22 Nov 2023

Wellington passengers feel flow-on effects of cancelled flights

From Checkpoint, 5:28 pm on 22 November 2023
Wellington Airport's departure board on 22 November 2023.

Photo: RNZ / Krystal Gibbens

Passengers in the capital are still dealing with the flow-on effects of 130 flights being canned on Tuesday. 

At least 6000 passengers were affected by low-lying cloud that swamped the city and Wellington Airport.

With Wednesday's blue-sky conditions in Wellington, flights were now operating normally - but Air New Zealand and other airlines were working through a backlog of passengers.

Air NZ said it had scheduled extra flights on Thursday and would look at options to add capacity in the coming days.

Wellington Airport spokesperson Phil Rennie said it was one of the most disrupted days they had all year. 

"We tend to get fog, you know, one or two days a year on average and even then it usually clears later in the day, often clear by midday when the sun burns it off. 

"So it was pretty unusual to have that low cloud just sitting all day and not moving at all."

Rennie said there were a group of people who had to stay overnight in the terminal.

"We had about 35 people who had to stay overnight, so we put on some bedding, some pillows, we ordered some pizzas and everyone was at least well fed, and did the best we could to look after those people."

Marion Torre and her husband John, who were at Wellington Airport on Wednesday morning, were originally booked to fly home to Rotorua on Tuesday night at 6pm. 

"They rebooked us at the airport to fly out this morning at eight o'clock, and then we got a text this morning to say that our flight is cancelled and we now can't go home until tomorrow afternoon at 2.10, and John's a diabetic and he's got no medication left."

Torre said they were hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket.

"We've just had to book another hotel for the night and we're pensioners, it's already cost us over $400 just in hotel accommodation."

They looked at alternatives.

"We tried to get a car, that was a no- go as well. So basically we're at their mercy."

Hundreds of people queue at Wellington Airport ahead of travel disruptions to rebook their flights after more than 50 flights in and out of the capita were cancelled due to low lying cloud.

Photo: RNZ / Ashleigh McCaull

Consumer NZ chief executive John Duffy said current consumer protection laws did not help passengers when flights were disrupted by events they could not control.

"In those instances consumers are kind of on their own. The best they can expect, depending on terms and conditions of the airline they're travelling with, is perhaps a credit or to be moved on to the next available flight."

Duffy said they were not happy with the current rules.

"We think actually that situation needs to change and that the liability should be on carriers, as it is in many other jurisdictions across the globe."

US tourists David and Sara Hughes, who were heading to Nelson, reckon the "enforced layover" has cost them more than $600 for hotel and meals - but the worst thing was having their time in the South Island cut short.

No fog is sight at Wellington Airport following days of cancellations due to visibility issues. 22 November 2023.

No fog was in sight at Wellington Airport on Wednesday. Photo: Supplied / Tom Collier

"We have a limited amount of time here, we have a limited amount of time with the people that are hosting us and it just got cut in half. So because of this, we'll spend one less day in Marlborough, we won't buy as much wine. We won't have a beautiful time in Nelson now we only have one day there."

Hughes - who used to work in aviation lighting - did not understand why so many flights were cancelled.

"Fog and light rain is not a reason to not be able to operate in an airport. I don't understand what happened here.

"We're from Buffalo, New York. We've taken off in 80-mile-an-hour winds with blowing snow, with ice all over the plane and a runway. I just can't figure out why they couldn't land planes."

Wellington Airport said until about 10am on Tuesday jets were able to land and it was just propeller planes affected, but the cloud became so low that eventually the jets could not land either.