Christchurch airport was crowded but calm at 6am yesterday.
People, many of whom looked like they’d been camped there overnight, queued patiently and staff circulated, checking if anyone needed help and giving information.
The boarding call for my flight to Auckland came at 6.30 but we waited more than half an hour while stand-by passengers boarded before we took off. The flight attendant apologised for the delay and kept us informed of progress.
An elderly woman was brought on in a wheelchair and was demanding from the start. Flight attendants dealt with her demands – and they were demands, not requests – calmly and politely.
A woman with a baby and two other pre-schoolers was sitting behind her. As the plane started descending the two-year-old stated crying. The elderly woman grabbed the arm of the flight attendant as she passed and told her to shut the boy up.
The attendant explained, politely, that she couldn’t. The elderly woman said in that case she would, undid her seat belt and started to stand. The attendant, politely, calmly and very firmly, told her to sit back down and stay put.
She did but then threw a tantrum, muttering, beating her feet on the floor and her arms on her knees in a pretty good imitation of the toddler behind her.
As soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off the elderly woman stood up and started berating the attendant again. She responded calmly and politely, asked her to sit down because her wheelchair wouldn’t be at the door yet and other people would have to get off first.
She did as she was asked with ill-grace.
It might have been a reaction to stress or maybe she’s ill-tempered and inconsiderate at the best of times. Whichever it was the attendant gets top marks for the way she handled her.
About 20 people in high-viz vests greeted us as we came out of the security gate – Red Cross, Victim Support, the Salvation Army. An announcement told anyone coming in from Christchurch who needed help should go to them.
By lunchtime it was obvious the meeting I was at was going to finish early and I requested an earlier flight home. The change would normally have cost an extra $160 but because I was going to Christchurch Air New Zealand waived the charge.
Among the passengers on that flight were fire fighters from Britain who’d come to help with the earthquake recovery. When the pilot welcomed them, they got a round of applause from the rest of us.
Any other time I’ve come in to Christchurch from the north we’ve flown over the city. Yesterday we skirted round to the west and approached the airport from the south. I don’t know if this was a deliberate detour to avoid the worst of the destruction but we could see no signs of damage to the buildings we flew over.
But the faces on the crowds, queuing, sitting, lying against walls and the extra police and security reminded us of the horror the city was enduring.
In the face of that everyone is doing what they can to help people feel better – even the airport car park management. There were signs all over the parking machines saying please don’t pay, there’s no charge to exit.