One never contemplates catastrophies when booking their airfares - If you did stop and think for a moment about all the possibilities in life, you wouldn't get very far in life..
As it was, my wife and I booked some last minute flights to Brisbane for a family event, and also to catch up with a friend and do some photography for her company. This was both of our first visits to Brisvegas, and we were pretty excited!
It was roughly the same day that a small thundercloud in the Eastern Pacific found a nice patch of warm tropical water along with a good injection of upper level wind shear and decided to grow. And Grow. And GROW. Cyclone Debbie was formed and categorised as a late season Cyclone with great potential. As we all know, Debbie slammed head on into the Central QLD Coast and caused immense amounts of damage through wind and flooding. It's currently estimated to have cost around $1.5 Billion in clean up and repair.
On Tuesday afternoon, our Thursday evening flight was still looking good.
On Wednesday evening, the remnants of cyclone Debbie were inching their way directly towards Brisbane but the system was downgrading as it travelled in a SE direction and had become a lesser rain event.
On Thursday(the day of our flight), reports of flooding surfaced across inland, and SE QLD, but again, Brisbane Airport was still operating with flights still departing and arriving throughout the day. Jetstar confirmed verbally on several occasions that our flight would be going ahead as scheduled - 20:10pm.
The date was set.
Upon arrival at the domestic terminal in Sydney, nothing was out of place.. The queue was as expected for 6pm in the evening and there were no indications of cancelled flights into Brisbane with any airline.
And here's where Jetstar started to unravel.
The lovely lady at the check in counter checked us in and initially advised that we were good to go. But at the end of the conversation, looked puzzlingly at her computer and said " Oh, it might be delayed by 1 hour". We were totally OK with this, even if she sounded unconfident. However, the main screen above the security area still showed our flight leaving on-time at 20:10pm. We shrugged our shoulders and went to the food hall and ate.
After 30 minutes, we walked to our gate and found something a little puzzling. Our flight now said it was due to depart at 22:10pm. Dismayed, we asked the lone JQ staff member at the gate counter what was happening with our flight, and pointed out that there was an aircraft sitting there. She replied "Oh is the aircraft there? What registration is it? I have no idea whats happening, there might be a gate change"
We took her complete vagueness quite well, but head back out of security and to the main check in counter and JQ Helpdesk to try and find some truth - All we found, was pandaemonium. A Jetstar employee was standing at the back of the check in counter yelling "All Brisbane flights are cancelled, please head to the counters to rebook your flights". Gutted, we lined up behind atleast 100 other people in the same situation.
Then.... An Announcement! It wasn't our specific flight that was cancelled, but the flight before, and the flight after were cancelled. Dazed and very confused, we confirmed with the same gentlemen from Jetstar causing hysteria at the back of the queue to which he apologised and advised that our flight was NOT cancelled and was just delayed. The wall boards confirmed this so we went back to our gate.
Expected departure time was now a little more certain, 22:10pm. At 21:40pm, we stood up to check the wall board at our specific gate and POW, our gate was now reserved for a Darwin service. We approached the counter to seek advice about our flight, presuming it had moved gates, to which we were told "All flights into and out of Brisbane are cancelled due to the weather, there are no more flights landing in Brisbane." Being a nerd, I whipped out FR24 and showed the Jetstar staff member that flights were landing in Brisbane, and Jetstar was one of the airlines landing, and with aircraft still on course to land in Brisbane shortly. She dismissed my actual factual and real time information by saying "That's not correct, Brisbane is closed now". I shook my head in disbelief.
I don't mind a cancelled flight here or there - But don't feed me crap, tell me the truth. Staff hours, delayed aircraft.. something, just not something that's immediately disprovable.
After waiting in line for a further hour to rebook our flights, my wife managed to call the Jetstar call centre and re-book ONE of us for the following day, but because our flight was cancelled an hour after the other two flights, the rest of the seats for Friday were gone. I took to my mobile phone and booked a seat with Virgin Australia in roughly 5 minutes and without a hitch.
The whole experience was chaotic. Jetstar staff seemed clueless and completely powerless to confirm or deny exactly what was happening. I vowed that night to never fly with them again. Unfortunately I had already pre-booked a Hobart return and Sunshine Coast return with them for May - Lets hope for good weather Jetstar?!