My flight was one of two to depart at 4:20pm, but because the inbound flight was delayed, we were now scheduled to depart at 4:45pm, and start boarding at 4:25pm. About 5 minutes before boarding was due to start I thought I should probably go to the toilet and get packed up and ready to go. On my way to the toilet, I stopped to look at the view of the hills to the east out of the big picture windows. By the time I came out of the toilets, all I could see out of that window was white. The entire airport was engulfed in a blizzard. It was like being inside a snow globe. Over the next hour, they just kept delaying the flights by 15 minutes at a time, until finally around 5:30pm there was a bit of a break.
They boarded two planes (though not mine) and tried to take off but weren’t able to find a big enough gap. Eventually, all the passengers were brought back inside the terminal and they announced that the airport was closed and all flights that night were cancelled. The announcements in the terminal told us to call Air New Zealand's 0800 number to rebook our flights. They also told us to collect our bags from the baggage claim area and to try to leave the terminal and return to Dunedin while the roads were still passable.
While I was down collecting my bags, I saw dozens of people were queuing up at the service desk downstairs to try and get rebooked. I had decided already that I was probably going to stay at the terminal and wait for a flight, and not take the risk of going into Dunedin without anywhere to stay. I tried to call AirNZ but just ended up on hold for about 20 minutes. I went back upstairs to the lounge which was by now almost empty - only 3 or 4 others had got their bags and come back up like I had. I told the guy at the desk that I'd been on hold for 20 minutes so far and he took pity on me and rebooked me onto the Monday 9:45am flight.
Shortly after that they announced that the road between Dunedin and the airport was now closed due to snow and ice. A few people decided to try their luck in Mosgiel, which lies between Dunedin and the airport, but there was always a risk of getting stuck on the way there, or not getting back out to the airport the next morning, plus Mosgiel isn’t exactly a metropolis – I’d no idea how much accommodation would even be available.
I got my laptop out of my bag and quickly logged on to Cecil and cancelled my classes. I planned to stay in the Koru lounge as long as they would let us and then go downstairs to the terminal with everyone else. They basically closed the lounge immediately - we got to sit there for 15 minutes while they cleaned up and then we had to leave. Down in the main waiting area there was a massive queue for the only cafe still open. They mostly had pies, pizza, lasagne and sandwiches - nothing gluten free. After sitting around for about 20 minutes I figured that even if I didn't eat anything, I should probably get something to drink, so I queued for half an hour for a bottle of water and a mochaccino. By the time I made it to the front of the queue, they were pretty much out of food. While I was in the queue, the Pacific Blue staff were walking around talking to all their customers, offering to help with finding accommodation or transport, and handing out vouchers for the food. I thought that was quite a nice touch from them.
There were periodic updates over the PA system about transport into Dunedin. They announced that the road was closed and that there were going to be no more shuttles going to Dunedin that night but that the two shuttles still there would take people to Mosgiel. A little while later they announced that there were a couple of 4WDs going to Dunedin if anyone want to get a ride. And later still, there was one last shuttle taking people to Mosgiel. At this point, I could see about 50 or 60 people sitting around the terminal, but there may have been more down at the check-in desks downstairs. I read a book but basically we all just settled in to wait.
Airport staff came around every now and then and a man in front of me asked if they would open up the gate lounges so we would have somewhere to lie down. The guy in fluoro went off to ask and must have been successful because about 20 mins later they opened up the restricted area and let us head down to the gate lounge on the southeastern corner of the airport. I grabbed myself a set of 3 seats up against the back wall. I figured that being close to the windows was probably going to make for a cold night and I was best to be as far from them as possible. About 20 or 30 other people eventually filtered down to the gate lounge. I know another bunch went upstairs to the conference room - they were all travelling together for some ice skating thing.
About 15 minutes after we got into the gate lounge, we were told that Red Cross had brought us some blankets and these were available down on the ground floor. There was a bale of about 30 standard grey blankets (I got one of those) and there was also a mixture of dozens of other duvets, quilts, sheets, bedspreads etc. The guy said they had been donated for Christchurch but weren't used. He'd got through from Dunedin in a 4WD truck and said it had taken him over an hour.
Dunedin airport announced there were some urns with coffee and tea available upstairs in the terminal. By now it was about 10pm and all the cafes had shut long before. Most of us were trying to lie down and get some rest in the gate lounge. Someone asked for the lights to be turned off so we could sleep ... or at least, try to. After a while I was uncomfortable on the seats and moved onto the floor. Then I was quite cold and tried to wrap myself up even tighter. I was grateful I had my big fluffy dressing gown and my slippers as well as the blanket. I snapped this picture of one of the 737s waiting outside the gate lounge in the snow, and the second picture I took in the gate lounge just before they turned out the lights.
During the night, the temperature dropped and dropped and dropped and I tried to wrap myself up tighter and tighter. Around 3am someone figured out that when they'd turned off the lights, all the heating turned off too. So they turned all the lights back on and slowly a bit of warmth returned. I noticed that everyone else had abandoned the seats for the floor also. I didn't sleep particularly well, but managed to snooze a bit until they came around at 6am to clear out the gate lounge and start prepping for the flights they hoped would arrive today.