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Flights Resume, But Disruption Continues at Flooded Auckland Airport

New Zealand's largest airport closed its doors entirely on Friday evening after torrential rain caused severe flooding, with thousands of passengers still displaced

by Fergus Cole

January 30, 2023

Photo: Auckland International Airport. Courtesy of Douglas Bagg / Unsplash

Auckland Airport (AKL) reopened on the weekend and welcomed some international flight arrivals after closing its doors due to severe flooding on Friday, January 28. However, the cleanup operation is still ongoing.

After torrential rain hit the northern New Zealand city on Friday, Auckland Airport—the country’s largest international hub—was left wholly flooded, forcing officials to close its doors and cancel or delay hundreds of flights in and out of the city over the weekend.

Photos and videos on social media revealed entire terminal floors and check-in areas submerged in water. At the same time, more than 2,000 passengers were reportedly stranded at the airport until the early hours of Saturday due to roads surrounding the airport being flooded.

Over 200 Air New Zealand customers were left on a plane overnight as they had already boarded the aircraft when their 6:15 PM flight to Sydney was canceled.

“While the majority of passengers have been able to secure accommodation today with either friends and family or the city’s accommodation providers, some have been unable to find a bed for the night,” said Carrie Hurihanganui, chief executive at Auckland Airport, on Saturday.

“Given many will have been at the airport since yesterday afternoon, it was very important to us that their welfare was taken care of. Around 50 people will also be able to stay the night at the Auckland Airport marae, Te Manukanuka o Hoturoa. We are very grateful to the marae for their support.”

The airport closed its doors entirely until midday on Saturday. Although some international flights have since flown in and out, it has yet to be fully operational, and disruption is still ongoing. Several flights bound for Aukland were forced to return to their origins, even after initiating descent.

The automated baggage loading system, which had suffered water damage during the flooding, has been replaced by traditional baggage handlers. Electrical engineers are working to restore the airport’s lifts and elevators to full functionality.

Air New Zealand, Auckland’s most dominant airline, has said its focus is now on serving around 9,000 passengers who have been left stranded in various parts of the world due to flight disruptions.

The airline said its call center had been swamped with passengers demanding information since Friday. “We’ve actually brought 400 call center staff back into the airline in the last few months, and that has been going well, and the call wait times have been going down,” said Captain Dave Morgan, chief safety officer at Air New Zealand.

“But as I say, we were completely overwhelmed as a result of the calls that came in from Friday night, and just working our way through. Our focus is on those customers who have been displaced, we are very concerned for them, and we want to get them away as quickly as possible.”

Around 25,000 travelers boarded flights at Auckland Airport on Sunday, around the same passengers that departed on Boxing Day, but it has yet to be clear when the airport will be back to peak operations. However, some airlines use bigger aircraft on their Auckland routes to pick up more passengers and ease the backlog.