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Air New Zealand needs to do better with fog delays

Air New Zealand really needs to do better with fog delays. I mean, it’s not like they are one in a hundred-year events. In fact there are possibly 100 fog delays a year at airports around New Zealand.

But the chaos at Auckland Domestic Airport last weekend from one of the first fog delays of the season was a lesson in how not to manage a crisis.

I had returned from a wonderful week in Rarotonga hosting 15 ladies on one of my Blogger at Large Tours. Six of them overnighted in Auckland to fly home the next day to regional airports.

When I woke (in my own home) it was foggy. I checked the Auckland Airport app for flight schedules at about 6.30am and everything was showing as running on time. Except Gisborne. Gisborne had been cancelled. My ladies weren’t going to Gisborne so I rolled over, happy knowing my six ducklings would get home. Wrong.

view from Auckland Airport Novotel
The view from Auckland Airport Novotel on Sunday morning!

I checked the app again about 7.30am and saw that the 10.10am flight to Napier was cancelled. The flight my mum and sister were booked on. Strangely the 8.10am, the flight my cousins were booked on, was showing as delayed by about half an hour.

I fired off a text to my sister to tell her the flight was cancelled. That was the first she’d heard. She jumped into the Air New Zealand app on her phone and saw a message saying “This flight has been cancelled. We apologise for any inconvenience.”

Nothing more. No instructions on what to do next.

She clicked on “Manage booking” to try to rebook their flights, but this was not able to be done online, the app advised. 

Cancelled flight on Air NZ app
Cancelled flight on Air NZ app

Apologies are the easy bit. What was not forthcoming from the national carrier was management of the delay for hundreds of people.

They decided to head to the terminal to find out what they were meant to do. Along with everyone else.

There was no information there either. With two Air New Zealand representatives at the desk, the line snaked past the check in kiosks for over two hours.

There wasn’t a seat available to purchase to Napier from Auckland until Tuesday, according to the website. This was Sunday.

Of course Air New Zealand knows they will get people out of Auckland to Napier before Tuesday, but they don’t let on, instead they watch as blood pressures rise throughout the terminal and their staff are understandably also getting stressed.

Air New Zealand, this is not your first rodeo. You’ve done fog delays before. Many thousands of times before. Why is your electronic and in-person communication so shockingly bad? Pardon me, non existent?

Fortunately my sister is a sensible person and along with my cousins who were now also cancelled from the 8.10am, they joined the throng and lined up to ask what they were meant to do. In the vacuum of no information stress levels were reaching fever pitch.

Eventually the front of the queue was within reach, just behind a lady with a toddler who was trying to connect from a flight from the UK, to learn they might have a chance to get standby seats on later flights. However there was no way of knowing until all the unaffected passengers had boarded.

They were given bag tags and told to put their luggage on the carousel at the Bag Drop. But what happens if we don’t make the flight, my sensible sister asked? Your luggage will come back around on the carousel, where you will need to collect it, remove the tags, line up again to try and get on the next standby. And repeat.

They repeated three times, with my resourceful mother removing some items from her luggage on the first go-round lest she be stuck in Auckland an extra night without her toothbrush.

Meanwhile sensible sister was constantly checking the Air New Zealand app to try and book another flight because job. One suddenly popped on the 5.15pm so she bought and paid for it.

Why wasn’t a delayed morning passenger not automatically rebooked on this flight?

There was no word of any rescheduled flights during the entire day, but a bus was put on to Napier around midday. (I hope someone checked the road through Esk Valley was open.) However no one was notified about that, either via the app nor by staff. Some found out through word of mouth and some by being recognised by the staff member organising it from earlier, as she walked through the terminal.

Boarding the bus to Napier from Auckland Airport
Boarding the bus to Napier from Auckland Airport

Soon after she’d bought the new seat, and by now having been waiting at Auckland Domestic Airport for over eight hours, they were granted two standby seats. 

Jubilation! Only now she needed to cancel the newly purchased seat.

She called me as she was boarding, asking me to phone Air New Zealand and cancel the later flight, so someone else could have it. I was on hold for one hour and six minutes. They had actually landed in Napier while I was still listening to Crowded House. 

In the end she managed to get that flight cancelled via staff at Napier Airport in two minutes.

Meanwhile my cancelled cousins had managed to get away one at a time on earlier standby flights, with one unaccompanied suitcase going on ahead of her.

Flying over Esk Valley into Napier
Flying over Esk Valley into Napier, March 2023

Where is the leadership? Where is the management?

I saw (on Tik Tok) Greg Foran, who is often seen serving coffee on domestic flights, was at Auckland Airport helping tag luggage on Saturday, but if he had no systems or people in place on the ground on Sunday to manage the fog delays, he should have folded up his paper and driven out there to deal with this too.

It was total chaos and it will happen again. Probably 99 more times before Daylight Savings starts in September. Ten hours later and all my ducklings were home.

Rant over. Now I will choose my attitude and hope for better outcomes on the next foggy day.

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Hi, I'm Megan Singleton and I'm the word slinger of this travel blog as well as on radio in NZ every Sunday. Former Travel Editor at Yahoo NZ and current freelance writer for a few newspapers and mags from time to time, I set off on this travel writing journey 20 years ago and I've pretty much always got a suitcase half packed (or half un-packed!) I'd love you to join me on Facebook or Twitter and sign up for my newsletters if you want loads of travel tips, advice and deals!