Wellington fog spoils Christmas holidays

CAROLINE KING AND AMY JACKMAN
Last updated 08:40 24/12/2012
Nathan Sadeghi and his sister, Alana
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

STRANDED: Nathan Sadeghi and his sister, Alana, who were booked to fly to Melbourne, were among Christmas travellers stuck at Wellington Airport by fog.

Fog
ROSS GIBLIN/Fairfax NZ
STUCK: Alexandra George waits in the queue of delayed passengers at Wellington airport.

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Christmas cheer became a Christmas nightmare for thousands of fliers when their travel plans were shelved because of bizarre fog in Wellington.

An Air NZ flight due to arrive in Christchurch at 8.15am this morning was amongst those cancelled while an 8.05am flight from Christchurch to Wellington was delayed.

This afternoon's 4.10pm Jetstar's flight from Christchurch to Wellington has already been delayed until 5pm.


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One Twitter user, who last night was trying to get from Christchurch to Wellington, said "the line for delayed passengers Christchurch to Wellington is almost 100m long".

He said that one man at the back of the line was so frustrated that he booked new tickets on his phone and left.

Another twitter user, Ali Copeman who was trying to fly to Auckland, said: "chaos ensues at Wellington airport, cancellations and diversions galore adding to Xmas stress".

However, Copeman, who was flying with Air New Zealand, managed to get a flight this morning.

A Christchurch Airport spokeswoman said yesterday was "very, very busy" but the terminal was back to normal by about 9pm.

"Air New Zealand last night suspended all its flights until 9am this morning. Jet Star is taking it case by case."

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said flights had resumed in and out of Wellington, weather permitting.

She said this was a "moment by moment thing".

"There will be an overflow from yesterday. They [passengers] should be able to be accommodated on services today," she said.

Passengers were advised to keep an eye on arrival and departure information for their flights.

A Jet Star spokesman said all flights in and out of Wellington had resumed, weather permitting. "We've had a flight land into Wellington this morning."

Wellington's fog began to roll in from the south about 1pm yesterday, blanketing the city after a beautiful sunny morning.

Wellington Airport's runway was engulfed by the fog, and flights from elsewhere in the country were diverted, while departures were suspended and cancelled.

Faced with a backlog of flights, Air New Zealand cancelled all flights and told frustrated passengers to head home and contact the helpline to rebook.

The airline was investigating additional capacity to clear the backlog, with flights expected to resume at 9am today.

Jetstar also had to cancel flights to and from Christchurch and Auckland.

WeatherWatch head analyst Philip Duncan said the "weird" spectacle was created by a blend of muggy air and a nor'easter flow that looked set to stay until turning to gusty rain on Boxing Day.

"When you end up with these subtropical systems coming down it can lead to fog and low cloud in the city - it's starting to become a bit of a trend in Wellington over summer."

Small domestic airline Golden Bay Air shuttled its passengers to Paraparaumu. From there it flew them to the popular Tasman holiday destination.

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Several Qantas and Virgin services to Australia were also cancelled.

Among those stranded at the airport were the Central Coast Mariners football team, who played the Wellington Phoenix on Saturday.

Wellington residents Alison Murray and husband Shane Wilson left Auckland on a flight home at 1.30pm, but just before their plane was due to land the pilot said the fog had rolled in earlier than expected. The plane spent almost an hour circling the region before returning to Auckland.

The pair were offered accommodation vouchers and were hoping to get on a flight today.

"I hope we get back, I have to buy food and cook Christmas dinner," Ms Murray said.

Rebecca Reidy, 28, and James Price, 25, travelled to Wellington from Palmerston North to catch a flight to Nelson, where they were to spend Christmas with family.

Ms Reidy said they were told by Air New Zealand staff at the check-in that they would not be able to fly until Christmas Day because there were so many stranded passengers.

Mr Price said they had managed to get on the evening ferry to Picton.

Melbourne resident Nathan Sadeghi said he arrived at Wellington Airport more than three hours before his 3.40pm flight so he could relax.

On top of the fog, Qantas had also been forced to check people in manually because of computer issues and had almost finished five hours later when the flight was cancelled, he said.

Alexandra George, who was trying to fly to Melbourne to spend Christmas with a friend, said she had spent a frustrating two hours waiting in line to check in. "We have barely moved at all. I have a lot of connecting travel in Melbourne that I'm going to miss. It's just chaos."

The remnants of Cyclone Evan were responsible for the eerie fog that enveloped parts of the Wairarapa and Wellington coasts.

Lyall Bay beachgoers watched the coastal mist gradually fill up the horizon, then engulf the beach and airport.

Josie Connor, of Island Bay, said it was beautiful. "This magical, mystical fog appeared. It was pretty eerie but it was cool weather," she said.

MetService predicts a tropical Christmas Day, though northern regions face heavy rain today.

Forecaster Peter Knudsen said the muggy weather was being generated by a slow-moving low on the tail of Evan, which will keep hugging the east coast of the North Island in coming days.

Northland faces especially heavy rain, but the north of Auckland, the north of Coromandel, the far east of the Bay of Plenty and Gisborne should also be ready to batten down the hatches today.

On Boxing Day, the low and an associated trough are likely to move on to central New Zealand, bringing rain to many areas.

- The Dominion Post

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