Stranded in paradise
Candace Woods and David McIlwaine were among the hundreds of passengers stranded in the Whitsundays last week when flights were cancelled to and from Hamilton Island.
The couple from Newcastle in NSW had spent five days on the island and were due to fly home on Thursday.
When their Jetstar flight was cancelled, they came to Airlie Beach by ferry and were taken to Coral Sea Resort, along with about 100 passengers from the same flight.
Jetstar paid for their ferry, their accommodation, their dinner and their breakfast so at this stage they were very happy with the service and not too upset about the inconvenience which they knew had been caused by weather.
"We were OK about it all at that stage but the communication after that from Jetstar was the most disappointing part of our whole trip."
At 8.30pm on the Friday, they still had not had any word from Jetstar about alternate arrangements.
That's when Candace tried to call Jetstar and she was connected to a recording which told her she would be placed in a queue and that the current wait was 30 minutes.
She decided to stay on the phone.
David was meant to be in Roma, in western Queensland for work on the Saturday and he had already contacted his employer to update them on the situation but with no communication from Jetstar, he had become very frustrated.
The couple was aware that no flights were available in the coming days from Hamilton Island or Proserpine as all scheduled flights were already at capacity. Some flights had also been cancelled from Mackay last week.
Candace was eventually connected to an operator who told her that the earliest she could fly from Hamilton Island was on Tuesday.
She enquired about a flight from Townsville but was old she would have to pay full fare.
After asking to speak to a supervisor, she was told she could transfer the booking to fly from Townsville at no charge. The couple had now become friends with other stranded passengers, Murray and Wendy Horsburgh from Young in south western NSW. Murray had also contacted Jetstar but he was told he would have to pay more than $900 for he and his wife to fly from Townsville.
Eventually, the operator Candace was connected to agreed that all four passengers could fly from Townsville at no extra charge.
They decided to catch a bus to Townsville so they could then catch a flight to Sydney.
Both couples eventually made it to their homes in Newcastle and Young on Sunday - three days after they had originally planned.
"We appreciate that safety is important and that bad weather is inevitable," said David.
"But if we had've waited for Jetstar to make alternate arrangements, we may still be in Airlie Beach now," he said on Tuesday.
Candace said she was frustrated by the lack of communication and the mixed messages.
"When we did get through to Jetstar, different passengers were being told different stories about what they could and couldn't do and what Jetstar would and wouldn't pay for."
JETSTAR has acknowledged some outbound passengers who were stranded in the Whitsundays due to bad weather may have been given erroneous advice when it came to the costs of flying out from an alternative airport.
A Jetstar spokesman said he was reluctant to talk about individual cases but confirmed the transfer of bookings to Townsville should have been made free of charge and said those people who were told otherwise "shouldn't have been given that advice".
"It was a very fluid situation so we were obviously pulling together our recovery plan to get our passengers out and our staff were working as hard as they could in what were quite difficult circumstances at the time," the spokesman said.
"We understand that flight cancellations and delays do inconvenience our customers and our staff at Hamilton Island worked hard to ensure accommodation was provided."
Bad weather affected all airline operations into Hamilton Island last Thursday and Friday. Four Jetstar services were cancelled with four other flights diverted.
Passengers were provided with accommodation and Jetstar scheduled an additional flight into Hamilton Island on Saturday to provide capacity for passengers who had missed their earlier flights.
The spokesperson said all passengers who were booked for this Tuesday's Hamilton Island-Sydney flight were provided with accommodation on the island and would be moved onto other flights over the next couple of days.