19 Aug 2021

Travellers given extra 24-hour extension to get home after many left stranded

7:34 pm on 19 August 2021

Travellers stranded in Queenstown have been given a temporary reprieve before the travel window is poised to slam shut.

queenstown airport

Queenstown airport. Photo: 123RF

Hundreds of people are in town trying to get back, and there were concerns they would remain stranded if the window closed at midnight.

Air New Zealand quickly put on extra flights, but because of the unique set up of landing in Queenstown that became a pinch point.

On Thursday afternoon, the prime minister announced the initial 48 hour travel window would be extended by 24 hours until midnight on Friday for flights from Queenstown and sailings on the Cook Strait Ferry.

New Plymouth resident Janine Fenelon and her partner were holidaying in Wanaka when news of the lockdown and the 48-hour travel window came in.

She spent a few hours on hold with Air New Zealand, trying to figure out how they were getting home.

"They were just no flights. We had flights booked for Sunday. But given that Sunday is outside of that 48 hour period, and we were told that Air New Zealand would not be flying past midnight tonight, we made the call to just take whatever options we were offered," Fenelon said.

"There were no options to fly out of Queenstown, so we were offered flights out of Invercargill or Christchurch."

Decision made and flights booked, they started their long trip home on Wednesday morning

"We hopped in the car about 10.45am in the morning, and we drove through to Christchurch, got there at about 4.30pm. Our flight from Christchurch airport was at 6pm. So that flight left on time we arrived in Auckland and then there was a delay in Auckland. Fortunately, they held up the plane for us so we could get onto the flight.

They arrived home about 11pm - instead of a four hour trip it took them 12.

But Fenelon said they were grateful for the help they received, the scenic drive past Aoraki Mt Cook, and to finally be safely at home.

Palmerston North nurse Kari Highstead arrived in Queenstown a few days early to enjoy the sights ahead of a medical conference.

"I arrived on Tuesday and did a few things and then you know, we started to have the announcements and I knew at that point the conference would be cancelled. So I had spoke with my husband and ... said 'Look, I may just stay till Saturday [to] just keep my flight [and] not have to rearrange anything. I'll be fine down here. I have an Airbnb and I have food'."

That all changed when news came through of the 48 hour travel window.

Many phone refreshes and a few calls later, she managed to book a flight out of Queenstown, arriving home tired but relieved by Thursday afternoon.

More time for travellers

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gave travellers a bit more breathing room this afternoon - extending the travel window for another 24 hours.

"We will check in with them again because we have heard that there is high demand there. The issue as you'll know for Queenstown is because of the particular runway and airport situation there, there are certain pilots that have the ability to come in and out of that airport," Ardern said.

"And that does limit the number of flights they're able to bring in but I know Air New Zealand's working very hard to lift their capacity."

Air New Zealand said it was confident there would be enough seats available to help those stranded in Queenstown to get home.

The airline would operate seven services from Queenstown either to Auckland or Wellington tomorrow with 700 additional seats

The Interislander was adding more sailings on Thursday night and on Friday, asking anyone who needs to make a booking to visit their website or ring their call centre.


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