Guest Post: NZ80

A guest post by who was on NZ80 from Hong Kong on 3 October:

I was one of the unfortunate 311 aboard flight NZ80 from Hong Kong to Auckland on 2/3 October.   Newspaper reports have covered the flight reasonably well but I have a few comments of my own to add.

I was pretty surprised at the sloppy way AirNZ handled this flight.   Being cooped up in an aircraft for 2 hours while the technical people tried to sort out the problem (I gathered something cropped up in the flight check) was no excuse for the cabin crew to do nothing.   One and a half  hours into the delay we were still getting half hourly messages from the flight deck that a longer delay was imminent plus a rather crabby hostie telling off passengers at the rear of the plane that their cellphones must be switched while in the aircraft.  

Which we all did because we know what happened to Bob Jones when he broke the rules.   (And I doubt that any of us in cattle class could thumb our noses at AirNZ and buy our own plane for future travel.)

To her credit she did return shortly afterwards to apologise and tell us that using cellphones was OK but was it that unreasonable for people to start texting and phoning family members to tell them of the delay when there was nothing else to do?

During this time I was unaware of any service by cabin crew.   Shortly before the cancellation announcement two staff walked down the aisles with a water jug and plastic glasses but they were too fast for anyone in my row to get water even though we did respond positively to the offer.   Too fast and too late.   Nothing else was offered so I assume there must have been some regulation that prevented them serving us dinner while we waited.

After about two hours we were told that we weren’t going anywhere on that flight which was now officially cancelled and that we were to return to the departure gate following which we would be collecting our luggage and put up in hotels overnight.   Unfortunately this was not to be.

For almost two hours we sat in the departure lounge with little information.   Passengers who lived in HongKong were sent home for the night and told to return the next day.  Announcements made were in Chinese and English but were difficult to understand as they were competing with announcements for other boarding gates and general announcements about local health issues etc.   During this time some of the more savvy passengers got onto the internet and found their own accommodation and left.    Being a transit passenger I hung in there along with other hopefuls.

It was a shambles.   Travellers with young children were left to themselves and a couple of passengers looked quite unwell.   Eventually we were told that first and business class passengers were being put up in hotels, then they would deal with travellers with young children and the elderly.  

At one stage I approached the ground staff to ask that water and something to eat be made available to us but she indicated that she did not have authority to do this.  

At about 10.30 pm we were told that we could collect food vouchers for a meal but this turned out to be a list of airport restaurants with HK$80 scrawled on it and told that on presentation of our boarding pass we would get a meal.   For me this was not to be.   I tried two places with the “voucher” and ended up purchasing my own meal.   I did speak to two passengers who used their “vouchers” and several who did not get a meal as they were told that their “vouchers” were not acceptable.  

At about 11.30 pm when they got around to rooms for the elderly, I finally owned up to my age, told them that I am a pensioner and asked for one of the elderly/family rooms.   Ground staff found seven hotel rooms for us and 1-1/2 hours later after lengthy queues at immigration and the taxi rank, we were on our way.   A 36.1km taxi ride finally got us to our destination hotel at about 2.30 am.    Some of our group had no money on them as they were in transit and had not eaten since lunchtime Friday.   We all felt grizzly and tired.  

After a shower and about 3-4 hours sleep we were down to breakfast in the hotel and in taxis at 9 am (Sunday) on our way back to the airport to check-in for the new flight.   By this stage the hotel had delivered to each of us a written message from AirNZ advising that we were scheduled to depart at 1.50 pm that day.  

Check-in went well with staff on hand to reimburse us (on presentation of receipts) for our dinner the previous night and breakfast that morning.    Then it was back to the boarding gate, onto the aircraft and back in NZ just after 6 am this morning.  

I have absolutely no complaints about the ground staff at the airport.   They were mostly young and conscientious.   But there was no leadership and the staff didn’t seem to know what to do.   I don’t think they had any authority to make decisions and I am sure, from what I saw, that there was no procedure in place for such a situation.  

But there must be – accidents happen, planes break down, crew get sick.  It happens all the time.  In fact AirNZ had a delay with this same flight about a week ago when a pilot was sick and they had a lengthy delay.     They just didn’t appear to have a plan for this situation.

I left NZ on 8 September for a 3-1/2 week tour of Turkey.   I flew Auckland-Singapore on Singapore Airlines and then from Singapore to Frankfurt with Lufthansa.   I was then due to fly on Lufthansa from Frankfurt to Istanbul arriving on 9 September.   However, on arrival in Frankfurt I learnt that all Lufthansa pilots were on strike and all flights were cancelled.   But they had a plan…..

On arrival at the boarding gate for my Istanbul flight I was redirected to an area set aside for all affected Lufthansa customers.    They had about 15 staff at counters to handle onward bookings and we were given ticket numbers and asked to sit down and wait.   I remember I was No. 340 but they must have dealt with hundreds of people that day.   While I was waiting, trolleys with water, cold drinks, sandwiches, savoury snacks and chocolate were wheeled in for customers to help themselves.   After a wait of about two hours I was booked on a Turkish Airlines flight, directed to German immigration and downstairs to Turkish Airlines to pickup my boarding pass so I could be on my way.   I arrived in Istanbul that evening although my bag took a couple of days to catch up with me.  

I was never meant to be in HongKong on 2 October.   I only got there because my return journey from Istanbul to Frankfurt on Lufthansa due to leave at 1 pm on 2 October was delayed which meant that I missed my connecting flight from Frankfurt to Shanghai on Lufthansa later that afternoon.    Again, the delay was handled quickly and without fuss.  A visit to the Lufthansa Service Centre at the airport saw me booked on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt to HongKong to connect with the AirNZ flight from HongKong to Auckland.   They also gave me three things – E5 voucher for refreshments, E10 voucher for food and a pamphlet setting out my rights as a passenger when things go wrong.   They got it right.

If only could be so efficient.

Cheryl Parsons is semi-retired and lives in Auckland.   She ran a small business for a number of years and is involved in the National Party in Maungakiekie Electorate.   She doesn’t like owning up to being a pensioner but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do…..

UPDATE: A response from Air New Zealand:

The disruption of NZ80 occurred at the same time as a national holiday in Hong Kong as well as bad weather in the region which caused other carriers to cancel flights out of Hong Kong and this resulted in very little accommodation being available in the city.

We did manage to find whatever rooms we could across three hotels for 25 passengers, with priority given to those who were either elderly, in wheelchairs, feeling unwell or with an infant. A number of Hong Kong locals returned to their own homes for the evening but unfortunately around 80 customers who we were unable to accommodate remained in the terminal overnight. We provided them with blankets and pillows as well as water and snacks and have also offered them a cash payment as a gesture of goodwill for their inconvenience.

This year we have invested in additional systems and people to enable us to provide better and more timely communication to our customers. While this was a reasonably unique set of circumstances for a disruption we appreciate there was room for improvement on this occasion and we apologise to our customers for the inconvenience caused to them. We will be reviewing all elements of the event including the feedback received from customers to ensure we can address and refine our processes where required.  

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