In what is becoming a recurring problem for Jetstar, an IT failure left hundreds of passengers stranded at Uluru Airport in the Northern Territory on New Year’s Eve.
Fixed-line telecommunications knocked out by a storm
The small airport that services Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock) has just half a dozen flights most days. Jetstar, Qantas, and Virgin Australia all fly in. Jetstar had two A320s services on New Year’s Eve, JQ660 to Sydney and JQ664 to Melbourne. Both were canceled, throwing the New Year’s Eve plans for many into disarray.
A report by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) says Jetstar canceled due to a Telstra IT issue affecting check-in systems. Telstra is Australia’s dominant telecommunications provider. They have a long and fabled history of ‘IT issues.’
The IT issue was reportedly caused by a storm the previous evening which knocked out the mains power at the Indulkana telephone exchange in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) lands which adversely affected fixed-line telecommunications services in the area.
Unhappy Jetstar passengers watch other flights depart
The IT problem impacted Qantas and Virgin Australia at Uluru as well. But while there were delays, both airlines had backup systems and were able to board their passengers. The ABC quoted one Jetstar passenger as saying;
“We sit on the floor (at the airport) for six hours. In that time there’s three to four announcements – Qantas and Virgin are able to board their flights, but we’re unable to board our flights and there’s hundreds of people just sitting and waiting.”
I’ve rarely seen such terrific incompetence as on display in #uluru by @JetstarAirways. The storm last night knocked out the Internet. Apparently check-in is impossible without Internet. We sat in line for 6 hours. There were only a handful of announcements along the way. pic.twitter.com/Ts6r7mdmGC
— Dr. Wade Kelly (@wadekelly) December 31, 2019
Jetstar is having a run of IT problems
Jetstar has suffered a rash of IT outages recently. This was an isolated incident that didn’t have system-wide implications. But some, like the IT failure on 10 December 2019, impact airports across the country with scores of flights canceled or delayed.
While the IT outage at Uluru wasn’t Jetstar’s fault, the airline still suffers reputational damage. It is a bad look when Qantas and Virgin Australia can board their planes but Jetstar cannot. Jetstar reportedly phased out manual check-in procedures about 12 months ago. The aforementioned Jetstar passenger went on to say;
“It is just unbelievable, it’s a comedy of errors. I don’t blame the staff but I do blame the administration of Jetstar.
It was unbelievable incompetence. Everything that should have been done wasn’t done and it’s just appalling.”
Hot, dusty, and a long way from anywhere
The problem was exacerbated by the isolation of Uluru and the lack of alternative flights. The nearest airport is in Alice Springs – a 470 kilometer, five hours plus drive away. And Alice Springs doesn’t exactly have a surfeit of flights either. Usually, the last flight to a southern capital city is gone by mid-afternoon.
Jetstar bussed passengers to Alice Springs where they arrived in the evening. Passengers were accommodated in hotels before been placed on flights out the next morning – New Year’s Day.
New Year’s Eve plans go awry
This meant New Year’s Eve plans for some passengers were ruined, especially those heading down to Sydney to see the iconic New Year’s Eve fireworks there. One local tourist operator, talking to the ABC, said this;
“Talking to a couple of the Japanese younger couples, I felt very sorry for them because they had purchased premium rooms over Sydney Harbour to watch the fireworks from their room.”
Jetstar apologies and gets things back to normal
In a statement provided to Simple Flying, a Jetstar spokesperson said;
“A Telsta IT issue affected our airport check-in systems at Uluru (Ayers Rock Airport) yesterday, impacting two of our flights.”
We appreciate delays are frustrating, particularly at this time of year and apologise to customers for the impact on their journey.”
Telstra had sorted the problem later on New Year’s Eve and services returned to normal to Uluru Airport the following day. In fact, Jetstar’s flight today from Uluru to Sydney is delayed, so everything is perfectly back to normal.