Stranded in Paradise
“The saddest thing to see are the people sleeping at the airport because they have no money for accommodation” - Tamati Ratahi
“Paradise now feels like a prison when you are trapped here and the people who rely on to get you out arent speaking to you” - Aaron Davy
"I’m one of the kiwis stuck in Samoa. Air NZ would never treat people in Europe like they’re treating us” - Michelle Blau via Twitter
“The Air NZ office in Apia is locked. People start queuing at 7 am for the chance to talk to someone. I waited 3 hours and got nowhere. The staff were lovely but overwhelmed and powerless…People were crying about running out of medicine, missing their spot in Uni programmes, missing medical appointments etc. We got an email saying it would be 72 hours before we hear anything from Air NZ. The call centre just hangs up on you once you say you’re calling from Apia…” - Michelle Blau via Twitter
“This morning we finally got Air NZ Media booking confirmation email but it’s for FEBRUARY 28th - 30 days after we were supposed to fly home… There are daily flights through Fiji. Why can’t Air NZ get us home on another airline if they’re not willing to help people in Samoa themselves? 5 flights were impacted here. Help us get home!”
More than a hundred passengers who had their flights cancelled due to recent flooding situations in Auckland Airport, were left confused outside of Air New Zealand's office in Apia from Monday onwards this week.
“We had said all our final goodbyes, went through and boarded our plane and were all strapped in ready to go when the announcement came through that we had to deboard - then there was chaos at the airport as the full flight of Samoan families tried to work out where to sleep” says Tuu’u Kalala Autagavaia.
Hundreds of people were informed to depart the aircraft and were requested by Air New Zealand Officials to provide their phone numbers for further updates regarding re-scheduled flights. According to Mariana from Falealili they never recieved a call as promised.
Public frustration was evident outside the Air New Zealand Office with passengers lining up for hours seeking any word from the Air New Zealand Officials.
For Reece Autagavaia who managed to get his family on a flight yesterday they were one of the very fortunate few.
“We are thankful to those who work on the ground trying their hardest to help our people get back to NZ ... these airlines charge us eye gouging fares. Samoa is the most expensive island to travel to during the holiday period. Yet it was the most popular destination for NZers leaving for a break.
We are a significant market, yet airlines continue to treat us like kaka. When I looked at booking a flexible fare, only the Pacific destinations during December and January did you have to pay an extra $400 to utilize the flexi-fare!!!
At least 5 flights leaving Samoa for Auckland have been cancelled since last Friday. All those people are trying to get home. Yet no extra flights have been put on, neither any larger planes. The flight we were on tonight was the small Airbus A321.”
According to the people that were interviewed they stated that Air New Zealand wont be charging any extra fees regarding their new and confirmed flights. But the ground costs for those stranded are huge, and without insurance this is a hit many Samoans just can’t take.
“As a self employed / sole trader, everyday I'm here impacts my wallet and family - If I don't work I don't get paid. We are watching our every spend here and every bit of food we are able to buy” says Aaron Davy
Delayed passenger Marc Iakopo from Huia in New Zealand stated he was supposed to fly out last Saturday with his partner who he traveled with. His new flight is now pushed back to the 25th of March according to an email he received from Air New Zealand.
"My job is waiting for me back home, if I don't get back earlier next month I will lose my job which is my main source of income" stated Mr Iakopo. He also said that the reason given by Air New Zealand officials was that the office had to serve those who booked their flights around late November last year.
For Tamati Ratahi and his family from Whakatane even though they have some insurance, not having available cash on the ground has meant they are in a money crisis in a country which is mostly a cash economy.
"Buying the cheapest things we need from shops with limited cash and trying to get receipts for any hope of insurance is hard in Samoa”
"The other thing is poor communication between the two offices. Rather than having us come down to the offices , a phone call would've been more convenient."
"It's a time consuming process" stated waiting passenger Mrs Iese.
The stress of coming back to flooded houses and family crisis has added undue pressure to the emergency situation:
“The management and executive of these airlines need to change how they treat our people! How can they expect Samoan NZ citizens to wait up to 3 weeks to get home? We live in the areas hardest hit by the flooding, our West and South Auckland. Many of us want to get home to see what impact the flooding has had on our houses, cars and property. We also have to get home to work and pay the bills. Schools start soon and kids need to prepare for the school year.” says Reece Autagavaia
For Tuu’u Kalala Autagavaia this crisis was an emergency that was like trying to exit a warzone for survival as she had a 9 year old grandson with type 1 diabetes and a low insulin supply.
Her family of 8 managed to get put on a flight out after turning up to the airport for five flights and pleading their case.
“There was no point trying to get communication on the phone or joining the long queues at the Air NZ office, so we just turned up at the airport each time a flight left and tried to get any of us on a plane with the children - when you have the health of your child at stake you will do anything at all odds”
The family were lucky that they could call on family and friends to house them as they travelled time again to the airport, but Kalala is bewildered about what so many others were supposed to do.
"We also had to check into a hotel by the airport, who then charged us more than the rack rate for the last minute booking! There was no compassion or alofa to our emergency situation from the palagi manager who was instead absolutely rude to us”
Other hotels like the Sheraton have offered discount rates to stranded travellers, and there has been offers of additional assistance from smaller hotels.
Kalala's family managed to get on a flight with some members seated in crew seats and she says the AIr NZ ground staff were hugly sympathetic and helpful in this crisis situation. The family are extremely grateful that they were able to get their child home to his medical supply and feel very lucky that their perseverence at the airport paid off.
Air NZ staff in Samoa weren't available to comment in this time of emergency.
A statement issued on Monday night from the airline said “Every available effort was being redirected to speed up the rebooking of 9000 impacted customers”, they also stated that the airline was offering $250 a night towards accommodation for displaced customers - although airlines are not legally obliged to offer compensation due to events outside their control, including severe weather.
In an earlier interview with Stuff NZ, Board of representatives of NZ executive director Cath O Brian spoke of the extreme difficulties the airline would be facing in putting on new flights adn re booking disrupted customers due to full flights in this busy time and having a lack of aircraft and staff available to service extra flights.
Update: As at 3.15pm, Wednesday 1st February, AIR NZ have just announced supplementary flights will now be put on to help passengers get back home from Samoa.
By The CoconetTV with EyeSpy Radio Samoa
Public Interest Journalism funded by NZ on Air