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'You’re just bloody totally shocked' — Travellers incorrectly told by Air NZ their flight to Brisbane was quarantine-free

Some Kiwis have unexpectedly found themselves having to quarantine for 14 days in Brisbane after flying there from Auckland earlier this week, saying that’s despite Air New Zealand staff assuring them they were on a quarantine-free flight.

Eryca Rawiri in a quarantine facility in Brisbane Source: Eryca Rawiri

It comes as Air NZ announced on Wednesday it would be operating its first quarantine-free flight from Auckland to Brisbane yesterday morning. Queensland confirmed in mid-December last year it would allow people from New Zealand to skip quarantine if they met certain conditions.

But 1 NEWS has spoken to two people who say even before the Wednesday announcement and before Brisbane today was placed in a snap lockdown, they were given the impression they were on a “green” flight — one that only carries passengers from New Zealand — and wouldn’t need to quarantine upon arrival.

Hamilton teacher Eryca Rawiri left Auckland for Brisbane on NZ147 on Tuesday morning. Wanting to visit family for the school holidays, she booked the flight two months ago.

Air NZ, at the time, told her it wasn’t a quarantine-free flight, she said.

“Then that was cancelled. They re-booked me to fly on Monday the 4th and they said ‘This is a non-quarantine flight’. I was elated.”

Rawiri said the airline then called her on New Year’s Day to tell her the flight had been cancelled, and she’d been moved to the Tuesday flight. When she got to the airport that day, Rawiri said she was told by two Air NZ check-in staff she was on a quarantine-free flight.

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Air NZ to operate first quarantine-free flight to Brisbane tomorrow

“Got off the plane [in Brisbane] and we were met by police. They give us this piece of paper which says you will be processed through customs and you’ll be going to a quarantine facility.

“And, of course, you’re just bloody totally shocked.”

She said she tried to explain the situation, but was told the flight wasn’t quarantine-free. She was then told to make an application with Queensland’s health department.

In an email seen by 1 NEWS, Queensland Health said NZ147 “has not been deemed to be a quarantine-free flight” and asked her to seek “additional documentation” to support her application to be exempt from quarantine.

She now has to pay to stay in quarantine for 14 days. All up, she estimated the cancellation and the stay would cost her more than $3000. A single adult is required to pay AU$2800 to stay in a quarantine facility in Queensland.

Bronwyn Hayes, who was on the same flight as Rawiri, detailed a similar experience.

Hayes, a nurse who moved to Cairns 25 years ago, returned home to New Zealand in August last year after the death of her father and brother.

She booked her ticket in August. Like Rawiri, her flights were cancelled and re-booked numerous times before she flew from Auckland on Tuesday.

While her ticket was being re-booked, there was still some uncertainty about whether or not they would be quarantine-free. But, once she got to the airport, that had changed, she said.

“Staff at the airport were assuring us that it was quarantine-free, and we figured they knew what they were talking about.”

Hayes said she was in touch with three other Kiwis on the flight, including Rawiri, who were all in the same position as her. She said there were about a dozen people on the flight.

“We were just a bit disheartened by the fact that we’ve been told by Air New Zealand that it was ‘green’, and we’ve ended up in quarantine,” she said.

“They could have at least ‘fessed up and said, ‘Thursday’s a green flight for sure. Do you want to be on?’”

Both passengers said they had contacted Air NZ about their situation, and said they wanted the airline to explain what had happened.

AIR NEW ZEALAND RESPONDS

Air NZ acknowledged there was “confusion” over the status of NZ147 on Tuesday. 

“Staff checked with Queensland authorities who also believed this flight could operate quarantine-free. Unfortunately, this information about it being a quarantine-free service was incorrect and passed on,” a spokesperson said.

She said the airline received approval from authorities in Australia “late on Tuesday” to operate quarantine-free flights.

“In preparation for these quarantine-free flights, we made some changes to flights so that those needing to quarantine and those able to travel quarantine-free would be on separate flights.

“While we awaited approval from authorities in Australia to operate quarantine-free flights, email and text communications were sent to all customers who we had contact information for to advise that they would be required to quarantine on arrival into Brisbane.”

The spokesperson said the airline had been in touch with Hayes, and would get in touch with Rawiri.

“We sincerely apologise for the confusion around this flight and for the inconvenience caused.”

The spokesperson confirmed yesterday’s flight from Auckland to Brisbane was, indeed, quarantine-free.

WHAT IS A QUARANTINE-FREE FLIGHT?

Following Wednesday's announcement by Air NZ, passengers based in New Zealand will only be able to book quarantine-free flights to Brisbane.

To be eligible for quarantine-free travel, a person must have been in New Zealand for 14 days or more and not been in a “designated hotspot” of Covid-19. They must also travel to Australia on a quarantine-free flight. The Australian Government defines a quarantine-free flight as one that only carries passengers who meet these criteria.

Whether or not a flight is quarantine-free is determined by the airline. If a person does not meet the quarantine-free flight criteria, they would need to go through a managed isolation process on arrival.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on December 11 that Kiwis could enter the state without quarantining.