4 Mar 2024

Auckland Airport denies queues are getting worse as former PM hits out

6:05 pm on 4 March 2024
Crowds at Auckland Airport as travelers head away for Christmas 2024.

Some passengers have complained of long queues at Auckland Airport lately. Photo: RNZ / Emma Stanford

Former Prime Minister Helen Clark has hit out at the state of Auckland Airport, saying its processes need some major attention as people wait for hours in queues.

Passengers departing and arriving in Auckland said they have been snaking slowly through Customs and security, with little to no explanation for the delays.

Some passengers travelling with children said instead of being fast-tracked they were put in queues that took longer, leaving them racing for their flights.

But the airport says for most, wait times are about what they were before the pandemic - if not slightly quicker.

Clark said it needed some serious attention after she saw the departures line at the international airport last Sunday.

"My heart sank because I was able, you know, with the business class ticket to go to the express lane, but there was this queue that just snaked all over, you know, around by the shops and so on, and just barely shuffling, and I thought it would be extremely distressing."

Clark said the delays were extremely concerning and damaging the country's reputation.

"It's a sour end to a trip. In the last week I departed from Washington DC... I've departed from Toronto, no such experience. Would prefer our own country's airport not to be known as being among the worst when it comes to delays."

Clark said systemic issues need to be addressed to ensure New Zealand was an attractive place to land.

"Every week there's a different excuse. Everyone needs to pitch in to get this right - it needs the airport itself to be looking at its infrastructure, it needs aviation security to be looking at the quality of its machines, the amount of staffing that it has on."

Tanya was at Auckland International Airport on Sunday afternoon, travelling back to Sydney with her two children. They arrived two hours before their 4pm flight and did not have any check-in luggage.

"The queue was something I've never seen before - the whole hall before you got to the passport check was full and then spilling outside."

Tanya was moved to another queue for those travelling with children under 12 and other passports, but that made things worse.

Former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark speaks during a press conference at Permanent Mission of New Zealand to the United Nations in New York on April 4, 2016.

Helen Clark. Photo: AFP / Kena Betancur

"I think it was slower because the other queue where you just put your passport in and do it yourself, that self-serve queue, that was huge but it was moving. We were in the queue for about an hour and 20 [minutes]."

Tanya said there was a lack of communication from airport staff.

"I had people all around me who were saying, you know, we were supposed to be boarding 20 minutes ago, there was no one going through the queue saying, 'The flight to this place is going, you can come to the front'.

"There were two overhead announcements saying there's a lot of congestion and there's delays."

It is not a new problem. Dr Michelle Dickinson, also known as Nanogirl, said despite travelling often, the departure queue at the start of December was bigger than she had ever seen.

"We ended up waiting for almost two hours. It wasn't easy to see what the delay was. There was no sense of how long it was going to take and it was a very hot day. People were getting quite agitated around the heat and lots of people had just got rid of all of their water to go through security."

Dickinson said she saw some staff handing out water by the time she made her way to the front of the queue.

Coming back into the country it was a similar story.

"My brother has just arrived from the UK recently and had exactly the same problem coming in, where they had a two-and-a-half hour wait to declare at Customs."

Political commentator Shane Te Pou was travelling back to Auckland on Saturday morning. He decided to ditch some chocolates after being told the 'something to declare' line hadn't moved for 45 minutes.

"There must have been about 300 people. Frankly, I just didn't want to line up for three hours."

Te Pou said after travelling for nearly 30 hours he simply could not face the wait.

"I had to declare goods when I went to Hong Kong and Singapore... and I didn't have more than a 25-minute wait.

"It's not good enough - the first impression that people will have of Aotearoa and it's not a good one."

'Queues actually have been very much improved'

Auckland Airport chief operations operator Chloe Surridge Checkpoint that despite some people having bad experiences, wait times were actually improving.

"The queues actually have been very much improved since even 2019 by 20 percent actually, for arrivals and departures.

"Now, that's not saying that there aren't periods of time where we have peak congestion and that certainly has occurred over the last couple of weeks at international departures in the afternoon peak."

She said a lot of airlines had departures from Auckland Airport scheduled in the afternoons.

"You know, 17, 18 airlines - if there's bad weather or congestion on the motorway, even coming into the airport, that also affects the number of people arriving all at once. So it's multiple, multiple things.

"It's very hard to actually pinpoint exactly one thing on a certain day. What we do as Auckland Airport is work together with all of our partners - and that includes aviation security, Customs, you know, Immigration, MPI, airlines' ground handlers, you know, to make sure that each part of the system is as well functioning as it could be for the day."

Surridge said customer levels at the airport were nearly back up to pre-pandemic numbers, and wait times were also on a par - if not slightly better - than they were in 2019.

"The majority of people will be getting through the arrivals process in approximately 20 minutes. And the departures process, the majority of people going through the departures process will be through in less than 10 minutes."

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