Travel Tips: Missed Approach

I flew this week into Wellington, (North Island) New Zealand with Qantas on a Boeing 737 called Bellbird. (plane’s rego is ZK-JTQ).Wellington airport is built on a stretch of low-lying land. It has only one runway which starts at Wellington Harbour  to the north and and finishes at Cook Strait to the south. (Cook Strait separates the two islands of New Zealand). This means your landing has to avoid water on both ends of the runway- after dodging some hills to get down. Worse, the airport is universally known for its rough weather (Check out this video of a Wellington attempted landing) because of the massive crosswinds that come up from Cook Strait. Virgin awards it one of the ten most scarey landings in the world! In fact many commentators believe it to be the 3rd scariest in the world!!!

I have used Wellington airport 25 times and have mostly enjoyed the experience. This week was no exception. We descended over the south island of New Zealand and crossed Cook Strait toward Wellington. The cabin crew were ordered to their seats early because of turbulence-always a bad sign! It was a clear night and the beautiful moon was almost full. Below us, we could see the rough seas of Cook Strait reflecting in the moonlight and ahead we could see the lights of Wellington. As we descended, the 737 began roller coasting and bouncing. The cabin became very quiet as passengers listened or watched (and I imagine some were praying as the plane bounced through the wind).

Soon the runway was in sight. We did a huge rollercoaster lurch as we approached the airport perimeter. Wheels down, lights on, flaps adjusted…Runway metres away. Suddenly the engines roared into life and we were climbing rapidly. My ears popped as we accelerated up still bouncing in the wind. I turned to the guy next to me: “missed approach“. He stared at me wide eyed terrified, like a kangaroo caught in headlights! The woman behind me loudly said “S**t, S**t, S**t”. We continued north and then moved West. At this point the First officer spoke on the PA: ” We re just making a go around. We decided that it was too windy for a landing so we will go and try again. The wind looks like it will be better the next time“. We flew back south and then aimed back toward the runway.

A go-around/ missed approach/ aborted landing/ rejected landing are all variations on the same theme. The Pilots judge it to be too dangerous to land the plane in the conditions. I think a missed approach is a good thing. I would rather a pilot didnt try if they are not sure it going to work! But its interesting at these times, you reflect how the lives of 200 people are in the hands of two people. You hope they are well trained, well paid and well rested!

Needless to say on our second approach, the silence inside the plane was very intense. We rollercoasted in again but this time, wheels hit the tarmac for what was actually a very smooth landing.  Now everyone on board had an interesting landing story to tell their friends, family and blog network!

I fly out of Wellington two times this week! To Nelson (coming back by ferry) and Auckland.

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