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More than 100 transit passengers in Auckland forced to wait in airport corridor overnight

Auckland, NEW ZEALAND — More than 100 passengers transiting through Auckland Airport over the weekend were forced to wait in a cold corridor overnight.

The NZ Herald reported that the passengers, who had flown from Samoa and were on the way to Australia, had arrived about 2am on Sunday.

Passengers were reportedly told they could not go through the security screening point because it was not staffed until 5am, forcing them to sit and wait in a cold hallway until the area opened.

Elizabeth Nanai, who was among those waiting in the corridor, said seeing elderly people lying on the floor was heart-breaking.

The 47-year-old arrived with a group after a church conference in Samoa, and they were shocked when they were not allowed in the departure lounge, Nanai said.

"We had quite a few of us, the younger ones, that walked back towards where the gates where our flight arrived, because we knew there was chairs [there]. The rest of them, the elderly just couldn't walk back that far, so [they] just decided to camp on the floor, no other option."

There were only 12 chairs available in the space they were allowed in, she said.

Auckland Airport operations general manager Anna Cassels-Brown told Morning Report they found out later the flight was late to depart Apia and therefore late to arrive to Auckland.

"I wouldn't want to say that [this problem was foreseen], I don't operate the airline obviously," Cassels-Brown said.

"What I do know is that at the time it arrived, unfortunately, the aviation security transit screening point — which many listeners won't even know it exists unless they've transited through Auckland, it's deep within the international terminal — was not staffed by AvSec at the time," she said.

"It's open under a contract between AvSec and the airlines, between the hours of 5am and 11pm."

Nanai said the AvSec number was posted on a sign at the door of the screening area, which they had tried calling.

But they refused to open up, because they said they did not have any staff available, she said.

Cassels-Brown said this was not the kind of service the airport wanted to provide to customers and was sorry.

"I'm not happy any of our customers had to sit in that hallway, I'm not happy that elderly people or children had to. It's completely below the level of acceptable customer service and we are fixing it," she said.

"Pre-COVID, we were in a position where if customers arrived late or early for that matter, we could ring aviation security and they would mobilise and open the screening points in 30 minutes to ensure we did not have customers waiting in a corridor for a transit screening point to open.

"At the moment, we understand that aviation security, like many other parts of the travel and tourism industry, are struggling to get staff and they weren't able on this occasion to provide the same level of service as they did when they were fully staff pre-COVID."

The airport was now working with AvSec to see if they could provide a full 24-hour service, she said.

In the interim, however, they were looking to repurpose one of the gate lounges in the arrivals pathway.

"The key thing, Susie, is there's a government requirement that people can't enter the departure areas unless they've been security screened," Cassels-Brown said.

"We have an area that we believe we can keep secure from departures, so there's not the problem of not being screened."

The passengers on Sunday's flight were not asked to wait in that area, she said, because there were security changes that needed to be made in those cases to ensure it could not be breached.

"It [the area] is being readied today," she said.

In a statement, AvSec operations group manager Karen Urwin said they were expecting the Air New Zealand flight to arrive earlier, with the transit point open for half an hour at 1.30am.

Although the flight arrived at 1.55am, it was believed the passengers made it to the transit point after 2.30am because their arrival gate was the furthest at the airport, Urwin said.

"By then the transit point was closed and staff deployed to other duties and setting up the main screening point equipment for processing of departing passengers which starts at 0400."

Staff were rostered according to demand but AvSec did not get any information from the airline about the delay nor the large number of transit passengers onboard, Urwin said.

"Unless we are advised of additional demand in a timely way we are unable to recall staff to manage the additional work.

"In this instance had AvSec diverted staff from other duties to open the transit screening point there would have been a major delays in processing passengers for the early morning departing flights including the flight that these particular passengers were connecting on to."

Urwin said once the screening point was open at 5am, they processed the passengers as quickly as possible through two lanes.

AvSec also said the onus was on the carrier and airport company to manage passenger welfare.

Nanai said the airport had failed its duty of care.

"I just keep thinking I'd never put my mum and dad through that. Looking at everyone on the floor, I'd never put them through that," Nanai said.

"I just felt very annoyed. No one was willing to take the blame that night or even take any action to get us through."

For Nanai, stop-overs in New Zealand would not be as welcoming anymore, she said.

"They have their welcoming chant 'haere mai, welcome' and that chant we listened for three hours straight. I thought, well, if this is New Zealand and the way they welcome us, that's totally unacceptable."

Air New Zealand has been approached for comment.