Air New Zealand has reversed its plan to restart domestic services on Tuesday after storm Gabrielle caused the country to declare a national state of emergency.
The airline is likely to face criticism its original proposal was too ambitious, with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins urging Kiwis affected to avoid all non-essential travel and stay at home.
The business was also planning to continue with its international flights because it said Auckland’s international terminal was “more sheltered from winds”. However, the airport later took the decision to suspend all operations due to “high winds and safety reasons”.
Ground handlers and airlines at Auckland Airport have suspended operations for the rest of the day due to high winds and for safety reasons. This means no international or domestic flights will be taking place for the rest of the day.
— Auckland Airport (@AKL_Airport) February 14, 2023
Former tropical cyclone Gabrielle made landfall in Northland, on the top of the North Island, on Sunday night, causing severe winds that brought down trees and power lines. So far, 2,500 people have been reported as being displaced so far.
PM Hipkins said, “It has been a big night for New Zealanders across the country, but particularly in the upper North Island … a lot of families displaced, a lot of homes without power, extensive damage was done across the country.”
Air New Zealand’s chief safety officer, Captain David Morgan, said, “Today’s disruptions mean tomorrow will begin without all aircraft and crew in the locations required. We can also expect ongoing weather challenges, so we’re asking customers to please bear with us -our people are doing everything they can.”
Later on Tuesday, Qantas’ service to Auckland from Sydney, QF145, turned back, with most Tasman flights now cancelled.
Air New Zealand’s chief sales officer, Leanne Geraghty, said earlier in the day, “Our hearts go out to these affected regions who continue to be battered by Cyclone Gabrielle. We’ll get services back up to connect these regions as soon as possible.
“We’re ready and waiting to support the national state of emergency response and are talking to affected communities on how we can help.
“We’re also supporting our own people who are still badly affected by the terrible weather. We will continue to monitor the situation and support wherever we can.
“Once again, we thank our incredible customers for their patience and understanding as we work through the impacts of these major events.”
Air New Zealand on Tuesday morning said it believed 592 flights and 35,000 passengers had been affected by the weather, though that number is now likely to increase.
“Urgent work is underway to rebook customers onto other flights – with around 1,500 international customers still to be rebooked,” said the airline.
“Flights are very full, but we’re working as fast as we can to rebook these remaining customers into the next available seats, and we’ve been in touch with them to let them know we’re pulling out all the stops to get people flying again. This includes getting all our customer teams to support the rebooking effort.
“This includes adding extra flights where possible to get our customers where they need to be as quickly as possible.
“We’re looking at all available options, including adding larger planes, working with Star Alliance partners, converting cargo flights and adding additional services where possible. These aren’t easy to stand up, but they’re the right thing to do.”
Air New Zealand is also extending flexibility for those customers affected by cyclone disruptions up to 17 February 2023.
International customers can now change travel up to 8 March 2023 without a change fee, service fee or fare difference applying. If travel is only available in a higher cabin, the fare differential will apply. Tickets can also be put into credit towards travel within 12 months. For those travelling domestically, flexibility applies until 22 February 2023.