A week ago, roughly halfway along QF632's route from Melbourne to Brisbane, some passengers noticed the plane had made a 90-degree turn to the right. They asked cabin staff what was going on. Shortly afterwards, the captain announced that the plane was being diverted to Sydney because Brisbane was fog-bound.
We landed, disembarked and stood in a corridor in Sydney Domestic Terminal not far from Gate 15, where there was a Qantas desk, for all the good it did us. Business passengers were directed to a comfortable lounge somewhere. The rest of us waited. And waited.
It was coming up to 9 pm. The captain had already explained that there was a curfew at Sydney (at 11), and that the fog in Brisbane was unlikely to lift any time soon. We were told by ground staff to book flights back to Brisbane by calling Reservations on 131313. It seems almost laughable, now I know there were 1400 passengers in the wrong place, that any of us hoped to get through to Reservations. Some of those who got right on it managed to request a callback to avoid hanging on. When that came, we discovered Reservations didn't even know of our predicament.
Most of us were unpleasantly surprised that we were on our own as far as the ongoing leg of our journey was concerned, having assumed Qantas would be putting on an extra flight the next day for QF632 passengers, and once the details were finalised they would be in touch.
For now, however, they were concentrating on finding beds for the diverted, a challenge on the last weekend of the school holidays. Two hours later, they had secured only 40 rooms. Children were already asleep on the floor.
Not really knowing what to do for the best, I called a member of my Aussie family. She and her partner had recently moved from Paddington to Balmain. Without hesitation, she offered me a bed for the night, even though they'd just dropped their previous house guests off at the airport.
I booked an Uber and was led by a Pavement Management person following the green signs to the priority pickup zone. It was chaotic. I only waited about seven minutes, but there was a surge charge. 'What's going on?' my driver asked: his phone had gone nuts in the last hour or so. I gabbled on for most of the journey.
In a lovely apartment complete with view of city lights across the Harbour, I relaxed with the couple I was describing by the end of the weekend as my Sydney super-saviours. I had a large comfortable bed to collapse into, but not before I'd dialled 131313, at 1 am, only to learn that there was a one-hour wait.
I slept intermittently and began phoning just before 7. I hung on for 2 hours and 47 minutes. The Qantas website was down. I tweeted to while away the time: read from the bottom up.
Meanwhile, my friend back in Brissie was desperately trying to find me a flight in the absence of any help from Qantas, and rapidly discovering that there weren't any to be had on Saturday. In my darkest hour of frustration, he booked me on a Jetstar flight to the Gold Coast during a call to Flight Centre, choosing from a list of options what he believed to be a flight leaving late on Saturday afternoon. It was for Sunday, however. Resignation took a while.
There was no response from Qantas on Twitter until 1:30 pm, when they asked for my booking reference and details. I sent them via direct message and asked again about extra flights. They replied six hours later, at 7:31 in the evening, telling me their next available flight from Melbourne to Sydney was on Monday. I pointed out that I was in Sydney, and they had diverted me there.
I took my rescuers for a late breakfast in lovely Balmain – it's green and up-and-downy, with a bustling main drag that's not a major through road. Later I walked and took the ferry to Circular Quay. I had to pass through enemy territory.
Periodically, I reminded Qantas that I wasn't where I should be.
I wandered round The Rocks and drank tea with chocolate brownie cheesecake, before catching the ferry 'home' to Balmain. I spent an enjoyable evening thanks again to my hosts with the most: they made pasta; I supplied wine.
The following morning, Sunday, came a 'sorry for the oversight' message from Qantas on Twitter, and news of a flight at 2 pm. With that Groundhog Day feeling, I dialled 131313. There was a wait but I was given the option of a callback (between 36 and 48 minutes later). I wanted the direct flight to Brisbane that got me home with some of Sunday left. So that's what I did. I called Jetstar to cancel my flight with them. They said I should have done that when I booked my Qantas flight if I wanted a refund. I was pretty much over calling airlines for one weekend: that battle was for another day. And soon I had to leave for the airport.
I learned later that you cannot call Qantas Customer 'Care' direct. And they only work 9-5 Monday to Friday. So at 8 am on Monday morning I went online and filled in the relevant form requesting a call. I chose 'complaint' from the options, and described the airline's lack of support for its divertees. I heard nothing. On Thursday I added to my existing complaint. Still nothing. By Friday I was angry again. I rang Reservations and pretended I wanted to book an international flight. I persuaded them to put me through to Customer Care. I bent Jessica's ear for a long time. I told how Qantas had been my preferred airline for the last eight years; how disappointing their service had been last weekend; and I asked her to explain why. She told me the number of diverted passengers had been unprecedented; and that her role was to pass on my comments so that Qantas could work to prevent a repeat of the chaos.
She promised to see if I could get my money refunded, but she was not optimistic. And she was not wrong.
Post script 18 July 2017 On Monday morning there soon came an email 'with regret that I inform you that we are unable to reimburse you'. Our discourse deteriorated over a couple of further messages until they shut me down.
…unfortunately we are unable to further comment on these matters. Thank you and I trust this confirms Qantas' final decision on the matter. Although we will take into account any further feedback that you may provide us, we may not be able to respond further.
My further feedback, unanswered as they'd threatened, was to tell them that I would be taking my complaint to the Airline Customer Advocate (ACA).
What price a goodwill gesture? Qantas must have insurance against costs incurred as a result of delays beyond their control. I conclude they don't care a jot or give a damn. Their system is designed to dead-end complaint and stifle contact with a human being. There are plenty more travellers where I came from, after all. Profit before passengers in a rip-off culture.