Kiwis stuck in Peru plead with NZ government for help after being denied trip home

Twenty-four Kiwis stuck in Peru are pleading for the New Zealand government for help after being denied a return home because a flight covering the last leg of their trip - from Sydney to Auckland - was cancelled.

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Maree Larsen is one of 24 New Zealanders stuck in Peru after being denied a return home because a connecting Air New Zealand flight from Sydney to Auckland was cancelled. Source: 1 NEWS

Maree Larsen said she and her husband contacted the New Zealand Embassy in Santiago, where they advised to buy tickets. They were charged around $5160 each to fly to Sydney due to the cost of returning back to South America empty.

“We basically pay for the return flight from South America, which doubled the price,” Ms Larsen said.

She said she received an email from the Peruvian government yesterday saying their repatriation flight would take place on Sunday, but she was then told by charter company Chimu Adventures today that they would be unable to board the flight as Air New Zealand had cancelled flights from Sydney to New Zealand on Tuesday. 

"New Zealanders can transit through Sydney, but they have to leave on the same day that they arrive.

“It’s not a 24-hour period, it’s a calendar date, so if you arrive on Tuesday, you have to leave on Tuesday, but apparently, Air New Zealand have cancelled all flights out of Sydney on Tuesday, so that flight arrives early in the morning on Tuesday and there are no flights at all, and we can’t stay in the airport overnight, so we’ve been bumped off the flight," she said.

Air New Zealand flights are available on Monday and Wednesday, but not Tuesday, due to a change in the flight schedule.

She said the flight cancellations “came completely and utterly out of the blue”.

“There was never any indication that that was going to happen. As far as we know, the whole thing just happened about an hour ago.”

She said the couple were unable to contact Air New Zealand as they did not receive an arrival time.

“That was all supposed to be in an email arriving tomorrow telling us what time we would be picked up and the timings of the flight.

"It never entered our mind that they would cancel most of the flights. We’re devastated.”

Her husband, Trevor, said the New Zealand Government "need to start taking care of us".

"They talk about repatriation flights as though they’re actually running them themselves and they’re not, as far as I can see," he said.

“This is very, very poor. The Government have not talked with Air New Zealand and vice versa. How could this happen?”

Air New Zealand told 1 NEWS they were unaware that there were Kiwis being repatriated on the flight, and that they would have done what they could had they been aware of the situation.

Ms Larsen said the New Zealand consulate had actively encouraged the couple to book on the flights.

“They actively encouraged us to buy these extortionately expensive tickets and, as Trevor says, they’re not talking to each other. The consulate are not talking to Air New Zealand, otherwise, Air New Zealand would have known that there was going to be 24 Kiwis coming in.

“I don’t know whether it was Winston Peters or the Prime Minister, but somebody’s advice was ‘be prepared to hunker down’ - that’s what our choices are at the moment.”

Ms Larsen said the couple are currently staying a backpackers hostel, but are concerned it will close down as more people return home.

“We are a little concerned that if the numbers dwindle too low, the place will close down and we’ll have to find somewhere else.”
A Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) spokesperson told 1 NEWS they were advised that Chimu Adventures, the company intending to fly stranded tourists to Sydney from Lima, could no longer include New Zealanders on their charter flight.

"A key factor in the company’s decision was that the time gap between the arrival of the charter flight into Sydney and the first available onward flight to New Zealand could not meet Australia’s transit requirements. Transits must occur on the same day as arrival, with passengers remaining in the transit area," the spokesperson said.

The New Zealand Embassy in Santiago is currently working with the Australian Embassy in Lima on future options for New Zealanders looking to leave Peru, the spokesperson said. The New Zealand Embassy remains in regular contact with a number of Kiwis stranded in the country.

"This is an increasingly difficult situation and MFAT fully appreciates the heightened stress many travellers are facing."