Editor’s Note: Sign up for Unlocking the World, CNN Travel’s weekly newsletter. Get news about destinations opening, inspiration for future adventures, plus the latest in aviation, food and drink, where to stay and other travel developments.
It’s the stuff of nightmares. You’re trying to get somewhere, you’ve prepped and planned and you’re doing your best and yet you end up right back where you started.
That’s about what happened to frequent flyer Bryan Gottlieb and his fellow Air New Zealand passengers on Thursday when their planned journey from Auckland to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport was disrupted by an electrical outage at the airport.
JFK’s Terminal 1 was closed and some of the flights scheduled 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 departing the same airport. Flight tracking site FlightAware logs a total flying time of 16 hours and 25 minutes, with the plane turning back roughly halfway through its scheduled journey.
“I was sleeping pretty soundly, and I woke up with the feeling that I would surely be landing in 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 his fellow passenger gave him the news two or three hours before the plane was set to land. An announcement about the diversion didn’t come until the flight was almost back in New Zealand, he said, although “you could see our route on the tracker, and word had spread around.”
He said when the pilot made the announcement, “he acknowledged that part of the decision was based on schedule efficiency for the airline, and that the lack of crew at an airport near JFK would have caused the airline further delays.”
The passengers were not happy.
“Everyone on that plane would have much preferred to be in any airport in the US, to say nothing of Newark or LaGuardia right in the same general area,” said Gottlieb, a game designer who was headed home from a five-week work trip to join the tail end of his brother’s bachelor party trip.
Air New Zealand said Thursday in a statement to CNN Travel that “diverting to another US port would have meant the aircraft would remain on the ground for several days, impacting a number of other scheduled services and customers.”
At the time, the flight was still en route back to Auckland, and the airline said its team was ready to assist its customers with rebooking on the next available service.
“We apologise 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 the airport in Auckland waiting for his next flight out to Los Angeles, where he was set to connect to JFK. Air New Zealand provided him with $100 worth of meal vouchers, but he didn’t have any luck buying his way into a loyalty club lounge to freshen up in Auckland. He hadn’t heard about other compensation at the time he communicated with CNN.
The diverted flight was Gottlieb’s second attempt at getting home. His original flight back to the States on Monday was canceled due to the devastating cyclone that struck New Zealand this week. His wife’s plans to join him for the last two weeks of his stay were foiled when her flight was canceled due to airport flooding in Auckland at the end of January.
With the 16-hour Auckland to Auckland delay, he missed the bachelor party altogether. As far as trips go, “it was a wild one for sure!”
Gottlieb is disappointed with the airline’s response “at a corporate level” and said their decision to reroute to Auckland was “about their bottom line, not the plans of their passengers.”
But the airline staff was very helpful.
“This is certainly the worst travel experience I’ve ever had, but ultimately, these things do happen, and I always try to keep in mind that none of the people I’m interacting with had anything to do with the decisions that delayed me — they’re all just doing their best and they were legitimately kind.”
And New Zealand is one of Gottlieb’s favorite places.
“The people and region are both lovely. I sure do wish it was a little closer though.”