Hundreds of passengers stranded in Singapore have been told they may have to wait until early March for flights back to Auckland.
Travellers whose travel to New Zealand was cancelled by this weekend’s extreme weather have found it near impossible to book on to new flights. Due to this disruption during the peak travel season stranded passengers are finding few seats on extremely full aircraft.
The flooding at Auckland’s International terminal shut the runway to all aircraft for around 37 hours at the weekend.
More than 40 international arrivals were suspended on Saturday alone, over half of which were operated by Air New Zealand.
Passenger Richard was returning to Auckland on Friday with his wife and two children after a trip overseas.
For the past three days they have been looking for a way home and counting a growing travel insurance claim. Richard’s eldest child was supposed to start high school this week.
“We’re packing our bags each morning and going to the airport as early as possible, to see what standby seats are available.”
They were among about 270 passengers on flight NZ283 on Friday, which was cancelled without a plane to operate. With little further information, passengers were disembarked and told to wait to be contacted by the airline.
The following morning, copies of a letter from the airport operations manager were delivered to passengers’ rooms on behalf of Air New Zealand.
They were all told that they would be rebooked within 48 hours and that the evenings’ accommodation and meals would be paid for “as a gesture of goodwill.” However, any expenses for subsequent nights would not be covered.
Arriving back at the airport on Saturday representatives of Air New Zealand were told that flights were extremely full and they were doing their best to rebook travel.
“Even before all this happened the flights were all fully booked until at least March,” a representative told passengers.
They were asked to form a queue and they would review passengers’ transfer options depending on their passports and flight availability. For some there were no options until the middle of February at the earliest.
Some international tourists looking forward to a holiday in New Zealand cancelled their travel plans, opting to go home Europe instead.
“We are fortunate to be able to cover these expenses for now. There are some younger passengers who are coming back from travels and don’t have a source of income.”
Air New Zealand has since offered $250 per night to cover the accommodation costs for stranded passengers. Richard says this was not initially communicated to passengers.
Some passengers have been offered indirect routes flying via Papua New Guinea and Brisbane over the next week. Others have tried to take matters into their own hands.
Another passenger in Singapore, Jill, said that her niece had been able to book flights to Brisbane for her and her husband. From there they intend to book new flights to Auckland.
“I am usually a calm and understanding person but I nearly lost it at the airport yesterday.”
She began a WhatsApp group for passengers to try and share what information they had. Most passengers had begun going to the airport in person to get information and try to book onward travel to Auckland.
“We’ve spent a fortune on phone calls which get nowhere,” she said.
Among the other passengers trying to get home from Singapore were young families including a mother, travelling on her own with three children.
Jill said she couldn’t understand why these passengers weren’t being prioritised.
Air New Zealand was contacted for comment regarding the waits faced by passengers. A spokesperson for the airline said there is no limit on the number of nights passenger can claim compensation for.
Advice to passengers
Currently Air New Zealand, which operates the majority of the affected flights, says it was working to get passengers rebooked as soon as possible.
Calling it “one of the biggest customer recoveries in Air New Zealand’ history”, chief of customer and sales Leanne Geraghty said that they were working with partners Singapore Airlines to upweight aircraft to carry more passengers.
The route Boeing 777 route would now be replaced by a Singapore Airlines A380 to carry an additional 200 seats. Other measures were being taken to add capacity to links from Niue, Fiji and Los Angeles, with priority given to affected passengers.
“We’re pulling all available levers to get customers on services as soon as possible. This includes working with alliance partners for them to use larger aircraft where possible and reworking our schedule to see where extra capacity can be added,” she said.
On Monday Geraghty said that they would be offering affected customers up to $250 per night for accommodation “as a goodwill gesture”.
There was also an extension of the travel window until February 28 for passengers whose travel was disrupted, waiving fare difference and rebooking costs.
Consumer NZ has been advising travellers affected by the weather event and helping them with the process of making insurance claims. However this has been complicated by the Auckland flooding as a natural event, “outside the control” of airlines.
“At Consumer, we were very happy to see Air New Zealand going above and beyond what’s actually required,” said Jessica Walker, a spokesperson for the consumer rights watchdog.