Women fly off the handle at Jetstar
By Alex Easton
DOT ORCHARD and Diane Parker were supposed to be flying home from Melbourne, not driving home from Brisbane.
But there they were, on the Pacific Motorway in a hire car in the rain after bad weather forced their flight to be diverted from Ballina-Byron airport to Brisbane.
Both women were seething, but not because of the bad weather or the flight diversion; they were upset because they said they were left outside the domestic terminal at Brisbane for more than an hour, waiting for buses they weren’t sure would arrive and without any staff from their airline, Jetstar, to tell them what was happening.
Ms Orchard, vice-president of the Lismore Workers Club, and Ms Parker, the owner of Cafe 29 at Lismore and Ballina, said they were told on the plane that buses would take them home from Brisbane 15 minutes after they landed.
But the women waited more than an hour with the other passengers with no sign of a bus, and when they went looking for Jetstar staff to find out what was happening there were none to be found.
In the end, the women gave up waiting, split the cost of hiring a car and drove back to the Northern Rivers.
But it is a complaint rejected by the airline, which says it did well to arrange three buses to take passengers from flight JQ464 from Brisbane to Ballina on a night when it had five flights diverted to Brisbane from NSW and Queensland, and when Chinese New Year festivities meant buses were already in strong demand in Brisbane.
Jetstar corporate relations manager Simon Westaway said staff were also busy organising accommodation for travellers stranded at Ballina, who had expected to catch the diverted plane to Sydney.
Mr Westaway also levelled criticism at Ballina airport for its handling of the night, saying airport staff closed the terminal about 11pm, leaving scores of passengers and people waiting for family and friends travelling from Melbourne sitting outside in the bad weather.
“It would have been easier if at least the front section could have been opened up,” Mr Westaway said. “There’s that small cafe lounge and area near the check-ins and there are toilets inside. We asked if they could keep it open or partially open, but security decided not to.”
Ballina Shire Council civil services group manager John Truman was not available to respond to the criticism.
Mr Westaway said Jetstar staff – a contractor in the case of Ballina – were with passengers at both airports to make sure the airline’s customers were being looked after.
However, he agreed that with staff in Brisbane dashing between their normal duties and passengers from five different flights, it was possible Ms Orchard and Ms Parker could have missed them.
“It’s a bit nitpicky,” he said. “We stand by the fact we did the best we could in difficult circumstances.”