Welcome to Ballina
That was the experience for hundreds of people yesterday morning when a Jetstar Airbus bound for
Melbourne was delayed for three hours, triggering chaos at the small airport as hundreds of disgruntled passengers waited for an engineer to come from Coolangatta to change a broken landing light.
Now the region’s peak tourism group has intensified calls for a substantial upgrade of the airport so it can give visitors the welcome they expect.
Northern Rivers Tourism chief executive Russell Mills said the Ballina Shire Council-owned and operated airport clearly needed immediate attention to meet travellers’ expectations.
“Council needs to meet the increasing infrastructure demands placed on Ballina airport and ensure passengers enjoy a comfortable experience. With 440,000 visitors coming from Sydney and
Melbourne each year, it’s important travellers don’t leave with a sour impression of the airport after enjoying a great holiday,” he said.
Those happy holiday memories were fading fast yesterday when the airport filled to standing room only as passengers waited for flights alongside families waiting for arrivals and others collecting baggage.
One woman was forced to stand while breastfeeding a baby, and others not able to cope with the sardine-like conditions spilled beyond the terminal walls, sitting on the pavement outside or sprawled on grass further away.
There were 25 people queuing up for service at the terminal’s Cafe Horizon with all seats inside filled.
Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said it was not possible for airlines to have engineers at every regional airport, and that it was an unfortunate fact of life that from time to time problems like broken landing lights caused delays.
Rosemary and Bill Price weren’t happy to be ending their sunny Yamba holiday in uncomfortable circumstances with a four-hour delay to their flight home to Melbourne.
“We’re sitting on hard concrete because all the seats inside are taken and we can’t even get a drink.
The queue to the cafe is miles long,” said Mrs Price.
Mr Price said it was plain the infrastructure and personnel at the regional airport was inadequate to cope with Airbus flights.
“We couldn’t believe it when Jetstar told us an engineer would have to come from Coolangatta. Why can’t they have people nearby to fix basic problems?” he said.
“And it would help if the cafe were bigger and there was a bar. I just went in to see if I could collect our free meal voucher but the queue for those is ridiculous, so I’ve given up. It’s going to be a grumpy trip home.”
While travellers said they welcomed the airport’s recent extension, they bemoaned the lack of seating that forced customers to stand with babies in arms and children at their feet.
The new extension is air-conditioned, but the arrivals hall, where the baggage is collected, has no air-conditioning and was stuffy yesterday, with only one ceiling fan operating.
Ballina Shire Council general manager Paul Hickey said plans had been approved to expand the seating, shopping and eating facilities at the airport, but a financial model to find the funding for the upgrade was still being drawn up.