What happens when an airline goes bust?
I'm stranded, please fly me
Tuesday 25 September 2001
We realised our carefully laid plans to see Western Australia were about to be ripped up only when our Singapore Airlines plane taxied to its stand at Perth airport.
We realised our carefully laid plans to see Western Australia were about to be ripped up only when our Singapore Airlines plane taxied to its stand at Perth airport. The pilot thanked us for flying with Singapore, then delivered the news that: "Anyone travelling with Ansett, which has just gone bust, must report to the Ansett information desk inside the terminal." Ansett is, or was, Australia's second airline and a partner in the Star Alliance with BMI British Midland, United and Singapore Airlines.
Our £560 of internal flights across this vast country were now worthless. And at 2am, with all Ansett staff laid off, the pilot's advice was useless. There was no one to help us. Eventually we spotted a Qantas official who gave us a number to call, but despite many attempts we could not get through to the staff at his airline who were advising stranded passengers.When Perth's domestic terminal finally opened five hours later, we were the first in line at the ticket desk to try to find out if any other company would honour Ansett's obligations. None would. We had to buy new tickets from Qantas costing £610. By then, many of its domestic flights were full, so we could not follow our original itinerary nor fly on the dates we wanted. We may be able to claim something back at the end of our trip, but this is unlikely to cover the out-of-pocket expenses involved in rearranging an itinerary.
In the town of Kununurra, gateway to the Bungle Bungle and home to fewer than 5,000 people, tour companies rely on the planes to bring in customers. The nearest big town is 10 hours away by road, and when Ansett was grounded Kununurra was virtually cut off from the rest of the world.
The Kununurra Backpackers Adventure Centre proved accommodating about our rearranged plans. The manager, Kenton Day, said: "It's not your fault when a company goes bust. We try to be as flexible as possible." Michelle Brown, from the local Handy Car Hire, said: "Ninety per cent of our business comes from the planes. The situation is very bad."
Other companies were less helpful. We had booked a three-day trip to the Kakadu National Park with Wilderness Tours, costing £300. But because Ansett no longer exists, and all other flights to Darwin were now full, we found we couldn't get there until the following week. However, the company would not change our dates nor refund our money.
Greyhound McCafferty's, the national coach company, is full to capacity on many routes. Kay Van Der Mey from the Greyhound bus office in Broome advised: "Book as early as possible because things have gone belly-up since Ansett pulled out."
But we are not alone. British tourist Chris Thompson has embarked on just about the longest road journey you can take across Australia. From Broome, a tiny pearling station on the edge of the Great Sandy Desert in Western Australia, to Melbourne in Victoria. It will take five days. His first day will take in the 610km from Broome to Port Hedland, described in the Lonely Planet Guide as the "probably Australia's most boring stretch of highway". Chris is stoical, saying: "At least I'll get to see more of Australia."
Gillian Hargreaves is a reporter for 'The World at One' on BBC Radio 4.
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