was a “breeze”.
Jenny Knight said she returned from Brisbane and also said the Australian airport ran smoothly by comparison after she spent almost two hours in a queue.
Gerard Murphy, a director of Bon Voyage Cruises and Travel, said it took him one hour and 45 minutes to clear immigration and biosecurity after flying in from Brisbane on September 8.
He said one of the biosecurity queues that is designed to welcome NZ’s “valuable tourists and guests” stretched 100 metres long at one point.
“I was embarrassed that this is our welcome.”
Murphy said he would like to ask officials why there are only 11 biosecurity counters downstairs when there are many more passport counters at immigration upstairs.
He also asked why the whole arrival area looked underwhelming and “temporary” and whether Auckland Airport and Biosecurity NZ have “documented service standards in terms of the time they are aiming for”.
Biosecurity NZ: ‘Working hard to speed up processing times’
Mike Inglis, northern regional commissioner, Biosecurity New Zealand, confirmed the delays on Sunday evening.
He said four flights arrived either late or early between 4.30pm and 6.30pm.
“This resulted in a large influx of nearly 3500 travellers arriving for processing over a short time period,” Inglis said.
“Reduced biosecurity staff, due to illness, was also a factor, although we were able to redeploy staff to manage demand.
“Priority was given to travellers with domestic transfers throughout the busy period.”
Inglis said that delays and passenger flows are influenced by “industry-wide factors that are often outside of Biosecurity New Zealand’s direct control”.
He said his team had been working hard to speed up passenger processing.
“As a result, we have seen our average processing time reduce from a high of 13.16 minutes in February to 9.72 minutes in August.”
Auckland Airport: ‘Unfortunately, these issues are complex’
An Auckland Airport spokesperson also said a high number of flight arrivals combined with staff shortages due to illness impacted the speed of passenger processing.
Auckland Airport chief operations officer Chloe Surridge said passengers take an average of 30 minutes from the time they leave their plane to when they greet family and friends in the arrival hall.
During that time they pass through immigration, biosecurity and pick up their luggage.
“However, we know there can be increased congestion at peak periods,” Surridge said.
“This is not the experience we want for travellers, and we apologise to anyone who has been impacted in recent times.”
She said there are a lot of teams involved in making this process smooth - such as airlines, airline ground handlers, Customs and Biosecurity New Zealand - and they were committed to improving.
“Unfortunately, these issues are complex,” she said.
These issues included a global staff shortage in aviation and construction taking place in Auckland Airport’s arrivals hall, which is constraining space.