Monday, May 27, 2024

Stranded at an airport for 24 hours, the only spirit of Australia I saw was between passengers

When I fly back to Australia for my birthday or Christmas, Qantas plays a major role in the nostalgic journey. I still call…

By Chan , in Travel , at March 5, 2024

When I fly back to Australia for my birthday or Christmas, Qantas plays a major role in the nostalgic journey. I still call Australia my home. I enjoy hearing accents when I board, and I enjoy having decent tea for breakfast. I love to keep my nose glued to the window so that I can see the Sydney view described by Clive James, “yachts racing in the crushed diamond waters under a sky with the texture of powdered Sapphires.” In an even more homesick moment, I hung the Qantas Calendar in my office to remind me that I would get to return home. Qantas has always been the only brand to be able to incite this level of saccharine devotion from me. Up until today, I believed it was well deserved.

What happened? There was a mechanical problem on QF8 two days ago. It’s time for my favorite verb to deplane. You can get your luggage at baggage claim. Mechanical issues can happen at 2.30 am. It isn’t very pleasant, but you would rather be on the ground. Qantas has a great safety record. I grip the armrest and think of the Rain Man scene when there is turbulence.

Qantas was quiet for the next 24 hrs. Around 300 people walked to the baggage claim area – some elderly and some with families, others with children, and some toddlers. We kept asking, “Where are you sleeping?”

A woman in uniform gave us a piece of paper stating that the flight was canceled (yes), and we were without a place to sleep (we knew). We were told that no accommodations were arranged. Keep your receipts to be reimbursed up to a modest amount for a hotel we found ourselves. We were cut off from hotels in the airport that allow 24-hour check-ins by being herded into baggage claim. When I heard the words “disarming the doors,” I started searching for rooms on Google, but I could only find a few miles away. Uber’s $100 one-way fare for a passenger was not a good deal.

You were sleeping on the floor of the airport if you could not find a hotel or if you couldn’t afford to pay for one. One passenger rested on his suitcase at 4 am. “I am shivering because the floor is too cold.” Two middle-aged couples sat in upright chairs, slowly nodding. One woman asked me to watch her bag in the morning so that she could get breakfast. I told her there was nothing on this side.

On the paper, it said that our flight would depart at 11 am and we should check in at 9 am. Qantas staff were nowhere to be found at 9 am. Airport staff told us to move our luggage, and when we protested that we were doing this, they called Qantas. “Qantas doesn’t answer, we don’t know why.” Yesterday’s Qantas counter is now Lufthansa. Perky has recently been showering people who checked in on time for their flights. We hated them. No Qantas employee showed up an hour later.

Others did not receive texts informing them of the additional delay. Qantas profile information showed that some people had already taken the flight, and therefore, customer service was unable to recognize them. The rumor was that the plane would depart at 7 pm. However, there was no way for anyone to confirm this online or by phone. We were in a logistical Bermuda Triangle, as there was no digital evidence of the flight. Three hundred people waited for directions from a company that was not there, gathered around their luggage with their children or mobility devices.

I won’t complain about sleeping on the cold floor. We’ll survive. It’s frustrating to miss a flight or even a meal. It was more the feeling that Qantas didn’t care.

When things go wrong, even small acts of kindness can have a big impact – a simple blanket, a quick coffee run, or a person who is clearly designated to assist families with children. Someone who shows up on time and plans to share information. Qantas informed us that we would be delayed for another eight hours.

In a moment, I was irritated and complained. I received hundreds of Qantas complaints – not only about mistakes but also of disregard. They say that their luggage was lost and that no one responded; they waited for reimbursements from emergency hotels for three months or six months, and they were also left stranded in airports such as Singapore, Dubai, and LA.

The same anger fuels all these stories. No serious effort had been made to engage with these people as individuals. Only the school-counselor tone of the selectively responsive Twitter: “DM us if you have any questions.” What has happened to this airline?

There was no “spirit” of Australia in the airport. I only saw passengers sharing their snacks with fractious kids. They translated for strangers in panic, fed fractious children, lied about “guests only” restaurants so they could sneak lunch to each other, and shared information and accommodation when Qantas didn’t provide any. They were good people who chose to give money to Qantas. I’m sure they’re not alone in never doing that again.

We stayed at the airport for about 24 hours. Just as we were about to take off, the PA announced that someone had forgotten to sign the flight manifest. We had to return to the gate.