Woman’s nightmare as Qantas flight stranded in Azerbaijan

A passenger whose family was left stranded on Christmas Eve after the flight they were on 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 the smoke alarm had been triggered in the cargo hold.

Kylie Palmqvist and her family were on-board the flight, after catching a 5pm flight from Sydney through to Singapore on their way to London.

Ms Palmqvist was born in Sweden, but has lived in Sydney with her family for about 12 years.

“About half way through the flight from Singapore to Heathrow, my daughter said to me that the plane is now flying the wrong way on the flight map, and she was right, although we didn’t hear anything from the crew for another 10 minutes,” Ms Palmqvist told NCA NewsWire.

She said they were then advised the aircraft would be landing in Azerbaijan because of the smoke alarm on-board.

“The pilot kept saying ‘safety first,’ which is of course the right attitude, although to be honest the pilot seemed a little over cautious from the get go on the plane,” she said.

“Landing in Azerbaijan was exciting, being met by lots of flashing lights, fire trucks and emergency vehicles but, I have to say that is where the excitement ended.”

After disembarking the aircraft, the passengers were then transported to the terminal via bus.

There, they were told the team hoped they could check the plane and be on their way within a few hours, but Ms Palmqvist and her family, as well as the other passengers, sat in the airport for 11 hours.

“We literally sat in the airport with no information for what turned out to be 11 hours,” she said.

“I can understand in this time that Qantas was trying to decide what to do with 356 passengers, but this was the start of what I now can say was a complete lack of communication between the passengers and Qantas.”

In a statement released by the airline on Christmas Eve, Qantas said they were communicating with those affected.

“We’re providing regular updates to customers on the recovery plan,” Qantas said.

After 11 hours of waiting without information, Ms Palmqvist said Baku Airport staff began manually entering passports into their system.

“This process was facilitated through the use of a big plastic bag where each of us placed our passports and just crossed our fingers that they would come back.

“The return of our passports was interesting, Qantas staff and proactive passengers yelling names out and just hoping we were all honest, which of course we were.”

From there, the passengers were transported to the Marriott Hotel in Baku, where it took them another hour to check in.

“We were lucky enough to get ahead of the crowd, it still took us almost an hour to check in, but those poor souls that came in after us, it took them hours.”

She said the room smelled of sewage, but she was just happy to have a bed to lie in after waiting at the airport for so long.

Despite the confusion and the inconvenience, Ms Palmqvist said Baku was a beautiful city, and a place she never would have visited if the “emergency” hadn’t happened.

“We were going to make a good thing from a bad situation and we enjoyed walking through the city on (Christmas Eve).”

Also celebrating her daughter’s 14th birthday, Kylie said it was an unexpected surprise she spent her special day in a foreign city.

“She couldn’t have expected to spend it in Azerbaijan, she would have rather spent it in Sweden, celebrating Christmas and her birthday with her family – some of whom she hasn’t seen in over seven years,” Ms Palmqvist said.

“My biggest issue with the whole situation was that we only received a few text messages informing us about what was happening – I know I woke a few times during the night checking to see if there was any information which there wasn’t, and being Christmas everyone was wanting to be with their loved ones.”

She said when they finally boarded the recovery Qantas flight, staff, who had been in the same situation as passengers, were thanking everyone for their understanding.

“They were thanking us for our understanding and congratulating each other for how the situation was handled, but they had no information about what would happen when we arrived in the UK, saying that people would meet us at the gate on arrival which of course (they didn’t).

“I saw many distressed customers who simply had no information about what to do next.”

As they finally arrived in Heathrow after such a delayed journey, they were faced with more chaos.

Ms Palmqvist said they had already missed two connecting flights, and had to try and figure out where their luggage had ended up.

“Let’s say that my husband, myself and our three teenage kids were at our wits end,” she said.

“With tears in my eyes we had to make a decision, try and get the next connecting flight or go back and see if we could find our luggage.

She said she was thankful for the trackable Apple tags that were on their luggage, as she was able to track them to a nearby terminal.

Chatting to NCA NewsWire while still on their journey, Kylie said they still had four hours to wait until their third connecting flight, with the family still hopeful they’ll be able to make it to their final destination.

After finally landing in Copenhagen, the family then had another 3 hour drive to Gothenburg where their family lives.

“After a 27 hour adventure, we made it at 1am and went straight to sleep.”

“How does Qantas make up for that?”

On Christmas Eve, the airline acknowledged the incident’s impact on customers’ plans.

“We know this has been a significant disruption for customers ahead of Christmas, however we will always put safety before schedule,” the airline said.

“We have apologised and thank them for their patience while we finalised the recovery plans.”

Qantas has been contacted for comments.

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