A passenger whose family was stranded on Christmas Eve after their flight was forced to land in Azerbaijan has revealed the extent of the chaos that unfolded.
On December 24, a Qantas flight from Singapore to Heathrow was forced to land at Baku Airport in Azerbaijan after reports said the smoke detector in the cargo hold went off.
Kylie Palmqvist and her family were on board the plane after catching a 5pm flight from Sydney to Singapore en route to London.
Ms Palmqvist was born in Sweden but has lived in Sydney with her family for around 12 years.
“About halfway through the flight from Singapore to Heathrow, my daughter told me that on the flight map the plane is now flying in the wrong direction, and she was right, although we didn’t hear from the crew for another 10 minutes,” Ms. said Palmqvist told NCA NewsWire.
She said they were then told the plane would land in Azerbaijan because of the smoke detector on board.
“The pilot kept saying ‘safety first’, which of course is the right attitude, although to be honest the pilot seemed a bit overcautious from the start,” she said.
“Landing in Azerbaijan was exciting as I was greeted by lots of blue lights, fire engines and emergency vehicles, but I have to say that the excitement ended there.”
After disembarking from the aircraft, passengers were then transported to the terminal by bus.
There they were told the team hoped they could check the plane and be on their way within hours, but Ms Palmqvist and her family, along with the other passengers, sat at the airport for 11 hours.
“We sat at the airport for literally 11 hours with no information,” she said.
“I can understand at this point Qantas trying to decide what to do with 356 passengers but this was the start of what I can now say that there was a complete lack of communication between the passengers and Qantas.”
In a statement released by the airline on Christmas Eve, Qantas said it was communicating with those affected.
“We keep our customers regularly informed of the recovery plan,” Qantas said.
After waiting 11 hours with no information, Ms Palmqvist said, Baku Airport staff began manually entering passports into their system.
“This process was made easier by using a large plastic bag that we each put our passports in and just crossed our fingers that they would come back.
“The return of our passports was interesting, Qantas staff and proactive passengers calling names just hoping we were all being honest, which of course we were.”
From there, passengers were transported to the Marriott Hotel in Baku, where it took them another hour to check in.
“We were fortunate to be ahead of the crowd, it still took almost an hour to check in but those poor souls following behind us took hours.”
She said the room smelled like sewage, but she was just glad to have a bed to lie in after waiting so long at the airport.
Despite the confusion and inconvenience, Ms Palmqvist said Baku is a beautiful city and a place she would never have visited had the “emergency” not struck.
“We wanted to make something good out of a bad situation and enjoyed walking around town on (Christmas Eve).”
Kylie also celebrated her daughter’s 14th birthday and said it was an unexpected surprise that she spent her special day in a foreign city.
“She couldn’t have waited to spend it in Azerbaijan, she would rather have spent it in Sweden celebrating Christmas and her birthday with her family – some of whom she hasn’t seen in over seven years,” said Ms Palmqvist.
“My biggest issue with the whole situation was that we only received a couple of text messages letting us know what happened – I know I woke up a couple of times during the night to see if there was any information , which didn’t exist, and since it was Christmas everyone wanted to be with their loved ones.”
She said when they finally boarded the Qantas salvage flight, staff who found themselves in the same situation as the passengers thanked everyone for their understanding.
“They thanked us for our understanding and congratulated each other on how the situation was being handled, but they had no information on what would happen when we arrived in the UK and said people would meet us at the gate on arrival , which of course ( they don’t have).
“I’ve seen many distraught customers who just didn’t have any information about what to do next.”
When they finally arrived at Heathrow after such a delayed journey, they were faced with even more chaos.
Ms Palmqvist said they had already missed two connecting flights and were having to try to find out where their luggage ended up.
“Let’s say my husband, I and our three teenage children were at our wits’ end,” she said.
“With tears in our eyes we had to make a decision, try to catch the next connecting flight or go back and see if we can find our luggage.
She said she was grateful for the trackable Apple tags found on her luggage as she could track them to a nearby terminal.
Chatting to NCA NewsWire during her trip, Kylie said they still had four hours to wait for their third connecting flight and the family still hopes they can make it to their final destination.
After the family finally landed in Copenhagen, they still had another 3 hours drive to Gothenburg where their family lives.
“After a 27 hour adventure, we made it at 1am and fell asleep straight away.”
“How does Qantas make up for that?”
On Christmas Eve, the airline confirmed the impact of the incident on customers’ plans.
“We know this was a significant disruption to customers ahead of Christmas, but we will always put safety ahead of schedule,” the airline said.
“We apologize and thank you for your patience while we finalize recovery plans.”
Qantas has been contacted for comments.
Originally released as a passenger on a Qantas flight stranded in Azerbaijan, he reveals how the chaos unfolded