• Thu. Aug 4th, 2022

Forget airline rewards, passengers deserve a prize for surviving ‘hell’

ByKimberly A. Brochu

Jul 20, 2022

By David Cohen*

Comment – Stuck at LAX at midnight, what was supposed to be a joyous return to travel turned into the season of hell.

Air New Zealand may have won awards recently, but its staff were missing when David Cohen needed help finding a replacement flight.
Photo: AFP

It was around midnight and I was standing uneasily at Los Angeles International Airport when I heard that Air New Zealand had been doing remarkably well lately. Excellence Award.

Despite being named Best Premium Carrier and Best Economy Carrier, I was hoping for some help after missing one of the many flights I had booked with Air New Zealand (or either of its partner airlines) during a four-week international trip.

Alas, no one from the award-winning airline could help sort out the problem, which at this late hour involved not only securing a replacement flight, but also finding accommodation for the night.

Sure, the carrier has a dedicated support line, but that wasn’t much help: the average wait time to speak to an agent was around four hours.

Welcome to the wonderful world of international travel in the time of Covid-19.

Anyone following these things – including Kiwis chomping at the bit to visit friends, colleagues and relatives abroad – will already know something about the chaos currently engulfing the travel industry.

Around the world, the industry is groaning under the weight of the “voyage of vengeance” as millions of passengers seek to return to the skies.

Across Europe in general, and in Britain in particular, the sector is in crisis as it faces this tsunami of pent-up customer demand on the one hand and severe shortages on the other. of labor caused, in part, by the colossal stupidity of the industry. decision to cut millions of jobs during the darkest months of the pandemic.

People line up at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands as the festive season puts a strain on airlines.

People queuing at Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands as the festive season put a strain on airlines last month.
Photo: PHIL NIJHUIS / ANP MAG / ANP via AFP

These traffic jams have well and truly tarnished what was supposed to be the aviation industry’s great recovery from the pandemic lows, which saw it lose 400 billion dollars due to closures and travel restrictions.

New Zealand has also not been immune to the spillover effects, as local reports of lost luggage, missed connections and non-existent callback services mount.

Air New Zealand chief executive Greg Foran described the current period as “a difficult time for everyone”.

What was supposed to be the (northern hemisphere) summer of the joyous return from travel could best be described as a hellish season.

Airlines, airports and governments accuse each other of bearing ultimate responsibility for the fiasco, but really, there’s enough blame for everyone.

Take Britain’s busiest airport, Heathrow, where I’ve flown four times in the past month. Each visit surpassed the last in terms of overall craziness.

Suitcases are seen unclaimed at baggage claim at Heathrow's Terminal 3, west London, July 8, 2022. the pandemic is receding.  (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP)

Unclaimed baggage at Heathrow Airport earlier this month as airlines try to cope with staff shortages and high travel demand.
Photo: AFP

Boarding my last Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Los Angeles last week was a particular ordeal.

The initial registration process took nearly four hours; the security checks required almost two additional hours. The flight itself was then delayed a further 90 minutes because, as the captain helpfully explained, only two baggage handlers were at work loading the full jumbo.

Arrived in California I was told to contact Air New Zealand to request a new flight to Auckland as my scheduled flight had boarded a long time ago.

The money I paid for the ticket through a travel agent (who themselves said they couldn’t contact Air New Zealand) seems to have been considered a donation, which is interesting because Air New Zealand also seemed to think it was a charity when she called the staff to “volunteer” of their time at airports recently.

Given the inability to reach anyone at Air New Zealand, I ended up paying for extra nights accommodation and had to purchase a brand new return ticket to New Zealand via Hawaii.

Fortunately, at least the flight I booked arrived at least in Auckland.

Unfortunately, due to circumstances believed to be beyond Air New Zealand’s control, a connecting flight to Wellington was cancelled. And so the now familiar circus began again.

There should be some sort of reward for this sort of thing.

*David Cohen is a Wellington journalist who writes frequently about travel.