They bought airfares from Jetstar under the heading "bargain bin" – but they didn't expect to be treated like rubbish.
Families, many with small children, turned up to Sydney Airport last month, eagerly awaiting their holiday in Phuket.
The counters were understaffed, the systems chaotic, and the flight delayed.
This created a domino effect: a sudden storm hit the tiny Thai island, forcing the flight to land in Bangkok.
There they waited, on the tarmac, for almost two hours, before being disgorged into the airport with no direction, information, or apology.
My husband was among them. He had managed to get a week off work and was flying to join us.
As the kids slipped down the waterslide, and I sipped a Pina Colada in a pool at the Centara Kata Resort Phuket, we got a message he was stuck in Bangkok.
"Mum, did you and Dad have a fight? Is that why he's not here?" the kids asked, suspiciously.
"No, not this time!" I was relieved to answer. "It's bloody Jetstar."
After all, who hasn't had a "bloody Jetstar" experience?
Sure, the fares are cheaper than those on Singapore Airlines, which deposited us safely at our destination.
But you really do get what you pay for.
Hubby roamed, with a pack of passengers, including babies and toddlers, through Bangkok Airport, trying to find out where they'd be spending the night.
There were no Jetstar staff in the terminal, and calls to international numbers were not answered.
After asking dozens of airport workers, they struck gold: a mysterious man in a black suit directed them to a minibus for a trip to the outskirts of Bangkok.
The welcome sign at the small hotel read, "Food and mini-bar NOT included".
In a further indignity, they were told to share rooms with fellow passengers.
The following morning, they were bussed back to the airport, only to wait for six hours for a flight that night.
It was really no big deal for us – we were at the start of our holiday. But what of the families whose holidays were ruined because their kids were exhausted? Or missed their connections to other islands?
More importantly, where was Jetstar's duty of care?
It's not OK to leave passengers wandering around an international airport with no idea where, when or how they would reach their destination.
Recently, Virgin Australia handled a similar delay with aplomb: passengers received food vouchers, water bottles, and regular updates. Kids are like plants: they wither unless watered and fed regularly.
Upon boarding, every staff member apologised: not obsequiously, just empathetically.
Jetstar finally responded when shamed on social media. But by then it was too late. The damage had been done, to both the brand and passengers.
A letter of complaint was answered two weeks later, full of apologies, but no compensation.
Of course, hubby plans to boycott Jetstar. But sometimes there's no choice. Family budgets are tight.
It's up to Jetstar to treat its passengers with respect. This should come at little cost. At the very least, communicate with customers.
How about these three suggestions, for starters:
- Properly staff check-in counters before Christmas to avoid delays
- Ensure flight attendants inform passengers of contingency plans
- Apologise, especially to parents who've saved all year for a family holiday
Until then, Jetstar will remain a rubbish airline.
Tracey Spicer travelled courtesy of Centara Hotels & Resorts.