Air New Zealand’s 16-hour flight to nowhere makes for a “wild” trip for a frequent flyer


It’s the stuff of nightmares. You’re trying to get somewhere, you’ve prepared and planned and you’re doing your best and yet you end up right back where you started.

That’s pretty much what happened to frequent flyer Bryan Gottlieb and his fellow Air New Zealand passengers on Thursday when their planned trip from Auckland to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was disrupted by an airport power outage.

JFK’s Terminal 1 was closed and some of the flights due to land there had to be diverted. Some international flights landed at other airports: Newark, Washington Dulles, Boston Logan.

Gottlieb’s flight, ANZ2, turned around mid-flight and landed back in Auckland, more than 16 hours after taking off from the same airport. Flight tracking site FlightAware logs a total flight time of 16 hours and 25 minutes, with the plane turning back about halfway through its planned journey.

“I slept pretty well, and I woke up feeling like I’d probably be landing at JFK soon,” Gottlieb said in a message to CNN Travel. Then “the passenger next to me tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘did you know we’re almost back in Auckland?'”

Gottlieb said the fellow passenger gave him the news two or three hours before the plane was due to land. An announcement about the diversion didn’t come until the plane was almost back in New Zealand, he said, although “you could see our route on the tracker and word had spread.”

He said when the pilot made the announcement, he “acknowledged that part of the decision was based on route efficiency for the airline and that the lack of crew at an airport close to JFK would have caused the airline additional delays.”

The passengers were not happy.

“Everyone on that plane would much prefer to be at any airport in the United States, let alone Newark or LaGuardia right in the same general area,” said Gottlieb, a game designer who was returning home from a five-week business trip to join the end of his brother’s bachelor party.

Air New Zealand said in a statement to CNN Travel on Thursday that “switching to another US port would have meant the aircraft would remain on the ground for several days, affecting a number of other routes and customers”.

At the time, the flight was still returning to Auckland and the airline said its team was ready to help customers rebook on the next available service.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and thank our customers for their patience and understanding,” the statement said. CNN reached out to the airline for more details on Friday, but did not immediately hear back.

Gottlieb, who lives in New York, spent eight hours at Auckland airport waiting for his next flight out to Los Angeles, where he would connect with JFK. Air New Zealand gave him $100 worth of meal vouchers, but he had no luck buying into a loyalty club lounge to freshen up in Auckland. He had not heard of any other compensation at the time he communicated with CNN.

The diverted flight was Gottlieb’s second attempt to get home. His original flight back to the US on Monday was canceled due to the devastating cyclone that hit New Zealand this week. His wife’s plans to join him for the last two weeks of his stay were halted when her flight was canceled due to flooding at Auckland airport in late January.

With the 16-hour delay from Auckland to Auckland, he missed the bachelor party altogether. As for the rides, “it sure was wild!”

Gottlieb said he is disappointed with the airline’s response “at a corporate level,” but met with very helpful airline staff.

“This is absolutely the worst travel experience I’ve ever had, but at the end of the day these things happen and I always try to remember that none of the people I interact with had anything to do with the decisions that delayed me – they’re just doing their part best, and they were justifiably kind.”

And New Zealand is one of Gottlieb’s favorite places.

“The people and the region are both lovely. I certainly wish it was a little closer.”

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