Dear Jetstar (July 2013)

To whom it may concern,

I have been meaning to write to you about my experiences on JQ259 to Christchurch on Saturday 29 June 2013 for a few weeks but have not got around to it until now so my apologies for that, but I figured delays are not something Jetstar would be unfamiliar with.

JQ259 was a service bound for Christchurch and just moments before landing at 10:20pm, as we were flying over Christchurch, the pilot made the decision to divert the flight to Wellington on account of the fog at Christchurch Airport. As a seasoned traveller, I commend this decision as although I am no expert, I believe that it is always prudent to find the runway before attempting to land on it.

However, unfortunately, upon arrival into Wellington, the service received was very poor. Before I go any further though, I would like to commend the actions of the flight crew, both the pilot as well as the cabin crew (led by Bridget) – the captain did an excellent job of keeping the cabin informed of developments and the cabin crew did an excellent job of looking after the passengers, even bending company policy at one point by providing water for free instead of the usual $8.00 a bottle. Therefore it was a real pity that the airport and airline didn’t provide more support to this team who were doing their best to deliver good customer service.

Upon arrival into Wellington (just before 11pm), we landed only to find that the airport was closed, security staff had gone home and therefore we were unable to disembark the aircraft. I am no expert, but I believe that it is wise to fly to airports that are open. I am however not complaining about this, in fact I am pleased that, on this particular occasion, the pilot opted to fly to an alternate airport, rather than land in a grassy knoll somewhere in Harewood. Upon arrival, the pilot conceded he did not realise the airport would be closed but was quick to inform the passengers that ‘we have made it here with lots of spare fuel’. Well, I’m sure you can imagine the overwhelming sense of relief in the cabin when my fellow passengers and I realised that our carbon footprint had not become too much larger as a result of the diversion. In fact, following this incident, I have also discovered that my car also uses less fuel when I drive it to somewhere that is only half way to the intended destination.

I was dumbfounded when I realised however that we would now have to spend more time on the plane on the ground in Wellington as the airport staff had gone home for the day. We were going to have to wait for security to come and let us off the plane. As I have previously mentioned, I am no expert, but one would think that anti-terrorism legislation was designed to prevent potential terrorists from entering planes, not exiting them. I could however be wrong on this point, and would welcome your clarification, as I have noticed in recent years, that although you screen me to ensure I am not carrying any screwdrivers more than 4cm in length, you are relying on the honesty system for me to switch off my mobile phone – a device you claim ‘can interfere with aircraft navigation systems’. I am amazed that if this is true, that you will explode my water bottle if I recklessly leave more than 100ml in it, only to then let every passenger carry a dangerous weapon such a mobile phone onboard, and then rely on everyone’s honesty when it comes to putting the safety on by switching them to flight mode.

The captain had also hoped for a quick refuel of the aircraft and onward departure to Christchurch (not too sure why the need for a refuel since moments before he had been boasting about how much fuel he still had in his plane). But of course, the refuelling staff had gone home and were going to be unable to arrive until approximately 12.30am (unhelpful given Wellington has a 12.00am curfew). Eventually, just after midnight, we were able to disembark the aircraft and were told to go and await further instruction for rebooking of flights and hotel arrangements.

Myself and my fellow red-eyed passengers all left the plane and waited downstairs for further instruction, but no representative from the airline appeared. Eventually the captain and cabin crew arrived and the captain asked us if we were being looked after, to which there was a unanimous ‘no’.

He seemed to be as frustrated as the rest of us by this and phoned operations again to get an update, I hope for his sake that he had a direct dial number, otherwise his frustration would have turned to anger after 30 minutes of being on hold to the Jetstar call centre and listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Go Your Own Way for the tenth time (an ironic sentiment for a transportation company to have by the way). Eventually a Wellington airport staff member ushered everyone back upstairs to the check in area to be rebooked onto flights – it was now about 1am and everyone was exhausted, with one particularly articulate passenger delivering the stirring words from the back of the line ‘come on Jetstar, we want to go to bed’. 

You can imagine the disbelief when the 180 passengers arrive to find just one member of Jetstar staff available to book hotels and rebook flights. She was doing her best, but again, was undersupported by her employer who needed to have a better contingency plan for if this sort of thing happens. Now, I do fully appreciate that events such as weather do not happen everyday and are a rare occurrence, but one would still assume an airline would have a plan for if weather were to occur.

I quickly discovered that Jetstar had decided to send everyone to the same hotel and rebook everyone on the same flight the next day. I am no expert, but one would think that rather than making 180 people queue up to hear the same information from the one staff member, an announcement over the speaker system could have done this job in 30 seconds. Eventually at around 1.30am, myself and my travelling companion receive this information personally and head outside for the ‘bus’ to the hotel.

We went outside only to find the rest of the flight waiting for the same ‘bus’. Eventually 3 supershuttles, each capable of seating just 11 people arrive and we are told that we will all just have to be patient as they transit back and forth to the hotel (about a 40 minute round trip). I was incredibly disappointed to see that Jetstar was not prioritising those other passengers who had young children. Eventually I got on a shuttle around 2.30am and arrived at the hotel around 3am where I was greeted by yet another long queue to check-in. The hotel was insisting on taking a $50 bond from each person, I fail to see the point given that no-one would have time to help themselves to the minibar at this rate anyway.

We had been told at the airport that the flight the next morning would be at 8.30am. The hotel told everyone that the shuttles would begin taking people back to the airport at 9.30am. I felt this was the most sensible thing I had heard all night, given that everyone knows a Jetstar flight scheduled for 8.30am would not be departing before 2pm in the afternoon. I finally got to my room and barely put my head on the pillow when the phone rang at 5.30 telling me to check out now as the shuttles were coming to take us back to the airport.

Going downstairs, of course there was the same issue with big long queues to checkout (and get a refund of the $50 bond we had to provide an entire 20 minutes ago). We thought that perhaps Jetstar may have managed to organise buses for the morning, but no, it was the same shuttles again.

I would also like to point out that both the airline and the hotel informed me that breakfast had been paid for and would be provided by the hotel. I, and 179 other guests in the hotel that night did not receive their breakfast. Whilst I will not be requesting you to mail me my full English breakfast with all the trimmings which I missed out on, I would like it to be known that I went hungry that morning. Perhaps this was an attempt by Jetstar to conserve even more fuel by having lighter passengers onboard, or possibly in the hope that an ill informed passenger may naively purchase snacks onboard, forgetting that in doing so, they will have thrown their children’s inheritance away on a bag of pretzels.

Once we arrived at the airport and checked in, our flight eventually departed for Christchurch at 9.30am, an hour behind the rescheduled time which I believe you describe as an ‘on-time performance’. Fortunately, no more unforeseen circumstances such as weather occurred and the flight landed without incident. I was exhausted and just glad to get home.

So in summary, please commend the actions of the crew of JQ259 on Saturday 29 Jun 2013, they represented your company incredibly well, however, everything else that evening was very poorly handled by both Wellington Airport and Jetstar. I appreciate that it is an unusual occurence, but regardless, there needed to be a better contingency plan in place, and basic things like providing vouchers for meals, more than one staff member to handle rebookings, your alternate airport being open and organising appropriate hotel transfers should have been done in my opinion (as well as actually having time to sleep!). I frequently fly on Jetstar and typically feel that you receive a bad press, but unfortunately this experience was one that didn’t fly with me.

I look forward to your response.

Kind regards,

Kenny Ardouin

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