30 Mar 2020

Covid-19: New Zealanders bumped off repatriation flight from Peru appeal for help

7:48 pm on 30 March 2020

Desperate New Zealanders stuck in Peru are pleading with the government for help, after they were bumped off an Australian commercial charter flight that was meant to get them home.

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Photo: lenor/123RF

Over the weekend, 24 Kiwis - who had paid more than $5000 each for seats - were told by the travel company organising the flight - Chimu Adventures - that they couldn't board, because there were no same-day flights from Sydney to Auckland once they landed.

But that turned out not to be the case and there is a flight, but it was too late to make any changes.

One of the New Zealanders, Sarah Cook, said the news was devastating.

"Today we were walking back from the supermarket and we saw our flight leave and we were like, 'oh there goes our flight, we should have been on that, we should be going home right now'."

Cook said they woke up to an email this morning from Chimu Adventures, apologising for the mistake and acknowledging there was a flight that would have got them home to New Zealand after they landed in Australia.

Caleb Nicol, who is holed up in a hostel in Lima, had booked seats on the Chimu Adventures flight too.

"It was just gutting, you know we've had dagger after dagger after dagger and this was literally our one option, it was our golden ticket out."

Nicol got in touch with his travel agent back in New Zealand as soon as he heard he wouldn't be able to get on the Chimu flight.

He said she found the LATAM Airlines flight from Sydney to Auckland and double-checked that it hadn't been cancelled.

"We made Chimu very aware of this and they told us they had confirmation from LATAM that flight was not going to operate, however my travel agent back home had a confirmation email that that flight was 100 percent leaving the ground, but Chimu wouldn't put us back on the plane."


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    Nicol said New Zealanders in Peru had been encouraged to sign up for the Chimu flight by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

    "We have it in an email, that was their advice to us and we did, now that that's fallen through, we need help, that's it, we have no way to get home now."

    Another New Zealand traveller caught up in the chaos, Jack Jones, said Chimu Adventures had done everything it could to get them home.

    "The issue here has been a breakdown of communication between everyone, and I think you have to feel for the position of a private Australian tourist company trying to organise with three different governments to get us home."

    Cook said while no one party was entirely to blame, it was time for the New Zealand government to step in and help.

    "Chimu has actually been doing something at least in trying to get us on this flight, unfortunately who they were working with - the New Zealand government, the Australia government, Air New Zealand and LATAM - everyone just kind of failed us, because none of them were talking to each other."

    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has previously said government-arranged repatriation flights would be extremely difficult to organise.

    Last week, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) advised New Zealanders overseas to think about staying where they are, because the window to get home via commercial flights had effectively closed.

    MFAT is in contact with more than 24,000 New Zealanders overseas seeking advice or assistance, including almost 70 New Zealanders in Peru,

    In a statement, MFAT said the New Zealand Embassy in Santiago worked closely with both the travel company in Peru and the Australian Embassy in Lima to try and make the charter flight work.

    "The charter plane company's decision to not include New Zealanders on the flight on Sunday, was a result of the time gap between the arrival of the charter flight into Sydney and the first available onward flight to New Zealand, which could not meet Australia's current transit requirements.

    "We are continuing to investigate options to help the New Zealanders return home. The New Zealand Embassy in Santiago is working closely with the Australian Embassy in Lima on future options."

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