Watch: Jet streams explained. Video / Ben Cummins
Air New Zealand has revealed details of what went wrong when it was forced to offload luggage for scores of passengers on a flight from New York to Auckland.
The airline – which launched the flagship route
the weekend – has now started a review to reduce the chances of this happening again. According to Consumer NZ, airlines are liable for nearly $3,000 per bag in compensation if it’s delayed or lost.
While bags are being cured to 60 affected passengers on the first southbound flight today, some are upset that bags have been left behind for more than 24 hours.
Air New Zealand has attributed the problem to a combination of factors, highlighting the challenge of flying aircraft close to their range on non-stop ultra-long routes.
Alex Marren, the airline’s chief operating officer, said the “incredibly disappointing” decision to drop 65 bags was made on Saturday when it had to change its flight schedule to avoid a forecast cyclone.
The temporary closure of the usual alternative airport, Ohakea Airbase, also meant that extra fuel was needed should a diversion from Auckland International be required.
“To get all of our customers where they were supposed to be, the team took the unusual step of offloading about 65 bags to meet loading limits,” Marren said.
“Operating ultra-long haul flights is challenging and Air New Zealand has been working towards the launch of this route for years, so it is incredibly disappointing that we were unable to get all of our customers’ bags onto the inaugural flight on Saturday. “
The flight time for NZ1 was 17 hours 35 minutes and it is the airline’s longest route, covering almost 14,200 km and currently the fourth longest in the world.
“We have made some adjustments to the number of seats sold to compensate for the additional fuel required for such a long route. We also do not carry freight on the southbound route.”
Ahead of the service’s launch, Air New Zealand said it would be selling fewer seats on the southbound flight, and that was the case on Saturday. 202 of 275 possible places were sold out.
“We are intentionally not selling all of the seats to compensate for the additional fuel load required for the ultra-long-haul flight,” Marren said.
She said the airline regrets it was not “easy” for all passengers on the flight.
“We didn’t want things to go that way for our customers and we’ll see what lessons we can learn to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Marren said.
A Hamilton resident passenger and her husband were among the passengers who had to wait an hour to learn their luggage had been left behind.
“We had to be told by a fellow passenger that our bags weren’t on the plane,” she said yesterday.
Returning to the US from a 10-day vacation, they said there were problems checking luggage and finding tickets at JFK, at odds with the hype surrounding the opening service, the Herald reported yesterday.
“We were greeted in Auckland by media celebrating the route’s success, but outside of the flight itself, everything was a shambles.”
While baggage is forwarded to passengers, airlines are liable for lost or delayed baggage.
Consumer NZ’s Jessica Wilson said international flight baggage is covered by the Montreal Convention. The convention sets the maximum amount an airline must pay for lost, damaged or delayed baggage. The sum is about 2700 US dollars per passenger.
“If baggage is delayed, the airline only has to cover the cost of essential items. Normally, airlines accept no liability for consequential damages said.
“If you have travel insurance, check your policy as it may also offer greater protection and better coverage than the law.”
Hurricanes over the Caribbean and Alaska have hit opposite corners of the United States in the past week.
John Murrie, of Massey University’s School of Aviation, said the constant jet stream winds blowing west to east were also a factor. They provide tailwinds for eastbound flights like NZ2 to New York, making it an hour or more quicker.
During the time the flight was flying to and from New York, there was a fairly strong jet stream over the western and northern United States.
This jet stream — a “river” of fast-moving air at altitudes where passenger planes operate — began west of California, flew over the state, and then swung north toward the Canadian border before heading east again.
Flight data shows NZ1 reaches an altitude of 42,000 feet near New Zealand before descending in Auckland.
The airline has ordered 787 Dreamliners, which have a heavier premium bank, fewer seats overall and better amenities to cover the distance on US East Coast routes. However, they are not expected to join the fleet before 2025.