March 4, 2024 2:38 am

Jetstar Grounds Half Its Long-Haul Fleet as Thousands Stuck Abroad

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Jetstar Grounds Half Its Long-Haul Fleet as Thousands Stuck Abroad

By Patrick Hatch and Billie Eder

Jetstar has lost half its long-haul aircraft fleet to engineering issues and cannot say when they will all be back in service to help rectify widespread cancellations that have stranded thousands of customers overseas.

The Qantas-owned budget airline has cancelled eight return services from Sydney and Melbourne to Bali since September 1 plus more from Thailand and Japan, and has been unable to offer some customers new flights home more than a week after their original travel dates.

Around 4000 customers in Bali had their return flights cancelled and Jetstar said on Tuesday that around 180 were yet to accept alternative flights from the Indonesian holiday island.

Brisbane woman Nicole De Abel was scheduled to fly with her partner and two young children from Phuket, Thailand, to Sydney on Saturday night but arrived at the airport to discover the flight was cancelled.

Nicole’s mother, Michelle, said the earliest the family could rebook was September 12 – nine days after they were due to fly home.

“They got to the airport, no notification at all that the flight had been cancelled… no reason as to why the flights had been cancelled”, she said. “They have been over there for five weeks and they want to come home.”

Jetstar operates 11 Boeing 787 Dreamliners, and this masthead has confirmed that six are currently grounded.

A Jetstar spokesman said the cancellations were caused by engineering issues with several long-haul Boeing 787s, including one being hit by a bird, damage from hitting an item on a runway, and unexpected delays sourcing a spare part from the United States due to supply chain constraints.

“The first of the impacted aircraft is due to return to service today and the others will progressively return as quickly as possible, however safety remains our first priority,” an airline spokesman said.

The grounded jets included the 787 that was hit by a freak lightening strike on a flight from Melbourne to the Gold Coast on May 7, as revealed by The Age and Sydney Morning Herald, which caused extensive damage to its fuselage.

Jetstar said at the time that it expected the aircraft to be grounded for six to eight weeks, but it remains out of service three-and-a-half months later.

Two other 787s have not flown for almost two weeks, while two more have been grounded for six and four days, according to the aircraft tracking website FlightRadar24.

“We sincerely apologise for the frustration and inconvenience this disruption has caused our customers,” the Jetstar spokesman said.

“Our teams are working hard to get passengers on their way as soon as possible – we are putting on five special services to bring people home and booking seats on Qantas flights also.”

The budget carrier’s woes are the latest blow to the Qantas Group after a shocking run of customer service issues that have damaged its reputation as travel demand bounces back post-pandemic.

Two weeks ago Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce apologised to customers for widespread delays, cancellations of flights and lost baggage, which he said were caused by staff shortages. The airline laid off around 8000 employees – or close to a third of its workforce – when COVID-19 grounded its operations.

Airport chaos could worsen next week as workers from the baggage handling company Dnata, a contractor to Qantas and more than a dozen international airlines, prepare for a 24-hour strike on September 12.

Jetstar is offering to passengers up to $150 per hotel room and $30 per person for food while they are stranded overseas. The airline was scheduled to operate 26 flights from Bali to Australia between Monday and Thursday.

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