Crisis management is undoubtedly the test of an airline’s efficiency, and this was certainly tested on a recent flight from Nadi to Sydney with Fiji Airways. We watched (and waited) as a bad situation became steadily worse under poor management, and the moods of 170 passengers changed from sympathetic to … angry.
One mishap followed the next, and a combination of bad weather (thunderstorm), a sick passenger, poor communication, computer system malfunction, an element of ‘Fiji time’ and seeming lack of staff, meant 170 passengers were kept on the tarmac for two hours before being disembarked for an extra night’s holiday in Fiji.
It starts simply enough – a passing thunderstorm, so the plane is unable to take off until it passes. No biggie. I have an iPhone, 3G and Netflix. I settle in for an episode of The Crown.
Around 40 minutes later there’s an announcement: “If there’s a nurse on board could you make yourself known to the cabin crew”. I settle in for another episode and around halfway through I see the unfortunate patient being escorted off with an oxygen bottle.
After two and a half episodes, however, we’re told that the ground crew can’t find the sick man’s luggage, the delay has meant our pilots have gone into overtime and we’re unable to fly. Everybody stands. But customs are too busy disembarking an incoming flight to deal with us. So we sit down again.
We’re allowed off the plane a short while later, to join the first of many queues. This first queue is to be assigned a hotel for the night, a process that seems to take forever. While I understand – and sympathise – with the ground crew’s mammoth task of finding available rooms for 170 people, nobody in the queue (except those right in front) have a clue what is going on.
After about an hour we’re assigned our hotel (Sofitel – yay!) and join the next queue which, rather alarmingly, hasn’t budged since we disembarked. The computer system is down, so, rather like the case of the sick passenger, another unfortunate coincidence. There’s no contingency plan for this so the immigration officers just sit and wait …until, after an hour, someone with enough seniority turns up and decides they can scribble out our departure stamps with a biro.
So we head through to get our baggage. But it’s not there. After an hour a quiet enquiry reveals that the baggage handlers have been diverted to load another flight. I’m not sure at which point it might have been a good idea to call in extra ground crew but I guess no-one thought of that. So at around 11:20pm we finally retrieve our luggage and head out to find a rumoured coach transfer.
The coach is packed, with over-flowing luggage stacked in the centre aisle, under our feet and on our laps, nevertheless we finally make it to the Sofitel to join the next queue, to check in. Oddly, the Sofitel staff don’t seem to be expecting us. Or if they are, they’re very cool about it. There’s not a single porter in reception and only a couple of front office staff to process a coach-load of tired, hungry people.
I race to the room and order room service, quickly scanning the menu for the meals that look the fastest to prepare, and the cheapest bottle of wine to spend our $30pp allowance on. Ordeal seemingly over.
Until of course, the final touch after take-off the next morning.
For some reason, because we were supposed to fly last night, there’s no meal service. “Didn’t they give you a meal voucher at check-in?” our flight attendant asks. No. “A few people have said that.” No kidding.
A sympathetic passenger passes us a tube of Pringles as I await the drinks trolley. Pringles, tea and a couple of chocolate chip cookies for breakfast.
So it is a series of unfortunate events, starting with a storm, followed by a sick passenger, and computer malfunction but, surely, better management, more ground crew and better communication would have ensured a faster process and kept passengers a little happier? As it is, I expect most of them are headed straight to TripAdvisor and Facebook to vent.