3-hour transit in S’pore turns into 3 days of anxiety for passenger stranded after Auckland flood

Passengers queueing to check-in for flight NZ283 to Auckland at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on Jan 31, 2023. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY
Air New Zealand passengers took a group picture at Changi Airport before boarding a Singapore Airlines flight back to Auckland, New Zealand on Jan 31, 2023. They were stranded in Singapore for days when their flight was cancelled by the floods in Auckland. PHOTO: RICHARD NATHAN
The flight board at Changi Airport Terminal 3 showing an SIA flight to Auckland at 6.40pm on Jan 31. Air New Zealand is working with SIA to accommodate more passengers to Auckland. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Ms Dinh Mai Tram was meant to spend only three hours in transit in Singapore, when she boarded an Auckland-bound Air New Zealand flight from Vietnam last Friday.

But an unprecedented flood in New Zealand’s biggest city led to the closure of Auckland Airport, disrupting her flight, forcing her and many others to spend the next few days in Singapore in anxiety.

Four people have lost their lives in flash floods and landslides in Auckland over the last few days, with beaches around the city closed and a state of emergency in place. Some 9,000 Air New Zealand passengers have had their flights disrupted because of the floods.

Ms Tram said the affected passengers on her flight were asked to disembark from the plane and check into M Hotel in Tanjong Pagar. Their stay for the night and meals were paid for by Air New Zealand, and they were supposed to be informed of their new flight details within 48 hours.

But the 30-year-old geotechnical engineer said she did not hear from the airline in the next two days. “I was stressed since I have to put my work on hold and take extra leave,” she said.

She was also concerned about her expenses, as the airline had stated in its notice to affected passengers that “the cost of accommodation for subsequent nights will be at the cost of the passenger”, before promising on Monday that it would bear the cost of up to NZ$250 (S$210) per room per night until passengers have their flight details confirmed.

On Sunday, Ms Tram went to Changi Airport to speak to an Air New Zealand staff member, who told her and her travel partner that all Auckland-bound flights on Air New Zealand and its Star Alliance partner Singapore Airlines were fully booked until the end of February. “We were worried that we have to stay in Singapore for the whole month. We don’t have money to stay here,” said the New Zealand permanent resident, who is from Vietnam.

Ms Tram added that she was offered an option to fly on Feb 6 from Singapore to Papua New Guinea, before returning to Auckland via Brisbane, Australia. But she had to fly back to Vietnam first to get an Australia visa, and she did so the next day at her own expense.

She received better news on Tuesday morning, when Air New Zealand told her she could board a Singapore Airlines flight to Auckland from Singapore on the same day at 10.25pm.

She heaved a sigh of relief, although she had to rush back to Singapore from Vietnam to take the flight.

“I am grateful that this has finally been resolved,” said Ms Tram.

Air New Zealand chief customer and sales officer Leanne Geraghty said the airline is working around the clock to rebook flights for affected passengers.

In Singapore, she said her airline is working with Singapore Airlines to help affected passengers.

“Our friends at Singapore Airlines have upgauged an 777-300 to an A380, adding around 200 seats for our customers needing to get into or out of Singapore tonight,” Ms Geraghty said.

Passengers checking in for flight NZ283 to Auckland at Changi Airport Terminal 3 on Jan 31, 2023. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Upgauging is an aviation industry term for expanding capacity through adding seats to existing planes or replacing smaller jets with bigger ones.

“Customers are asked to please e-mail resasia@airnz.co.nz with their booking reference as soon as possible, and the airline will do its best to get as many passengers as possible on that service,” she added.

Ms Boonruam Kearpue, 51, was among a number of passengers at Changi Aiport Terminal 3 on Tuesday waiting to catch the 6.40pm Air New Zealand flight to Auckland. 

The teacher had been travelling with her husband and son when she learnt of the floods in Auckland, and the reopening of the airport on Jan 29. 

A view showing a flooded area during heavy rainfall at Auckland Airport, New Zealand, on Jan 27, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ms Kearpue said: “We had been travelling around Asia for around two months, and have been in Singapore for roughly five days. Auckland Airport said that they are open, so they should be prepared to accept people arriving.

“If it is an unsafe situation, I don’t think they would let people in.”

Ms Kearpue and her family have been spared the effects of the flood. 

She said: “We live in Wellington. Though our house is not affected by the flood, any delay later at Auckland means I have to make new plans at Wellington Airport.”

MS Boonruam Kearpue and her son Matthew Scott were among the passengers waiting to board NZ283 for Auckland at Changi Airport on Jan 31, 2023. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

The flight from Auckland to Wellington, which is at the southern tip of the North Island, takes about an hour.

Her son, Matthew Scott, has friends in Auckland who were affected by the flood.

The 15-year-old said: “One of my friends, Daniel, had to dig a trench to let the water escape from his house.”

Mrs Sadia Arshad Jared, 54, and Mr Arshad Jared, 62, were also waiting to board the same flight. 

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Mrs Jared, a Briton travelling to New Zealand on holiday, said: “We had actually planned to spend two days in Singapore. So we were lucky that our flight was not cancelled.” 

She said that when she arrived in Singapore last Saturday, the airline informed the couple that floods in Auckland may disrupt their flight to New Zealand.

“They offered to cancel our trip, but we decided to take our chances,” said Mrs Jared, who added that they will be visiting people in Auckland.

“We have got a friend and a nephew living in Auckland. Luckily, they live on elevated ground, so they haven’t been affected. They have been updating us and keeping us posted,” she said.

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Mrs Amanda Willoughby, who lives in Auckland, said she has been following the news with some worry, and getting friends and relatives to check on her home.

The 33-year-old, who was in Singapore with her husband to visit family, said: “We were worried about our house, friends and family back in Auckland. Thankfully, our neighbours helped us, and said our home is okay.”

Her husband, Mr Luke Willoughby, said: “We knew about the flood only three days ago after our friends told us their flights were cancelled. They were stranded (in Singapore) for two nights.”

ST has contacted the New Zealand High Commission in Singapore for details.

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