'Pilot is very busy and can't talk to you'
A passenger on board QF8 describes how the airline kept announcing different reasons for the delay, then sent them off to a hotel with no toiletry provisions for an overnight stay.PT1M47S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-24jnv 620 349 August 21, 2012
Passengers have described as a "flight from hell" and a "comedy of errors" their experience of a Qantas flight from Dallas, Texas, which culminated in two pilots having a heated argument in the cockpit.
The passengers on QF8 learnt only today what had happened behind the scenes after Fairfax Media revealed that Qantas has stood down the captain and second officer of the 747-400 jumbo.
It was the flight from hell. It was just one cock up after the other. When I finally landed in Sydney the guy could not find my bag
They have been withdrawn from duty for their argument over the take-off calculations they should have punched into the plane's computer system as it sat on the tarmac at Dallas's international airport.
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
A passenger, Bronwyn Smith-Orme, said the entire flight home to Sydney was a "complete stuff-up" and included repeated delays, lost baggage and a lack of staff to deal with passengers. Her father drove to Sydney Airport three times in the hope he could pick up his daughter.
"[It was] the flight from hell. It was just one cock-up after the other," she said today. "When I finally landed in Sydney the guy could not find my bag."
Ms Smith-Orme said the passengers on QF8 felt there was "something going on that we weren't told" but what "frustrates me more is that we felt abandoned in Dallas".
"Everything after that was just like a comedy of errors," she said.
Passengers were left sitting for more than two hours on the 747-400 jumbo as it was parked at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, during which time they were told the pilot was too busy to talk.
"Then there was another announcement to say there was a sick crew member, and then finally there was another announcement made by the pilots to say they did not have enough hours to get the plane to Brisbane," she said.
"The whole thing did feel a bit suspicious because I have never had an announcement to say the pilot is too busy to talk to you."
Passengers had no idea there had been a dispute between the pilots.
Ms Smith-Orme said Qantas did not have enough staff at the airport in Dallas to deal with the passengers who had been offloaded for an overnight stay. Passengers did not get to a hotel until about 1am.
"The way they treated us at Dallas airport was deplorable. Qantas either don't have a plan as to what to do if they have a delayed plane, or they didn't follow it or their plan has serious flaws," she said.
"There was no one from Qantas around to tell us what was going on."
A business-class passenger from Sydney on QF8 said the communication from the airline was poor.
"I understand delayed flights due to weather ... but the contingency plans for what to do when that happens were just not existent. It was like the first time they have ever encountered that problem," he said.
Qantas has since launched an investigation into the dispute between the two pilots who have been told they cannot fly. The incident occurred last Tuesday night (US time) as a major thunderstorm was rolling across Dallas, causing severe congestion at the city's international airport.
It is rare for pilots to be stood down from operational duties.
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority said today that it had been made aware that Qantas had stood down the pilots but would not comment further because the matter was being handled by the airline.
Because the pilots on QF8 were already close to exceeding their 20-hour duty limits due to delays caused by the thunderstorms, Qantas's flight operations managers decided to keep the plane on the ground overnight at Dallas.
The managers were later informed of the argument between the pilots and stood them down. It meant the airline had to bring in replacement pilots to fly QF8 back to Sydney via Brisbane the next day.
The jumbo, which can carry about 320 passengers on the ultra long-haul route across the Pacific, had been due to arrive in Brisbane at 5am on Thursday but did not touch down until 18 hours later.
A Qantas spokesman confirmed yesterday that a captain and a second officer had been withheld from service while an investigation was under way.
But he said the flight was late arriving in Brisbane because of the delays caused by the thunderstorms, not the altercation between the two pilots.
"Qantas flight QF8 from Dallas-Fort Worth to Brisbane on 14 August was delayed overnight as a result of severe thunderstorms in the Dallas area," he said.
The incident comes three weeks after a Qantas captain was removed from operational duties for testing positive to alcohol. The airline still has an investigation under way into the conduct of that captain, who flight attendants had suspected had been drinking before a flight.