16 Apr 2020

Covid-19: Mercy flight out of India too expensive for some

6:41 am on 16 April 2020

A New Zealand man in India is considering turning down the offer of a government-chartered flight to get his family home because it would put him in too much debt.

Passengers wait for their flights at Auckland Airport.

Winston Peters says a seat on the flights would be priced similarly to the one out of Peru, which cost more than $5000 per person. Photo: 123RF

Foreign Minister Winston Peters confirmed on Sunday the government was in discussions to bring stranded Kiwis home from India.

Peters said a seat on the flights would be priced similarly to the one out of Peru, which cost more than $5000 per person.

Lovinder Singh Buttar is stuck in the north Indian state of Punjab, after what was meant to be a short holiday visiting friends and relatives. He's one of at least 1000 New Zealand citizens and permanent residents in India.

He now faces a hefty price tag to get himself and his wife and child back to Hamilton.

"My priority is to come back home because I have to pay rent and everything. But going into debt of $15,000 is not an option," Buttar said.

Having already lost his job in New Zealand, he says he might refuse the government's flight offer and instead take a gamble on the return of commercial flights to save money.

"If it's going to cost that much surely I would consider another month or so here, because maybe flights will start again at the end of May or start of June."

Others trapped in India face a similar situation, with jobs, rent, and other commitments piling up in New Zealand.

Some have already paid out more than they'd budgeted for - spending money on cancelled flights and extra accommodation that they didn't think they'd need.

Wellingtonian Varun Mehandiratta is also in Punjab with his wife and child.

He said he was pleased to have an option to go home, even if it means the difficulty of a close-quarters quarantine with a 10-month-old baby in a hotel room. Money's also on his mind.

"The cost of the flight - Winston [Peters] has hinted it'll be close to $5500 per person. Not many people can afford that," Mehandiratta said.

He can't understand why it will cost so much. But with his wife's job at risk, they might just have to bite the bullet.

"My wife's been given a deadline by her employer that if she doesn't return to her work by 5 May, then she'll be given redundancy," he said.

"We don't know when the next window of opportunity's going to be [to fly out]. We just want this opportunity to be fair, that's all."

Retired Waihi Beach man Don Stuart and his wife managed to get seats on a private charter flight earlier this week, organised by a group of enterprising Australians, for $2300 each.

They arrived in Auckland on Monday, and are now in mandatory quarantine.

"We can't understand why we were being told by the foreign minister [Winston Peters] that it was a very complex and difficult matter to arrange. And here we have a private group getting that flight organised and getting 440 people out of India," Stuart said.

New Zealanders in other countries are still crying out for help.

Just over the border in Pakistan, west Aucklander Qanit Jawed is in Karachi, with another 80 New Zealanders who've had no hint a repatriation flight will be coming for them.

His wife and daughter are here, and without a government chartered flight, he has no idea when he might be able to see them.

"I am quite stressed and I'm feeling hopeless at the moment. To be honest I don't expect any flights, even in June."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says this has been the largest consular response they've ever undertaken. But without further flights, other New Zealanders remain stuck overseas, desperately wanting to return home.

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