Christmas plans canned after weather forces flight cancellations – Stuff

There was the inevitable travel chaos, lots of Christmas goodwill and a fair bit of crying at airports around the country on Friday, the busiest air travel day of the year.
Cancelled flights meant that for some travellers who thought they would be with family now, getting back home in time for Christmas Day is out of the question.
Airport staff around the country faced pandemonium as hordes of travellers flew home for the holidays, with extreme weather across the Tasman resulting in the redirection and cancellation of flights.
Electrician Josh Barber said he and partner Shannon Distefano’s 6.15pm flight from Melbourne to Wellington was first delayed, then cancelled, after a 25-minute hailstorm swept over the airport.
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It would have been his first trip back to New Zealand in more than a decade, and Distefano’s first.
Barber returned home to try and organise a new flight through Air New Zealand customer service.
But by Friday afternoon, their New Zealand trip was cancelled, and the couple had turned their attention to trying to get refunds from the various components of their week-long holiday.
Barber said the only option Air New Zealand had offered was a flight that would arrive in Wellington around midday on Christmas Day.
He said the couple decided “there was no point” making the journey, calculating that by the time they cleared customs, picked up their hire car and made the approximately one and a half hour drive to Martinborough, where the rest of his family are gathering, they would have missed a large part of the holiday.
Barber said the rest of his family had “travelled from all around" to be together this year, and were awaiting the Melbourne duo’s expected arrival on Thursday night.
They had planned to spend the first few days with family, before embarking on a road trip for the remainder of the trip, and with the delays, would have had to leave after only a day with family to meet other bookings.
“I’m just going through the motions of trying to cancel all the bookings and reservations, all of which were already paid for.”
He had been told by online travel booking service there would be a 12-week wait on refunds for their flights, and he both AirBnb and the hire car firm had indicated they would only receive a partial refund.
Barber said it was disappointing AirNZ were unable to get them to New Zealand before Christmas Day, as they had hoped to at least be re-scheduled to Christmas Eve.
Now, the airline has offered them a flight on Christmas Eve at 1.20pm. However, this was only after Barber had contacted them.
Barber and Distefano booked their flights about four months ago. They had planned to spend a week in the country before flying back to Melbourne.
The pair were hastily attempting to rearrange Christmas plans locally.
Air New Zealand spokesperson Leanne Geraghty said three services between New Zealand – Melbourne were cancelled or diverted “due to severe fog in Melbourne”.
“Our team have worked hard behind the scenes to reaccommodate passengers onto the next available services, however due to incredibly limited availability, some passengers travelling from Melbourne – Christchurch are unable to be reaccommodated until Christmas day.
Geraghty acknowledged this would be “frustrating for those passengers”, and apologised “they may miss their Christmas celebrations”.
“Our team looked at all possible alternatives to get them into Christchurch earlier but due to the busy time of year rebooking options have been limited.
She took the opportunity to “thank customers for their patience”, as the company “work through these weather challenges and get people where they need to go at this special time of year”.
Wellington Airport external relations manager Phil Rennie said Friday was expected to be Wellington Airport’s busiest day of the year, with about 21,000 people expected to travel through.
Rennie advised travellers to plan accordingly, recommending they get to the airport as early as possible.
Those travelling domestically should arrive 90 minutes before their flight and international travellers three hours early to give themselves time to get through security screening.
Wellington Airport has hired additional staff to prepare for the day, including luggage handlers, security handlers and retail and rental car staff.
“One of the challenges of the travel industry in the rebound from Covid has been finding enough people,” Rennie said.
Wellington Airport will have live music and a Christmas tree festival of 55 trees for travellers to enjoy as they waited.
The airport bus will be making multiple trips over the day.
There were plenty of emotional reunion scenes at Christchurch Airport on its busiest day of the year.
At Christchurch airport’s international arrivals hall, eight members of Karen Pettigrew’s family waited anxiously for her decked out in festive garb – with accompanying Christmas soundtrack – pushing a customised trolley converted into a Yuletide sleigh by dad Bill.
As the wait dragged on, and the family peered eagerly through each opening of the double doors as other tearful reunions passed them by, sister Sue told Karen’s suitably reindeer-attired nieces their aunt “always used to be the last to school too”.
Greeted with a roar of excitement, and a mass of hugs, Pettigrew was a little bewildered, though not entirely surprised.
She said her family were a creative bunch who tended to turn up to the airport with signs, or at least an undulating greeting cry, but this was “a whole other level”.
Pettigrew, who has lived in London for more than 20 years and hadn’t had a Kiwi Christmas for nearly 10 years, was looking forward to a month at home.
New Zealander Larissa Galbraith and her Irish husband John, from Galway, Ireland, had brought 3-year-old Cillian and 1-year-old Olivia to spend a month in Christchurch with grandparents Peter and Joanne Ryder.
While Joanne Ryder spent three months with the family after the birth of Olivia, it was her husband’s first time meeting his new granddaughter.
McKenzie Jackson was excited to have brought Dutch fiancé Eline Achterberg home to Christchurch for the first time.
The couple, who met while backpacking in Australia, have lived in Utrecht in the Netherlands for five years.
They were met at the airport by Eline’s sister Britt Albers, who now lives in Auckland.
Melanie Bradshaw was enveloped in a firm hug from son Joe Bradshaw after more than 24 hours travel from the United Kingdom.
After a few days rest, he had a South Island road trip planned to show his mother the sights of Kaikōura, Nelson and the West Coast.
Christchurch Airport chief aeronautical and commercial officer Justin Watson urged patience and understanding, advising passengers and their families to take into account seasonal traffic and parking when heading to the airport.
He said passengers should take extra care with baggage weight limits, and double check airline guidelines and flight schedules before they arrive.
“With that many people on flights, there won’t be extra room for extra bags.”
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