Sun. Aug 14th, 2022

More than 100 passengers, including young families, were left with no where to sleep after being ferried off Hamilton Island following a flight cancellation on Monday night.

Denva Suttie’s family’s Whitsundays holiday ended in anything but a relaxed fashion.

“It’s been very hard for us,” the Melbourne resident said.

After staying on Hamilton Island for five nights, Mr Suttie, his wife Sarah and five-year-old daughter Kyra were ushered off their Jetstar flight JQ849 after it was canceled due to an engineering issue.

A spokesperson from Jetstar said that bad weather meant the airline was unable to operate a replacement flight the same night.

Passengers were put on a ferry to Airlie Beach because there was no accommodation available on Hamilton Island.

Hamilton Island

Left in the lurch

Despite being told that accommodation for passengers “would be sorted out at Airlie Beach,” Mr Suttie said that was not what happened once they arrived at the Port of Airlie terminal after dark.

“Everybody was standing around dumbfounded because there was no-one there to give us a hand to tell us what to do with any form of direction,” he said.

A man beckons three people to cross a road.
The Port of Airlie is the main hub for ferries accessing the islands in the Whitsundays.(ABC Tropical North: Tegan Philpott)

After spending more than three hours stuck in the ferry terminal Mr Suttie said he had no idea where his family would sleep.

“It was a case of, ‘What are we going to do now, sleep at the terminal here?'” He said.

“Because there was no accommodation – there was no accommodation whatsoever, not even with the backpackers or anywhere.”

A tropical town beneath a deep blue sky.
Stranded passengers were left without anywhere to stay in Airlie Beach, which was at capacity because of the school holidays.(ABC Tropical North: Angel Parsons)

Homes to go to

In a heartwarming display of generosity, many locals opened their homes for the night after hearing the travelers were stranded.

Mr Suttie said he and his wife and daughter were among a handful taken in by a family living in Airlie Beach.

“We had to put some mattresses on the floor and another family had to sleep on a couch,” he said.

“The community’s generosity was amazing.”

Many were put up in private houses, while the remaining passengers ended up sleeping at the PCYC.

Bus company Whitsunday Transit answered the call to ensure the flight-load of helpless holiday-makers were taken there safely.

Operations manager Edward Deakes said the community’s spirit helped to replace a lot of anger with relief.

“I was at the PCYC and these cars just turning up offering their homes to people and people with families, offering beds and offering rooms and blankets and everything else – [it] was amazing, “Mr Deakes said.

“We rely on tourism, so we do our best to help everyone out as best we can in these trying situations.”

A man wearing a bright cap and a light-colored polo shirt sands smiling in front of what appears to be a marina.
Kev Collins helped to feed those at PCYC Whitsunday.(ABC News)

Taste Whitsundays chief executive Kev Collins, who helped provide food for those at the PCYC, said it was an amazing resolution considering that the passengers had been left to fend for themselves.

“They basically just put 150 people on a boat and sent them to the mainland and good luck with that,” he said.

“If someone dropped the ball, I think Airlie Beach picked it up.

A Qantas plane and a Jetstar plane at an airport.
Mr Suttie said the experience was inconvenient and deeply disappointing.(ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

‘Sincerely’ sorry

Mr Suttie said he had been left to feel like just a number at the airline and Hamilton Island airport.

“Everyone had to make their own way – there was no one from Jetstar to help us,” he said.

Jetstar has apologized for the disruption and thanked the community for its support.

“We’re working to get customers on their way as soon as possible and will provide reimbursement towards any accommodation, meals and transport costs incurred as a result of the disruption,” a spokesperson said.

“We’re also thoroughly looking into what has happened to make sure it does not occur again in the future and are reaching out to customers individually to sincerely apologize for this situation.”

Hamilton Island management said it was “dismayed” at news that passengers were left without alternative travel arrangements or accommodation at the Port of Airlie.

“We will continue to work with Jetstar to minimize inconvenience to our guests arising from flight disruptions,” a spokesperson said.


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