18 Mar 2020

New Zealander stuck in UK: 'It's a sea of anxiousness, frustration'

3:21 pm on 18 March 2020

A New Zealander stuck in London's Heathrow Airport amid the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis says bewildered passengers have been crying, getting angry and pushing their way into queues.

Travellers wearing a mask wait oustside an Heathrow's airport terminal, in west London, on March 16, 2020.

Travellers wait outside an Heathrow Airport terminal in London. Photo: AFP

Haydn Read of Whakatāne was in a queue with "a very long line" of other New Zealanders who were all blocked from boarding an Air New Zealand flight home today.

He and his partner had cut short a six-week stay to get on the flight.

"When we arrived at the airport, we found out only people who had American visas or green cards - if you were going through Los Angeles - would be able to get on the plane," Dr Read said.

"Other than that, you were stopped at the gate literally, and that included all of us who had transit visas."

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump extended a travel ban to Britain and Ireland, adding them to the already banned 26 European countries.

Read said it triggered a "mad rush" to figure out how to get home.

"People were crying," he said.

"Some people were quite nasty about it. People tried to push into lines where they were trying to book on other airlines.

"It's a moving sea of anxiousness, a little bit of hostility, frustration, bewilderment."

There was a lack of direction, he said.

"But there was nothing. There was nothing at the airline. No government officials at the airlines ... to give some support or direction for folks who are trying to get home.

"There's lots of information around what is going on at home ... but actually it's not visible here, what NZ Inc is doing here."

Most travellers could afford a fare out, but there were simply no planes, and he said the government should step in to get Air New Zealand to put on more flights.

"Just throwing out the advice to get home is all very well and good, by MFAT, if you can't."

His advice to anyone trying to get back is to front up to an airline desk at an airport.

"They can make decisions at the desk much easier than they can anywhere else."

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He and his partner, who are experienced travellers, paid thousands to get an Emirates business class ticket on a flight tomorrow via Asia.

"We literally walked straight to Emirates [desk in Heathrow] and we were told we were the last to get onto that plane.

"Otherwise I'm not sure what would've happened."

He said not everyone at the airport was that lucky.

The silver lining was they could book overnight accommodation easily because hotels near Heathrow had so many Covid-19 cancellations, he said.

Every person arriving in New Zealand apart from those coming from the Pacific islands will have to self- isolate for two weeks on arrival, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced last week.

Foreign travellers arriving from mainland China and Iran have been banned from entering the country.

As Covid-19 spreads around the world, it can be daunting keeping up with the information. For RNZ, our responsibility is to give you verified, up to the minute, trustworthy information to help you make decisions about your lives and your health. We'll also be asking questions of officials and decision makers about how they're responding to the virus. Our aim is to keep you informed.

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