Passenger Ben Woodward believes the airline knew, even before take-off, that it was never going to meet the Wellington Airport curfew. Photo / Supplied
A passenger travelling from Sydney to Wellington who ended up “abandoned” in Christchurch believes Qantas should have informed passengers before take-off that they were never going to land in the capital city.
More than a hundred international passengers were left stranded at Christchurch Airport last Sunday night when their flight to Wellington was diverted – and no accommodation was provided.
The Qantas flight took off from Sydney, and was destined for the capital but when it missed the curfew for Wellington Airport it was redirected to Christchurch. No international flights can land at Wellington Airport between 1am and 6am.
But a Qantas spokeswoman said the decision to divert was made only after the aircraft was airborne.
Ben Woodward said QF163 was scheduled to depart at 6.40pm from Sydney but took off only at 11.15pm New Zealand time.
“Prior to take-off, Qantas and the pilots knew we would not reach Wellington before the 1am curfew … to do so we would require getting the usual three hours 10 minute flight time down to one hour 45 minutes or two hours 15 minutes to make the extended curfew,” Woodward said.
“When the captain finally made the announcement we were diverting to Christchurch, one hour and 53 minutes into the flight, he made it sound like the diversion was Wellington Airport’s fault because they wouldn’t allow the plane to land.”
Woodward believed that Qantas also had ample of time to make accommodation arrangements for passengers arriving at Christchurch, but failed to do so.
He believed the plane the passengers boarded “was never going to Wellington”.
Before disembarking, Woodward said passengers were told that ground staff would be providing them with more information.
“At this point, I think everyone reasonably assumed we would be accommodated overnight. The first ground staff my wife and I saw told us to go to the check-in area and someone would come to give us more information. Nobody came,” he claimed.
“People gathered, confused, near the check-in area. We did not see a single Qantas staff member after disembarking. We were literally abandoned. Qantas took zero responsibility for the situation,” he claimed.
Woodward said there was also no food, with cafes closed and only vending machines available.
“In light of the evidence, it is my view that Qantas willfully withheld information for financial reasons,” he claimed.
Woodward believed Qantas did not want to incur the costs of accommodating passengers, flight cancellations or refunds.
“This withholding of information also meant passengers were not informed in time that would have allowed them to make their own accommodation arrangements in Christchurch well ahead of our arrival,” he said.
“My wife and I departed from Perth. By the time we arrived in Wellington, I had literally gone 24 hours without sleep then had two back-to-back work meetings.”
Woodward said he understood flight delays and diversions happened, but his issue was with how Qantas dealt with it.
“I felt completely devalued, not only as a customer but as a human,” he said.
Woodward said in his opinion the situation was “disgusting” and a “complete abandonment of responsibility, dereliction of duty and shameful failure to fulfil obligations”.
The Qantas spokeswoman said cancelling the flight would have been a really poor outcome for customers in Sydney and all efforts were made to get the flight into Wellington.
“The decision to divert was made once airborne, after the boarding and taxiing processes,” she said.
Qantas said it regularly accommodates customers in hotels or rebooks them on new flights “regardless of costs” when there’s a cancellation, and denied any decisions were made because of financial reasons.
“We understand how frustrating this decision was for our passengers and apologise again,” the spokeswoman said.
“Our teams went into great lengths to be able to depart Sydney Airport in time to make the Wellington curfew rather than cancelling the flight, as the severe weather meant there was extremely limited accommodation in Sydney,” she said.
“Despite best efforts, once airborne it was confirmed that the flight was going to miss the extended Wellington curfew and had to divert to Christchurch.”
She said accommodation and transfers were going to be sourced in Christchurch.
“But based on the times and how long it would have taken to get each passenger accommodation and transport, they would have only an hour or so at a hotel before having to return to the airport,” she said.