Furious Qantas passengers say they were left without their bags for up to six days after the airline flew them from Darwin to London without checked baggage, due to weight restrictions caused by a crumbling patch of runway at Darwin airport.
The Guardian understands Qantas only became aware of the urgent runway repairs and weight restrictions at Darwin shortly before the scheduled flights early last week.
The airline was forced to offload baggage so that its heavy long-haul aircraft did not require the entire runway, allowing it to avoid the patch of pavement that was deteriorating due to heavy rain.
Passengers flying into London on Monday 25 April on QF9 said they were informed about 20 minutes before landing at Heathrow that all economy checked bags had been left behind in Darwin.
Marnie Greenrod was one of more than 60 passengers on the flight who waited more than five days to be reunited with their luggage.
She said that the inflight announcement told affected passengers a Qantas representative would provide information about what to do when they landed at 5am UK time. They were instead met by Heathrow ground staff who provided them with forms to track their luggage, and said they would receive an email with an individual code.
“We were told they would not be processed until it was certain our bags had not made it, so we stood and watched the carousel for at least 45 minutes,” Greenrod said.
Greenrod, who lives in London, said passengers were assured their bags would follow in 24-48 hours, but she did not receive hers until six days later, received no communication from Qantas and was unable to track the progress of her luggage.
It’s understood that flights from Darwin to London were subject to weight restrictions for several days, meaning the bags from previous flights could not be loaded.
Alison Taylor was also on the 25 April flight. She said she did have a reference code for her luggage, but was only able to track her movements via Twitter, thanks to a fellow passenger who had an AirTag on their bag.
“Only once I did get through after waiting on hold for an hour and 40 minutes, and I got through to reservations in Fiji!”
Taylor was given another reference number and told she could go and buy any supplies she needed, send in the receipts and be reimbursed. But having received no response from her three emails to Qantas customer care, Taylor did not proceed.
“Mine eventually showed up last night, but wet and stinky, obviously left out in the rain somewhere. The whole thing has been extremely frustrating.”
Passengers on subsequent Darwin to London flights claim Qantas sent them text messages advising them to pack immediate supplies including medication and clothing for a few days in their hand luggage as their check in baggage would not be traveling on their flight.
Sam Thanos said he received this text message after he and fellow passengers had already checked their suitcases, so was of little use.
Thanos has spent five hours on hold to Qantas call centers since he arrived in London on Saturday, trying to track down his bags that never arrived after he flew out of Melbourne, via Darwin. Passengers were told that their luggage was 24 hours behind them, but Thanos is into his third day of waiting.
“It has completely killed the start of our holiday,” Thanos said.
While Qantas cited weight restrictions, Thanos says the plane was no where near capacity.
“Economy was half full,” he said. “Most rows passengers had to themselves, which was great for them to lay down during the flight.”
When Thanos and his wife arrived in London, passengers were given an information leaflet and a unique identifier to register online. The contact number provided on the sheet went to voicemail, telling callers that due to changed circumstances they would not be taking calls.
“We are staying with my wife’s parents, which at least has been easy for us in not moving about.
“I overheard other people talking to the person handing out the papers, saying they are moving every other day during their holidays, so for them it is probably even more of a nightmare.”
A Qantas spokesperson said “an issue with the runway pavement at Darwin Airport resulted in temporary additional weight restrictions on our flights to London last week and unfortunately that meant we weren’t able to carry some passengers’ bags on their flight”.
“Bags were reaccommodated on later flights and are couriered directly to customers as soon as we’re able to confirm the correct address. We apologize for the inconvenience this has caused our passengers and thank them for their understanding,” the spokesperson said.
The spokesperson did not respond to claims support staff had been unresponsive, however it is understood the airline is recruiting more call center operators after recent complaints.
It’s understood the Darwin airport runway issue has now been fixed, allowing flights to take off with a full load of luggage on board.
A Darwin airport spokesperson said “routine repairs to the runway are scheduled throughout the year, however weather conditions have brought forward the need to conduct this work sooner than expected”.