More than 100 passengers, including young families, were left without a place to sleep after being picked up from Hamilton Island Monday night following a flight cancellation.
Most important points:
- Jetstar says it will call each passenger individually to say sorry
- Residents of Airlie Beach gathered to provide food and places to sleep for stranded travelers
- A local businessman says helping makes sense in a city that relies on tourism
Denva Suttie’s family’s Whitsun holiday ended anything but relaxed.
“It’s been very difficult for us,” said the Melbourne resident.
After spending five nights on Hamilton Island, Mr Suttie, his wife Sarah and five-year-old daughter Kyra were kicked off their Jetstar flight JQ849 after it was canceled due to a technical problem.
A Jetstar spokesperson said bad weather meant the airline was unable to operate a replacement flight the same night.
Passengers were put on a ferry to Airlie Beach because no accommodation was available on Hamilton Island.
Despite being told accommodation for passengers would be “arranged at Airlie Beach”, Mr Suttie said this was not what happened when they arrived at the Port of Airlie terminal after dark.
“Everyone was stunned around us because there was no one to lend us a hand to tell us what to do with any kind of direction,” he said.
After being stuck in the ferry terminal for over three hours, Mr. Suttie said he had no idea where his family would sleep.
“It was a case of, ‘What are we going to do now, sleep here at the terminal?'” he said.
“Because there was no accommodation – there was no accommodation at all, not even at the backpackers or anywhere.”
Houses to go to
In a heartwarming display of generosity, many locals opened their homes for the night after learning that the travelers had been stranded.
Suttie said he and his wife and daughter were among a handful who were taken in by a family living in Airlie Beach.
“We had to put some mattresses on the floor and another family had to sleep on a couch,” he said.
“The generosity of the community was amazing.”
Many were accommodated in private homes, while the rest of the passengers eventually slept in the PCYC.
Bus operator Whitsunday Transit answered the call to ensure the flight of helpless holidaymakers was safely taken there.
Operations manager Edward Deakes said the community spirit helped to replace much anger with relief.
“I was at the PCYC and these cars just showed up to offer their houses to people and people with families, to offer beds and to offer rooms and blankets and everything else – [it] was great,” said Mr. Deakes.
“We depend on tourism, so we are doing our best to help everyone in these difficult situations as best we can.”
Kev Collins, chief executive of Taste Whitsundays, which helped provide food to the PCYC, said it was a great solution as the passengers were left to fend for themselves.
“They basically just put 150 people on a boat and sent them to the mainland and good luck with that,” he said.
“If someone dropped the ball, I think Airlie Beach picked it up.
Mr Suttie said the airline and Hamilton Island airport made him feel like just a number.
“Everyone had to find their own way – there was no one from Jetstar to help us,” he said.
Jetstar has apologized for the disruption and thanked the community for its support.
“We are working to get customers up and running as quickly as possible and will reimburse any accommodation, meals and transportation costs incurred as a result of the outage,” a spokesperson said.
“We are also thoroughly investigating what has happened to ensure this does not happen in the future and are contacting customers personally to offer our sincere apologies for this situation.”
Hamilton Island management said it was “dismayed” at the news that passengers were being left without alternative travel arrangements or accommodation at the Port of Airlie.
“We will continue to work with Jetstar to minimize inconvenience to our guests due to flight disruptions,” a spokesperson said.
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